Oscar Directors: Hathaway, Henry–Background, Career, Awards

Sep 18, 2020

Henry Hathaway Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: Yes; father actor and theater manager

Nationality: US

Social Background: Upper-middle class



Training: Assistant Director to DeMille

First Film: Heritage of the Desert, 1932; age 34

First Nomination: Lives of Bengal Lancer, 1935; age 37

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 3 years

Genres: Versatile (Westerns, noirs)

Frequent Actors: Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Randolph Scott

Masterpieces/Great Films: Lives of Bengal Lancer, 1935

Career Output: 53 (or 65) films

Career Span: 1935-1974; 29 years

Last Film: Hangup, 1974; age 76



Death: 1985; age 86

A versatile filmmaker with a career spanning decades, Henry Hathaway is best known as a director of Westerns, starring Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott and John Wayne.

Born March 13, 1898 Henri Léopold de Fiennes Hathaway in Sacramento, California, he was the son of American actor and stage manager, Rhody Hathaway, and a Hungarian-born Belgian aristocrat, the Marquise Lillie de Fiennes, who acted under the name Jean Hathaway.

This branch of the De Fiennes family came to America in the 19th century on behalf of King Leopold I of Belgium and was part of the negotiations with the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Rogier to secure the 1862 treaty between Belgium and what was then known as the Sandwich Islands and now called Hawaii.

The title ‘Marquis,’ commissioned by the King of the Belgians, comes from his grandfather, Marquis Henri Léopold de Fiennes, who settled in San Francisco, California after failing to acquire the Sandwich Islands for his King. Hathaway served in the U.S. Army during World War I.

Assistant Director

In 1925, Hathaway began working in silent films as an assistant to notable directors such as Victor Fleming and Josef von Sternberg and made the transition to sound with them. He was the assistant director to Fred Niblo in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur starring Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro. During the remainder of the 1920s, Hathaway learned his craft as an assistant, helping direct stars such as Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou, Fay Wray, Walter Huston, Clara Bow, and Noah Beery.

Making Randolph Scott a Cowboy Star

Henry Hathaway made his directorial debut with a Western film at Paramount, Heritage of the Desert (1932). Based on a Zane Grey novel, Hathaway gave Randolph Scott his first starring role in film that led to a lengthy career for Scott as a cowboy star.

It kicked off a series of Hathaway-directed Scott Westerns from Grey novels, Wild Horse Mesa (1932), The Thundering Herd (1933), Under the Tonto Rim (1933), Sunset Pass (1933), To the Last Man (1933), Man of the Forest (1933) and The Last Round-Up (1934).

Hathaway directed an action film set in the Philippines, Come On Marines! (1934), followed by a drama The Witching Hour (1934), and an early Shirley Temple film, Now and Forever (1934). The latter also starred Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper.

Hathaway’s next film was with Cooper, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). Hathaway spent some time in India supervising filming of scenes. The movie was a huge hit and received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and for which Hathaway won his only nomination for the Academy Award for Directing.

Hathaway was established as one of the main directors on the Paramount lot. He made another with Cooper, Peter Ibbetson (1935). This was followed by The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), his first movie in color. He also worked on the troubled I Loved a Soldier (1936) which was never finished, and did a Mae West movie, Go West, Young Man (1936).

Hathaway was back with Cooper for the anti-slaving adventure story, Souls at Sea (1937), co-starring George Raft. With Raft and Henry Fonda he made Spawn of the North (1938).

The Real Glory (1939), with Cooper, was a reprise of Bengal Lancers set in the Philippines.

Hathaway moved over to 20th Century Fox, where he directed the studio’s biggest male star, Tyrone Power, in Johnny Apollo (1940) and Brigham Young (1940).

He went back to Paramount to direct John Wayne in The Shepherd of the Hills (1941).

For Walter Wanger at United Artists he made another Imperial action film, Sundown (1941).

Back at Fox he made Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942), China Girl (1942), Wing and a Prayer (1944), Home in Indiana (1944) and Nob Hill (1945).

During the 1940s, Hathaway began making films in a semi-documentary vein, often using the film noir style. These included The House on 92nd Street (1945), for which he was nominated for a Best Director award by the New York Film Critics Circle, The Dark Corner (1946), 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), Kiss of Death (1947) and Call Northside 777 (1948), in which Hathaway presented one of the first on-screen uses of a Fax machine.

Hathaway returned to adventure films with Down to the Sea in Ships (1949).

He was reunited with Tyrone Power for The Black Rose (1950).

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) was a biopic of General Rommel.

It was followed by Fourteen Hours (1951), a noir about a man going to commit suicide, You’re in the Navy Now (1951), a military comedy with Cooper, and two with Power: Rawhide (1951), a Western, and Diplomatic Courier (1952).

Hathaway directed the film noir Niagara (1953) which was Marilyn Monroe’s breakthrough role, and White Witch Doctor (1953) with Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum.

He was reunited with Cooper on Garden of Evil (1954), a Western, then did the swashbuckler Prince Valiant (1954).

After The Racers (1955), with studio head Zanuck’s mistress Bella Darvi, Hathaway left Fox.

He made two thrillers with Van Johnson: The Bottom of the Bottle (1956) and 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956).

John Wayne hired him to make Legend of the Lost (1957) for Wayne’s company. Back at Fox he made the Western, From Hell to Texas (1958). During the movie, Dennis Hopper attempted to assert himself artistically on the set.  Hopper later admitted he was wrong to have disrespected Hathaway as a youth and called him “the finest director I have ever worked with”, working again with Hathaway on The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969).

Hathaway then made a melodrama Woman Obsessed (1959) and thriller Seven Thieves (1960). He was reunited with Wayne on the comedy-action “northern”, North to Alaska (1960).

Hathaway was one of three directors on the epic Cinerama Western, How the West Was Won (1962), directing the bulk of the film, including the river, prairie, and train robbery sequences.

He went to Spain to work with Wayne again on Circus World (1964). Wayne asked Hathaway to cast John Smith in the role of Steve McCabe in the film; Smith from 1959 to 1963 had played the part of rancher Slim Sherman on NBC’s Laramie series.

Circus World was a box office disappointment but Wayne and Hathaway’s next movie together, The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), was a big hit. So too was Nevada Smith (1966), a Western starring Steve McQueen that was extrapolated from a brief section of Harold Robbins’ novel The Carpetbaggers.

He went to Africa to make The Last Safari (1967), then did the Western 5 Card Stud (1968) with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum, which was a mild success.

True Grit (1969), produced by Hal Wallis, was extremely popular at the box office, and won John Wayne the Best Actor Oscar.

He made a war movie with Richard Burton, Raid on Rommel (1971), then  another Western for Hal Wallis, Shoot Out (1971).

Hathaway’s 65th and final film was Hangup (1974), a blaxploitation movie.

Hathaway died in Hollywood from a heart attack February 11 1985, age 86.


The Ten Commandments (assistant for Cecil B. de Mille – uncredited) (1923)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (assistant for B. Reeves Eason & assistant director) (uncredited) (1925)
The Rough Riders (assistant director) (1927)

1930s: 16

Heritage of the Desert (1932)
Wild Horse Mesa (1932)
The Thundering Herd (1933)
Under the Tonto Rim (1933)
Sunset Pass (1933)
Man of the Forest (1933)
To the Last Man (1933)
The Witching Hour (1934)
The Last Round-Up (1934)
Now and Forever (1934)
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Peter Ibbetson (1935)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936)
Souls at Sea (1937)
Spawn of the North (1938)
The Real Glory (1939)

1940s: 12

Johnny Apollo (1940)
Brigham Young (1940)
The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)
Sundown (1941)
China Girl (1942)
Wing and a Prayer (1944)
The House on 92nd Street (1945)
The Dark Corner (1946)
Kiss of Death (1947)
13 Rue Madeleine (1947)
Call Northside 777 (1948)
Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)

1950s: 13

The Black Rose (1950)
The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951)
Fourteen Hours (1951)
Rawhide (1951)
Diplomatic Courier (1952)
Niagara (1953)
Garden of Evil (1954)
Prince Valiant (1954)
The Bottom of the Bottle (1956)
23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)
Legend of the Lost (Director & Producer) (1957)
From Hell to Texas (1958)
Woman Obsessed (1959)

1960s: 9

Seven Thieves (1960)
North to Alaska (Director & Producer) (1960)
How the West Was Won (The segments that he directed are, “The Rivers”, “The Plains”, and “The Outlaws”) (1962)
Circus World (1964)
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
Nevada Smith (Director & Producer) (1966)
The Last Safari (1967)
5 Card Stud (1968)
True Grit (1969)

1970s: 3

Airport (1970) (some winter outdoor scenes only)
Raid on Rommel (1971)
Shoot Out (1971)
Hangup (1974)