Sunday, January 24, 2016

Born Today January 24: Henry King


Born in Christianburg, Virginia (our second Virginian in as many days); he became one of the best known and most influential directors in early Hollywood.  At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and went to work for the railroad in a machine shops.  After working under bad conditions in these shops for an extended period of time, he decided to become an apprentice actor (possibly after attending a performance in his local area?).  He found work with the Empire Stock Company, where he performed song and dance numbers in black face.  During his travels he made the acquaintance of actress Pearl White, best remembered for her serial work--especially in the Perils of Pauline.  She invited him to accompany her one day to the Lubin Film Studio in Philadelphia--there he was asked for an audition. The first film that he appeared was the drama short A False Friend in 1913. He went on to make numerous one-reelers, many of them westerns, for Lubin in 1913. Seeing the film industry had already fled Fort Lee, NJ for California--he did the same.  There is found work with Balboa Amusement Production Company, which went by several names, the last 3 shorts that he starred in 1913 were produced by them under the name PathéPlay.  This company had a penchant for on location film in Long Beach California.  He returned to Lubin in 1914 when they opened a studio in Hollywood.  He divided his time between the two for the year. He made his directorial debut in 1915 with Who Pays?, a serial that he penned himself and starred in for Balboa; he shared the directing credit with two other individuals.  There is really no looking back from there.  His first solo directorial credit came on his very next film, The Nemesis, also 1915 and starring himself; but there is very little evidence that the film was ever completed, never mind released and screened.  His next film Should A Wife Forgive? (1915), in which he also had a role, was definitely released; as most of it survives to this day, the last reel is apparently lost.  He went on to churn out film after film during what was left of the 1910's and all through the 1920's (actually all through his career!).  By 1921, he was one of three co-founders of an independent production company:  Inspiration Pictures.  One of his films, The Magic Flame (1927), was one of the very first films ever nominated for an Oscar (for cinematography).  His first partial sound film came in 1928 with The Woman Disrupted, with sound effects for the silent version and an alternative full mono sound version by Western Electric Sound System.  His first full sound film didn't come until 1930.  King would go on to be one the most prolific and hardest working directors in Hollywood, with significant influence.  Already, before the 1920's ended, he was one of 36 people in Hollywood that served as founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the last surviving founder at the time of his death (ironically he never won an Oscar for directing; he was only nominated twice).  King was known to a possess a very astute eye for talent and shaping looks of actors.  In the 1920's he is credited with several important discoveries; the most recognizable to us today would be Gary Cooper--over the objections of studio boss Samuel Goldwyn.  Having quite the unique vision of film sets and locations, perhaps from working as an actor early on at on location shoots, he was inspired to get his pilot's licence in 1930 (some say this say a renewal, that his first license was actually issued in 1918), so he could personally scout filming spots not within the confines of the studio lots.  This earned him the nickname "The Flying Director."  He would later go on to discover many important actors who contributed to the golden age of Hollywood.  Probably the most recognizable is Tyrone Power; another actor that he had to fight for, believe it or not.  Apparently, Darryl F. Zanuck had serious objections to the young actor, and King would have none of it!  He reportedly badgered the hell out of Zanuck until he gave in.  Without a doubt, King's favorite actor to work with was the great Gregory Peck.  During World War II, he served the deputy director of the Civil Air Patrol, out of Brownsville, Texas, earning the rank of Captain.  In 1944, he was awarded the first ever Golden Globe award.  In 1955, he was awarded The George Eastman Award for his distinguished contribution to the art of film.  As far as extremely well known films that he directed, amongst them are:  The Song Of Bernadette (1943), Captain From Castile (1947)--with Power, in which he introduced Jean Peters, Twelve O'Clock High (1949), The Gunfighter (1950) and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)--all with Gregory Peck.  The later with Eva Gardener. He also directed Carousel (1956), a musical with Shirley Jones, and The Sun Also Rises (1957), again with Tyrone Power.  The last film that King directed was in 1962:  Tender Is The Night with Jason Robards.  He then retired from the business.  From an interview that he gave in 1978, comes his most famous quotes:  "I've had more fun directing pictures than most people have playing games."  He passed away in his home in Toluca Lake, CA in his sleep at the age of 96 on 29 June 1982. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mortuary. His younger Louis, also become a director and they worked at Fox at the same time in the 1940's--Louis did start in films in the silent era, but was not nearly as important a figure during those years as his much more talented older brother was.  He was, in fact, such an important contributor to the silent era, that a mere birthday write up on the fly here does not do service to his accomplishments that era.  One, or possibly two, well considered essays would need to be penned to properly do that subject justice.  

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