Cecil B. DeMille is the original flamboyant megalomaniacal
Hollywood movie director, and it is his bizarre antics and crew-terrifying tantrums that have been immortalized in stereotype. I say "movie" not "film" director, because DeMille in many ways was the originator of the crowd-pleasing popcorn movie
, even though he at first thought of himself as a great artist whose mission was to bring the Word Of God
to the masses. Later, after the dismal failures of many of his "artistic masterpieces," he decided that he would simply make pictures that would please the general public. James Cameron
is certainly his spiritual descendant.
DeMille was born on Aug. 12, 1881, in Ashfield, Massachusetts. His father was a teacher and lay preacher who had a great interest in theater, and he passed on both his religious and theatrical fervor to his children. Cecil grew up to be a christian fundamentalist, believing that every word of the Bible was the literal truth, and his great dream was to translate the Bible into film. Several of his most successful pictures, such as The Ten Commandments, The King of Kings, and Samson and Delilah were based on Biblical stories.
In 1898, he left Pensylvania Military College, where he had thrived under the stern regime of cold baths and early-morning exercise, and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He graduated in 1900 and joined a production of a play called Hearts are Trumps in New York. His future wife, Constance Adams, was also an actor in the touring cast of the play. DeMille was in fact something of a foot fetishist, and he always told people that he first fell in love with her when he saw her walk up a flight of stairs. In fact, many of the women in his movies were cast because of their lovely feet, and one of his several mistresses, actor Julia Ward, was brought to his attention when a magazine article said that she had "the prettiest
feet and ankles in America."
Despite his unfaithfulness to his wife, DeMille admired women very much, and his most trusted staff members were women like Jeanie Macpherson, a former actor who became one of the main scriptwriters for his productions, and Anne Bauchens, a great film editor who worked exclusively on DeMille films for forty years. He once explained, "I had a mother that won my admiration, and I have liked women ever since. We seem to strike a note of understanding. And I like fighting with them and enjoy their reactions."
In 1911, DeMille met Jesse Lasky while collaborating on an operetta, and after a somewhat rocky beginning, they became close friends and were business partners for many years. A few years later, DeMille, Lasky,and Samuel Goldfish, later known as Samuel Goldwyn, banded together to start a motion picture company. The company was called the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Motion Picture Company, and it eventually became the studio now known as Paramount.
From 1925 to 1928, DeMille ran his own independent studio, but it could not survive financially, and he made three films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before returning to Paramount in 1932. DeMille's constant wrangling with studio heads was the reason for his trying to establish an independent film company, but he found that even he could not cope with the demands of running a studio and give his full attention to directing films at the same time. His first film, The Squaw Man, had cost nearly twice the expected budget, and the habit of wildly over-budget filmmaking was one that he never really conquered.
Eventually, he gave up on the idea of educating the public through 'art', and decided to make films that would appeal to the average moviegoer. The result of this decision was movies like Reap the Wild Wind, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Samson and Delilah--big, expensive "spectacles" that did well at the box office and sometimes pleased the critics. His last film, The Ten Commandments, was a remake of one of his earlier films (he seemed to like remakes--he made The Squaw Man three times), and it is probably the best known of his works.
Not long after completing The Ten Commandments, DeMille became too ill to work, and he gave over the directing of his last project, a musical version of his earlier film The Buccaneer, to Anthony Quinn.
Cecil B. DeMille died on the morning of January 21, 1959. He was seventy-seven years old, and had directed seventy-nine films.
Director Filmography (with occasional annotations)
1.The Ten Commandments (1956)
Nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to Around the World in Eighty Days
2.The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
The first DeMille film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award,
and the only one to win. Betty Hutton lobbied for the starring role by
sending a thousand-dollar flower arrangement with a model of herself on a
During shooting, DeMille nearly got caught between a Jeep and the camera boom.
Crewman: "I didn't know whether to kill the director or spoil the scene."
DeMille: "Always kill the director."
3.Samson and Delilah (1949)
DeMille convinced the executives at Paramount to make the movie by commissioning a sexy portrait of the title characters.
4.California's Golden Beginning (1948)
Boris Karloff played the role of a Seneca Indian in this film, and actually learned his dialogue in Seneca, despite DeMille's advice to just speak in gibberish.
6.The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)
7.Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
When offered a starring role in the picture, John Wayne said "The only reason you called me here is to make Ray Milland look like a man." De Mille said "That's right." Wayne took the role.
8.North West Mounted Police (1940)
9.Union Pacific (1939)
DeMille flipped a coin to decide whether to make the movie about the Union Pacific or the Santa Fe Railroad. It came up tails.
10.The Buccaneer (1938)
11.The Plainsman (1936)
12.The Crusades (1935)
Claudette Colbert, as Cleopatra, had to work with a snake for the famous bitten-by-an-asp scene, but she was terrified of snakes. To get her to do it, DeMille came in with an enormous snake wrapped around himself. Colbert screamed and refused to do the scene, but he then brought out the tiny asp-lookalike and she said "Oh! That little thing? Give it to me!" The scene went off with no problems.
14.Four Frightened People (1934)
Filmed on location in Hawaii, the shoot was torture for everyone (except DeMille, who loved it), with bugs, mud, dystentery, and jungle to contend with. Claudette Colbert had to bathe in a waterfall, after recently recovering from appendicitis, and caught such a bad case of influenza that she could barely finish the film. She was still unwell during the filming of Cleopatra, and often had to be carried to the set.
15.This Day and Age (1933)
16.The Sign of the Cross (1932)
As the Empress Poppaea, the long-suffering Claudette Colbert had to bathe in an enormous Roman bath full of milk. With DeMille's legendary attention to detail, real milk was used, but unfortunately after two days of bathing in it, it began to go sour, and the smell was terrible.
17.The Squaw Man (1931)
18.Madam Satan (1930)
20.The Godless Girl (1929)
21.The King of Kings (1927)
22.The Volga Boatman (1926)
23.The Road to Yesterday (1925)
24.The Golden Bed (1925)
25.Feet of Clay (1924)
27.The Ten Commandments (1923)
28.Adam's Rib (1923)
Scriptwriter Jeanie Macpherson actually got herself put in jail to research this film about a girl who kills a policeman in a car accident. After three days, she couldn't stand it any more and was released by a police-official friend. Afterward, she told the press: "I have plumbed the utmost depths of human degradation. I have seen women stripped naked....I wouldn't go through that experience again for any amount of money. But I wouldn't sell it for an even greater sum."
30.Saturday Night (1922)
31.Fool's Paradise (1921)
32.Affairs of Anatol (1921)
33.Forbidden Fruit (1921)
34.Something to Think About (1920)
35.Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
For this somewhat autobiographical film, DeMille encouraged his writer and mistress, Jeanie Macphearson, to write scenes that reflected her jealousy of his other mistress, actor Julia Ward.
36.Male and Female (1919)
DeMille hired the then eighteen-year-old Walt Disney as the sketch artist for the advertisements for Male and Female.
During a scene in the movie, Gloria Swanson had to lie still while a lion pawed her, and DeMille was greatly impressed with her courage.
37.For Better, for Worse (1919)
38.Don't Change Your Husband (1919)
39.You Can't Have Everything (1918)
40.The Squaw Man (1918)
41.Till I Come Back to You (1918)
42.We Can't Have Everything (1918)
43.Old Wives for New (1918)
44.The Whispering Chorus (1918)
45.The Devil-Stone (1917)
46.The Woman God Forgot (1917)
47.The Little American (1917) (uncredited)
48.A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)
Mary Pickford, a huge star and extremely powerful Hollywood player, starred in this film and the Little American, but she and DeMille did not get along. She expected "star treatment", and he did not appreciate not being able to intimidate her on set. In spite of the difficulties, the film turned out well, with some of the loveliest scenes of the silent era.
49.Lost and Won (1917) (uncredited)
50.Joan the Woman (1916)
51.The Dream Girl (1916)
52.Maria Rosa (1916)
To get the famous opera singer, Geraldine Farrar, to play the lead role in this film, Jesse Lasky promised that "for every minute of daylight she is in Southern California, whether she is at the studio or not, I will pay her two dollars--and a royalty, and a share of all profits."
Farrar replied: "It's done--if you'll have someone play me three themes from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade every day on the train to California."
53.The Heart of Nora Flynn (1916)
54.The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1916)
55.The Golden Chance (1915)
57.The Cheat (1915)
58.Chimmie Fadden Out West (1915)
61.Chimmie Fadden (1915)
62.The Arab (1915)
63.The Wild Goose Chase (1915)
64.The Captive (1915)
65.The Unafraid (1915)
66.The Warrens of Virginia (1915)
67.After Five (1915)
68.The Girl of the Golden West (1915)
69.The Ghost Breaker (1914)
70.Rose of the Rancho (1914)
71.The Man from Home (1914)
72.What's His Name (1914)
73.The Virginian (1914)
74.The Call of the North (1914)
75.The Man on the Box (1914) (co-director) (uncredited)
76.The Only Son (1914)
77.The Master Mind (1914) (uncredited)
78.Brewster's Millions (1914)
79.The Squaw Man (1914)
Charles Higham, Cecil B. DeMille. 1973.
Phil A. Koury, Yes, Mr. DeMille, 1959.