Sunday, June 10, 2018

Born Today June 10: William A. Seiter


Influential American director William Alfred Seitar was born on this date in New York City.  Sieter attended the Hudson River Military Academy and worked as an artist and writer before breaking into films as a stunt double (no doubt his time in the Academy had prepared him stunt work to a great degree).  It is often cited that he "broke" into films (which I suppose is an apropos way of describing a stunt actor) in 1915 going to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios, but his film debut actually came in 1913 in the part of Joseph in the Selig Polyscope film The Three Wise Men.  His directorial debut is also given as a later date than the actual year that he took up directing. The year is usually given as 1918, however, he directed himself in the 1915 comedy short The Honeymoon Roll.  He also directed Gold-Bricking Cupid in 1915 as well.  His next directing job did come in 1918 on the film Oh! What A Day--where he used his writing skills, penning the entire scenario himself (the film was made for Jester).  He would go on to write a number of scripts to direct himself in 1918--most of his writing credits date from that year. After this point, he was a director in great demand. Over the course of his career, he racked up 150 directing credits-- and most of them films, but toward the end of his career, beginning in the mid-1950's, he was also in great demand to direct television episodes.  By the 1920's, he had considerable clout and was well known both inside and outside of Hollywood (enough to appear in the who's who about town short documentary Life In Hollywood No. 4 in 1927).  By this time, he had been working for Universal studios for a number of years; after 1925 he was also the director most closely associated with British born actor (and aviator) Reginald Denny.  In fact, his first official production credit came on a Denny film in 1926: Skinner's Dress Suit (he also directed several films starring actress Laura La Plante during this period of time).  His first sound film was the little known dramedy Waterfront in 1928 starring Dorothy Mackaill and Jack Mulhall, made for First National--it featured a musical score and sound effects (by Vitaphone) only.  His first full talkie came the next year with Smiling Irish Eyes starring Colleen Moore, who he had be directing in the series of partial silents.  Seiter's television debut came in 1955 in an episode of TV Reader's Digest. After this point, he never made another major motion picture.  His last directing job as the series director on Gale Storm's comedy show which premiered in 1956 and ran for 56 episodes through 1960.  Archive footage of his direction of Abbott & Costello appeared posthumously in The World of Abbott and Costello in 1965. By the time his career was over, he had directed the likes of: Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Shirley Temple, Fred MacMurray. Roger Moore (that's right, James Bond), Ava Gardner, Raymond Burr...even the Marx Brothers, just to name a few. Not everyone enjoyed the experience; he had differences in directing Abbott & Costello and was called one of the stiffest directors ever, not seeing (pretty much ever) the usefulness of ad-libbing and improvisation.  Seiter retired in 1960 and died of a heart attack just four years later on the 26th of July in Beverly Hills.  He is interred with family members in Columbarium of Honor at Forest Lawn Memorial in Glendale, Ca.

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