Sunday, December 17, 2017

Born Today December 17: David Butler


Most people remember David Butler as a prolific director of both the big and small screen who first made a name for himself in the 1930's directing the likes of Will Rogers and Shirley Temple.  Butler, however, got his start in the film industry long before this as an actor in silent film.  David Wingate Butler was born on this date in San Francisco with the business in his blood, so to speak.  His mother was a well known stage actress and his father a stage manager.  Naturally, his first roles as an actor came on the stage as an extra when he was a young man.  He was schooled in San Fransisco and would go on to attend Stanford University (at this point I can't really help but mention Leland Stanford's own involvement with very early film, given that he was the owner of Sallie Gardner, the horse photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, that is rightly pointed to as one of the beginnings of motion pictures).  Butler initially followed his father into stage management, but was pulled into motion picture acting in 1910 at Biograph by the likes none other than of D.W. Griffith.  His first appearance came in the melodrama A Face At Window in an unnamed role in the lower portion of the bill with Griffith's wife at the time Linda Arvidson.  He appeared in a scant number of roles in films throughout the next few years, including an appearance as both a northern and a Confederate (southern) soldier in  Griffith's Birth Of A Nation (1915), and as a Babylonian soldier in Griffith's 1916 "apology" Intolerance. It wasn't until 1919, however, that his film acting came into it's own, took off and continued with steady roles throughout the 1920's.  During this time, he appeared in films by directors that would become household names.  In 1919 alone, he appeared in films by Griffith, King Vidor, & no less than three Tod Browning films.  In 1921, he added producer to his credits, signing on to produce a film that his father Fred was directing, giving David the starring role of course; the film--Making The Grade-- was a comedy made for Butler's new production company David Butler Productions.  He was also still heavily involved with live theater during the 1920's and worked as a manager for part of that time. He got into directing because of script writing--he penned a script that eventually became the Fox comedy High School Hero; which also became his directorial debut.  Much of the film was shot on location at the Hollywood High School.  Though he appeared as an actor in several films in 1927, including the award winning 7th Heaven starring Janet Gaynor, his directorial career was beginning to take center stage (so to speak) in his professional life.  As an actor, he appeared in just a few more films in the 1920's, after High School Hero, he was first and foremost a director.  His last full length acting job for a bigger budget film came in The Rush Hour the 1928 silent comedy starring Marie Prevost and the "original" Harrison Ford.  His last professional acting job was in his own scripted and directed  full mono short Nertz (a sports short).  In the meantime, at Fox, he was becoming a directing staple; he was in the director's chair 9 times alone in 1929.  One of his early specialties was the sports comedy, often shot on locations outside the studio backlots.  For example, his first directing job on a full length film that had sound came with Prep and Pep (1928), which was shot at the Culver Military Academy in Los Angeles.  He was also tapped to direct the studio's Fox Movietone Follies of 1929, presented, of course, in full sound with the MovieTone system and featured colored portions filmed in the brand new Mulitcolor process.  As a director, Butler stayed with Fox through most of the 1930's, leaving in 1938 after filming the Oscar winning Kentucky, starring Loretta Young.  During his career, he would go on to direct big stars of the age (Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Doris Day, Errol Flynn, Dorothy Lamour, Humphrey Bogart, June Haver & John Barrymore included--and that is just in films).  His "mainstay" actor was Dennis Morgan and Hungarian born character actor S. Z. Sakall made appearances in several of his films.  He also directed Shirley Temple as an adult, becoming one of the only director's to direct her both as a child star and as a leading lady. A few of his well known films include: The Princess And The PirateMy Wild Irish RoseThe Story Of SeabiscuitThe Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady and Calamity Jane. As a horror buff, I would be remiss if I didn't mention his direction of the horror comedy You'll Find Out made for RKO in 1940 starring Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  In 1955, Butler made his directorial debut on the small screen, directing Who's Been Sitting In My Chair for the series Studio 57.  He then became a director almost exclusively of television, making just two more films during the remainder of his career.  He directed episodes of Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone and Leave It To Beaver.  His last directing job came on one of the only two films made during the later half of his career.  C'mon, Let's Live A Little was a comedy musical released in 1967 starring Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon and featuring Ken Osmond (aka Eddie Haskell) as "The Beard." The film was reportedly not a good experience and he said that he had only been partially paid for his work on it.  He then retired.  He passed away in Arcadia, California of heart failure at the age of 84 on the 14th of June 1979.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.



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