Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master
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The full-length, definitive biography of the legendary director of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
Victor Fleming was the most sought-after director in Hollywood’s golden age, renowned for his ability to make films across an astounding range of genres–westerns, earthy sexual dramas, family entertainment, screwball comedies, buddy pictures, romances, and adventures. Fleming is remembered for the two most iconic movies of the period, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, but the more than forty films he directed also included classics like Red Dust, Test Pilot, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Captains Courageous. Paradoxically, his talent for knowing how to make the necessary film at the right time, rather than remaking the same movie in different guises, has resulted in Victor Fleming’s relative obscurity in our time.
Michael Sragow restores the director to the pantheon of our greatest filmmakers and fills a gaping hole in Hollywood history with this vibrant portrait of a man at the center of the most exciting era in American filmmaking. The actors Fleming directed wanted to be him (Fleming created enduring screen personas for Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Gary Cooper), and his actresses wanted to be with him (Ingrid Bergman, Clara Bow, and Norma Shearer were among his many lovers).
Victor Fleming not only places the director back in the spotlight, but also gives us the story of a man whose extraordinary personal style was as thrilling, varied, and passionate as the stories he brought to the screen.
shakiness. During the second week, Gable said, “I stalled as long as I could, I just couldn’t get up what it takes to come before these cameras. In uniform a guy fast develops an unbeatable sense of confidence; but when you come back you have nothing but an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.” Later, Gable told Louella Parsons, “The trouble was, I had war jitters. Like every other guy back from the service, I was nervous and restless. I was pressing too hard. We were all pressing too hard.”
feared that I had not made a very good impression and was quite surprised when I received a call a few days later to make a test. 94 “far more,” “It never seems real anywhere”: Photoplay, Sept. 1923. 95 “In direction”: Variety, June 21, 1923. 95 Virginia Valli: In 1921, she had married Demmy Lamson, a location manager and assistant director who later became a personal manager. When they divorced in 1926, court papers said he had deserted her in December 1924 and that they had not lived
greeting”: Bakewell, Hollywood Be Thy Name. 343 “All the way back to town”: Robyns, Light of a Star. 344 “Clark crept to his bungalow”: Hall, “On the Sets.” 344 “lining the tracks”: Mitchell, Gone With the Wind. 344 “Get off those dummies,” “Slower, dear”: Los Angeles Times (witnessed by Philip Scheuer), May 28, 1939. 344 “The camera swings”: Harrison Carroll column, June 13, 1939. 344 “Is her name really Fiddle-de-dee?”: Los Angeles Times, Jan. 19, 1986. 344 “no desire to produce”:
a voice startled him: “Move over, kid, I’m getting in.” It was Douglas Fairbanks. (And a far more innocent time, echoing the days of bed sharing in frontier inns.) Fleming enjoyed playing the paterfamilias; it was good research for his new movie. Although The Way of All Flesh borrowed the title of Samuel Butler’s severe novel about patriarchal tyranny, it was a tearjerker for daddies. The script originally carried the title The Man Who Forgot God, from an unrealized project by Bruce Barton, the
he’d met while doing farmwork in Missouri, and she instantly became “Aunt Mamie” to the Flemings. Eva moved with Victor, Arletta, and Ruth into Ed and Mamie’s place before the newlywed couple had much chance to make their own home. Clyde, Mamie’s first child, arrived in February 1894. Meanwhile, Eva began commuting on a train to be a nurse’s aide at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. “It was either that job or a packinghouse in San Dimas,” says Edward Hartman. “Los Angeles was a place where