Russian-American film producer (1904-1951). Real name: Vladimir Leventon. Born in Yalta, he moved to the United States at the age of 7 and was raised by his mother and an aunt.

Lewton studied journalism at Columbia University and wrote 18 books, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. One of his novels, "No Bed of Her Own", was filmed as "No Man of Her Own" in 1933. In the early 1930s, he began work at MGM as a publicist and as one of David O. Selznick's assistants. While working at MGM, he wrote some scenes and helped direct some of the crowd scenes for the 1935 version of "A Tale of Two Cities".

In the early 1940s, Lewton was put in charge of a production unit at RKO, where he made several very well-regarded horror movies. The studio made up lurid and fantastical titles, then assigned him to come up with a movie to match the title. But rather than produce forgettable movies to match the over-the-top titles, Lewton specialized in turning out sophisticated, subtle, psychological horror. Though the movies had small budgets, Lewton and his directors (including Robert Wise, Jacques Tourneur, and Mark Robson) created black-and-white masterpieces that influenced the look of the horror film for decades to come. And unlike many producers, Lewton was not there just to write checks--he closely supervised his films and made suggestions to his directors. There is a very definite "look" to a Val Lewton movie: dark, shadowy, with patches of brilliant light. The horrors are nearly never glimpsed and can nearly always be attributed to a human element. But though werewolves and vampires make no appearances, a terrific amount of suspense is still produced--you never know what may or may not be lurking just beyond the light...

Lewton's RKO films are still some of the spookiest works ever put on celluloid. "Cat People" wrung nailbiting suspense out of scenes at a swimming pool at night and along a deserted, parkside street. "I Walked with a Zombie" transferred "Jane Eyre" to the West Indies. "The Seventh Victim" focused on Satanism in New York City and closed with the ultimate downer ending. "The Curse of the Cat People" was a non-horror semi-sequel with more emphasis on characterization than most horror films managed. "The Leopard Man" traced a serial killer south of the border and featured a tense scene inside a darkened museum. "The Ghost Ship" followed a ship captain's growing madness.

Lewton's last films at RKO starred horror legend Boris Karloff. "The Body Snatcher" was a retelling of the crimes of Burke and Hare. "The Isle of the Dead" was an eerie but slow-moving and talky film set on a Greek island. "Bedlam", featuring a bunch of murders in an insane asylum, was based on "The Rake's Progress", a series of sardonic paintings by William Hogarth. He also wrote both "Bedlam" and "The Body Snatcher", under the pseudonym of Carlos Keith.

After leaving RKO, Lewton's producing career declined sharply. His last three films included a Western called "Apache Drums" and a couple of romances called "My Own True Love" and "Please Believe Me". He died of a heart attack not long after signing up as an associate producer for Stanley Kramer.

Research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)