George Dewey Cukor, American director (1899 - 1983)

Underrecognized and underrated, George Cukor was one of the most consistent directors of Hollywood's Golden Age. He was reknown for coaxing the best performances from his actors and, more importantly, his actresses (especially those thought to be troublesome). This talent, combined with the widespread suspicion/knowledge of his homosexuality, led Cukor to be labelled a "women's director." This label -- and its inherent homophobia -- stuck with Cukor until his death.

Early Life and Stage Career
George Cukor was born in New York City on July 7, 1899. From an early age he was drawn to the stage, working as a hand for off-Broadway companies while in his late teens. He quickly found his way to Broadway, working first as a stage manager and occasionally as a performer. At the tender age of 24, Cukor was named director of Antonia, which enjoyed a modest run on the Great White Way. He would later go on to helm such productions as The Great Gatsby and The Furies, and to direct such stage legends as Jeanne Eagels and Ethel Barrymore.

On to Hollywood
As Hollywood entered its "Golden Age," a mass-migration of talent abandoned Broadway for Tinseltown's warmer climes. Cukor was swept up in this wave, arriving in California in 1929. The studios were in search of experienced stage directors to act as dialogue coaches, as the whole concept of "talkies" was still new. Cukor served in this capacity on River of Romance (1929) and the World War I epic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) prior to sharing the director's chair with Cyril Gardner on 1930's Grumpy. Cukor would co-direct his next two features before directing the sleepy-eyed starlet Tallulah Bankhead in Tarnished Lady.

In 1932 Cukor directed A Bill of Divorcement, a film that marked the debut of a fiery redhead named Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn and Cukor would collaborate on films repeatedly for the remainder of their careers, with stunning successes (Little Women, Holiday) and tragic flops (Sylvia Scarlett). Cukor would receive his first Academy Award nomination for Little Women (1933).

A Women's Director
Through the early- and mid-1930s, Cukor made a series of movies with strong female leads (Our Betters, Little Women), and shied away from traditional "man's fare" like westerns and action movies. This, combined with the open secret of Cukor's homosexuality, resulted in the thinly-veiled epithet of "women's director" being attached to Cukor's reputation. Though the term was undoubtedly in use before that, MGM used the slur in its promotional material for 1939's The Women.

Although a backhanded compliment, a compliment it still was, as actresses flourished under his direction. Greta Garbo received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Cukor's Camille in 1936. As for The Women, it remains (in the words of an IMDb user) "the greatest classic bitch film of all time."

"I won't be directed by a fairy!"
With those words, Clark Gable convinced MGM producer David O. Selznick to fire Cukor from Gone With The Wind and replace him with Victor Fleming. By 1939, Gable had become one of the most bankable actors alive, and he was concerned that Cukor may make his Rhett Butler a secondary character. That was the semi-official story, at least. Some said that there were rumors on the Gone With The Wind set that a young Gable had been involved in a gay affair with Cukor's friend William Haines. Although officially fired from the film, Cukor and actress Vivien Leigh continued to meet in private for additional sessions throughout the production. This may have been the difference that won Leigh the Best Actress Oscar in 1939.

Much in the same fashion as Michael Stipe in the 1990s, Cukor never felt the need to address his queerness. Most of the people "in the know" in Hollywood knew first- or secondhand about Cukor's weekend pool parties, where famous gay filmmakers and actors would cavort with "boyfriends, who were often hustlers, rough trade, would-be actors, or ambitious artists and writers who saw these parties as entries into the high life" (glbtq bio). It was only in his old age that Cukor addressed his sexuality publically, and even then, tactfully and gracefully.

The 40s and 50s
The 1940s began on a high note for Cukor. After reuniting with Joan Crawford (with whom he worked on The Women) for Susan and God, Cukor was tapped by Katharine Hepburn to direct her in The Philadelpha Story. Hepburn was orchestrating her comeback from being labelled "box office poison" two years earlier by RKO. Hepburn starred in Story through a 400-performance run on Broadway, and convinced then-boyfriend Howard Hughes to buy the rights to the screen adaptation. The film teamed Hepburn with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, and was an instant hit. Cukor won Oscar nominations for Best Director, Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress, Ruth Hussey garnered a nom for Best Supporting Actress and Stewart won his first Best Actor Oscar (beating Charlie Chaplin, Henry Fonda and Laurence Olivier).

Many of the films Cukor made during this period hardly dispelled the myth of the "women's director"; all one has to do is look at the titles: A Woman's Face, Two-Faced Woman, Her Cardboard Lover, A Life of Her Own. Cukor also helmed three Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn romantic comedies (Keeper of the Flame, Adam's Rib, Pat and Mike) during this span. Some of the other standout Cukor films from the 40s and 50s include A Double Life, Born Yesterday (both of which would earn Best Director nominations) and the 1954 remake of A Star is Born with Judy Garland.

My Fair Lady and Denouement
After working on three forgettable movies with Anthony Quinn (Lust for Life, Wild is the Wind and Hot Spell), Cukor took a two-year sabbatical. He returned to reteam with Quinn on what is, somewhat ironically, the Cukor film with perhaps the "gayest" sounding title: Heller in Pink Tights. Perhaps his worst film in decades, it was a Sophia Loren star vehicle that was thinly disguised as an adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel.

Following Heller, Cukor had a run of very bad luck. First, he took over the disastrous Song Without End following the death of director Charles Vidor. After that, he made the Marilyn Monroe vehicle Let's Make Love and the trashy The Chapman Report. The follow-up to Chapman was supposed to be another Marilyn Monroe film, a remake of My Favorite Wife called Something's Got To Give. Something did give, and it was Marilyn's health. Fox was having financial trouble, and used Monroe's absences as an excuse to fire her and suspend production the film. Monroe was in negotiation to return to the set when she died in 1962.

After taking another year off, Cukor returned with My Fair Lady. Probably the most readily-accessible of his work, it was the film for which he won his only Best Director Oscar. The film also won a Best Actor Oscar for Rex Harrison and captured the Best Picture prize for Warner Brothers. Stanley Holloway was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Gladys Cooper was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Sadly, Audrey Hepburn was not nominated for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle, probably because her songs were dubbed.

Following My Fair Lady, Cukor went into semi-retirement. He only made four feature fims after 1965: the inexplicable Justine, Travels With My Aunt, the failed US-USSR filmmaking experiment The Blue Bird and 1981's Rich and Famous, which Cukor directed at the age of 82. He was lured behind the camera by his old friend Katharine Hepburn for two TV movies: Love Among the Ruins and The Corn is Green.

George Cukor died of heart failure on January 23, 1983 in Los Angeles, California.

Rich and Famous (1981)
The Corn Is Green (1979) (TV)
The Blue Bird (1976)
Love Among the Ruins (1975) (TV)
Travels with My Aunt (1972)
Justine (1969)
My Fair Lady (1964)
Something's Got to Give (1962)
The Chapman Report (1962)
Let's Make Love (1960)
Song Without End (1960)
Heller in Pink Tights (1960)
Hot Spell (1958)
Wild Is the Wind (1957)
Les Girls (1957)
Lust for Life (1956) (co-director, uncredited)
Bhowani Junction (1956)
A Star Is Born (1954)
It Should Happen to You (1954)
The Actress (1953)
Pat and Mike (1952)
The Marrying Kind (1952)
The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951)
Born Yesterday (1950)
A Life of Her Own (1950)
Adam's Rib (1949)
Edward, My Son (1949)
A Double Life (1947)
Desire Me (1947) (uncredited)
I'll Be Seeing You (1944) (uncredited)
Winged Victory (1944)
Gaslight (1944)
Resistance and Ohm's Law (1943)
Keeper of the Flame (1942)
Her Cardboard Lover (1942)
Two-Faced Woman (1941)
A Woman's Face (1941)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Susan and God (1940)
Gone with the Wind (1939) (uncredited)
The Women (1939)
Zaza (1939)
Holiday (1938)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) (some scenes, uncredited)
I Met My Love Again (1938) (uncredited)
Camille (1936)
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Sylvia Scarlett (1935)
No More Ladies (1935) (uncredited)
The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger (1935)
Manhattan Melodrama (1934) (uncredited)
Little Women (1933)
Dinner at Eight (1933)
Our Betters (1933)
The Animal Kingdom (1932) (uncredited)
Rockabye (1932)
A Bill of Divorcement (1932)
What Price Hollywood? (1932)
One Hour with You (1932)
Girls About Town (1931)
Tarnished Lady (1931)
The Royal Family of Broadway (1930)
Virtuous Sin (1930)
Grumpy (1930)

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