Monday, May 30, 2016

Born Today May 30: Howard Hawks


Howard Winchester Hawks was born into a wealthy industrial family in Goshen, Indiana; the eldest of five children.  In 1898, the family relocated to Neenah, Wisconsin so that Howard's father Frank could go to work in the mill that his father-in-law owned. Winters there were very harsh, which by 1906, saw the family annually escaping by over-wintering in Pasadena, California.  In 1910, the family moved there permanently due to Howard's mother's ill-health.  In 1912, the family relocated again to Glendora, where Frank Hawks owned orange groves.  By the time Howard was old enough to attend high school in 1913, he was sent away to the prestigious private Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  While there, began to attend theatrical shows in Boston; the first real evidence of his being interested in performance art.  After finishing high school back in California, Howard went on to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he majored in mechanical engineering.  College friends remember him as an average student that spent basically no time applying himself; but everyone did notice that he was an extremely avid reader of English language novels.  Back in California, Howard's grandfather purchased a Mercer race car for him (in his youth Hawks had discovered Coaster Racing, a form of gravity racing). It was because of this car that he crossed paths with Victor Fleming.  It wasn't long after this that Fleming, a former auto mechanic, quickly found himself in the position of cinematographer to film director Allan Dwan, after Fleming quickly fixed a faulty film camera for him.  Through this connection, Hawks got his first job in the film industry; that of prop boy to Douglas Fairbanks on the film In Again, Out Again (1917), which Fleming shot (Hawks is sometimes credited as assistant director of the film).  He very quickly worked his way up to set designer.  He was next hired, in more or less the same capacity, by Cecil B. DeMille. Also in 1917, he supposedly worked on the Mary Pickford film The Little Princess.  He would go on to have 3 more assistant director credits by 1921.  During this time, he also applied to Sanford University, but returned to Cornell instead in 1916.  In 1917, he joined the armed forces with the U.S. joining the effort in 1917, finally received his degree in absentia.  A lot to cram into such a short period of time.  In 1923, Hawks received his first writing credit, penning the story that the film Quicksands is based on.  He made his directorial debut at the age of 21, when he and a cinematographer attached to the project, filmed a strange double-exposed dream sequence for another Mary Pickford film. His first formal director credit came the next year in The Road to Glory, which he also wrote the story for (this is, unfortunately, a lost film). The film was made for Fox Film Corp. During the time in-between, he was just one of rebel-rousing group of young men kicking around Hollywood up to all sorts of antics; more can be read about that below by clicking the Wikipedia link below.  He would continue with Fox throughout the remainder of the 1920's; making 8 films for them.  The first time he worked with sound came in 1928 with Fazil, the soundtrack and sound effects provided by MovieTone. His first full sound film came with The Air Circus (1928), yet another lost film (note: amazingly only two of Hawks' film are lost to us). The last film that Hawks made in the 1920's was a return to the partial silent format; Trent's Last Case (1929), a mystery, utilized soundtrack and sound effects only, with sound by Western Electric.  As the 1920's ended, so did his association with Fox Films.  He bounced around from production company to production company in the early 1930's (this includes the time period when Scarface (1932) was made). Finally in 1933, he, and most of his old gang, landed at MGM; though most of greatest and well known films were made at other studios.  Such as:  Bringing Up Baby (1938)--RKO, His Girl Friday (1940)--Colombia, Sergeant York (1941)--Warner Bros., The Big Sleep (1946)--Warner again, The Thing From Another World (1951)--back to RKO, etc.  He became one Hollywood's most sophisticated and prolific directors during it's Golden Age.  The last film that Hawks directed came in 1970 with Rio Lobo, starring an aging John Wayne.  Like many directors, Hawks also got into the world of film production, but unlike other directors, his production credits fail to outnumber his directorial credits.  A couple of weeks before his death, Hawks accidentally fell over his dog; already suffering from vascular disease, the fall caused complications that led to a stroke.  He passed away on 26 December 1977 at the age of 81 in Palm Springs, CA.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered.

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