Oscar Directors: Milestone, Lewis–First Honoree and Multiple Winner

Lewis Milestone Track Record

Oscar Nominations  (Wins in bold):

1929: Arabian Nights

1930: All Quiet on the Western Front

1931: The Front Page; the winner was Norman Taurog for Skippy.

When covering the Oscar Awards, we historians, critics, and journalists almost always focus on the Best Picture and the four acting categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress).

We often neglect to honor the directors, the men and women behind the cameras, who were responsible for casting specific actors for their particular films and then guiding them to render strong and powerful performances.

In this, never-before-done survey, we will be running columns about the Oscar directors, all the winners, from the very first year (1929) it was give, up to the present.

Oscar First Year: 1929 (for films made in 1927 and 1928)

In 1929, Lewis Milestone, became the first directing honoree, winning the Oscar for Two Arabian Nights, a movie that was not nominated for the top award.

In 1930, Milestone was nominated for and won a second Director Oscar for All Quiet on the Western Front, which also won the Best Picture.

In 1931, Milestone received his third and last Best Director nomination, for  The Front Page, a popular tale that was remade in several different ways many times in the future

Best Director Contest

In 1929, three directors from MGM, the most prominent studio at the time, headed by Louis B. Mayer (one of the academy’s founders), were represented in that year’s Best Director contest:

Clarence Brown received nods for two films starring Greta Garbo: “Anna Christie” (Garbo Talks!) and “Romance.”

Robert Z. Leonard was up for his helming of “The Divorcee,” for which Norma Shearer received her first and only Best Actress Oscar.

King Vidor was up for “Hallellujah!” a religious parable filmed in Tennessee, which was cast with an all-black ensemble. Vidor had never won a legit, competitive Director Oscar, despite five nominations.

Ernst Lubitsch received yet another Oscar nomination, for “The Love Parade.” Like King Vidor, Lubitsch had never received a Directing Oscar.

In the first year, the academy distinguished the Director Oscar along genre lines, comedy and drama. Milestone won for the comedy “Two Arabian Nights,” a film that’s little-known today.

Career Patterns

 

Biography

Lewis Milestone was born Leib Milstein to a family of Jewish descent, September 30, 1895, in Kishinev, part of the Russian Empire.

After arriving in the U.S., on November 4, 1913, he held several jobs before enlisting in the U.S. Signal Corps, where he worked as assistant director on Army training films during the WWI.  In 1919, he became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.

After the war he went to Hollywood, where he first worked as film editor and later as assistant director.  Howard Hughes promoted Milestone to director and his early feature, the 1928 Two Arabian Knights, won him the Best Director in the first Academy Awards ceremony.

He then directed The Racket, a gangster film, and helped Hughes direct scenes for his aviation saga Hell’s Angels (uncredited).

Milestone won his second Directing Oscar for All Quiet on the Western Front, a harrowing screen adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s antiwar novel, which also won Best Picture.

With The Front Page, Milestone brought to the big screen the famous Ben-Hecht-Charles MacArthur play. In that film, Milestone was one of the first directors to use the rotoambulator, a combination of crane and dolly with three wheels. The rotoambulator was effectively used in the scene where Walter Bums descends to the shipping area of his plant.

His work during the 1930s and 1940s was marked by its visual style of multi-shaded lighting and use of fluid camera.

During this time, he made the first (and still best) version of Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, which was nominated for the 1939 Best Picture Oscar.

During WWII, Milestone made some powerful anti-War movies, such as The North Star, The Purple Heart, and A Walk in the Sun.

After the WWII, he was blacklisted due to suspicions that he was a communist sympathizer. As a result, he and his wife left for Europe.  He made other films before leaving for Europe, but his postwar films didn’t have the same power or impact as the earlier works.

He worked extensively in TV from the mid-1950s to 1963.

He returned to the U.S. to make two more films: Ocean’s 11, starring the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin), and the second version of Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Brando in the Clark Gable role.

While the original Ocean’s 11 (which Soderbergh remade in 2001) worked as effective entertainment due to its high-caliber cast, Mutiny on the Bounty became a box office bomb, despite earning Best Picture nomination.

With no other work to do, he turned to TV, which he disliked, and then left directing altogether due to his failing health. Milestone died from natural causes on September 25, 1980, five days short of his 85th birthday.

Lewis Milestone’s final request was that Universal restore All Quiet on the Western Front to its original length, which took decades but ultimately honored.

Filmography

1918 – The Toothbrush (director)

1918 – Posture (director)

1918 – Positive (director)

1919 – Fit to Win (director)

1922 – Up and at ‘Em (writer)

1923 – Where the North Begins (editor)

1924: The Yankee Consul (writer)

1924: Listen Lester (writer)

1925: The Mad Whirl (writer)

1925: Dangerous Innocence (writer)

1925: The Teaser (writer)

1925: Bobbed Hair (writer)

1925 – Seven Sinners (director and writer)

1926 – The Caveman (director)

  • 1926: The New Klondike (director)
  • 1926 – Fine Manners (director, uncredited)
  • 1927 – The Kid Brother (director, uncredited)
  • 1927 – Two Arabian Knights (director)
  • 1928 – The Garden of Eden (director)
  • 1928: Tempest (director and writer, uncredited)
  • 1928: The Racket (director)
  • 1929: New York Night (director)
  • 1929: Betrayed (director)
  • 1930: All Quiet on the Western Front (director)
  • 1931 – The Front Page (director)
  • 1932 – Rain (director)
  • 1933 – Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (director)
  • 1934: The Captain Hates the Sea (director)
  • 1935: Paris in Spring (director)
  • 1936: Anything Goes (director)
  • 1936: The General Died at Dawn (director)
  • 1939: Of Mice and Men (director)
  • 1939: The Night of Nights (director)
  • 1940: Lucky Partners (director and writer)
  • 1941: My Life with Caroline (director)
  • 1943: Edge of Darkness (director)
  • 1943: The North Star (director)
  • 1944: Guest in the House (director, uncredited)
  • 1944: The Purple Heart (director)
  • 1945: A Walk in the Sun (director)
  • 1946: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (director)
  • 1948: Arch of Triumph (director and writer)
  • 1948: No Mior Vices (director)
  • 1949: The Red Pony (director)
  • 1951: Halls of Montezuma (director)
  • 1952 – Les Miserables (director)
  • 1952: Kangaroo (director)
  • 1953: Melba (director)
  • 1954: They Who Dare (director)
  • 1955: La Vedova X (director and writer)
  • 1959 – Pork Chop Hill (director)1960 – Ocean’s 11 (director)1962 – Mutiny on the Bounty (director)

TV Work:

1957: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV series, director)

1957: Schlitz Playhouse (TV series, director)

1957: Suspicion (TV series, director)

1958: Have Gun-Will Travel (TV series, director)

1963: The Richard Boone Show (TV series, director)

1963: Arrest and Trial (TV series, director)

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