Oscar Directors: La Cava, Gregory (1892-1952)–Two Consecutive Nominations

Gregory La Cava is best known for two 1930s films, made back to back, My Man Godfrey and Stage Door, which earned him nominations for the Best Director Oscar.

He was born on March 10, 1892 in Towanda, Pennsylvania and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students’ League.

In 1913, he started doing odd jobs at the studio of Raoul Barré, and two years later, he was an animator on the Animated Grouch Chasers series.

In 1915, William Randolph Hearst created an animation studio to promote comic strips from his newspapers, called International Film Service. He hired La Cava to run it, and La Cava’s first employees were his co-worker at the Barré Studio, Frank Moser, and fellow student in Chicago, Grim Natwick. As he developed more of Hearst’s comics into cartoon series, he came to put semi-independent units in charge of each, leading to the growth of individual styles.

Hearst’s business Hearst-Vitagraph News Pictorial and the “living comic strips” collapsed.  La Cava’s cartoons were too clearly animated comic strips, hampered by speech balloons when rival Bray Studio was creating more effective series with original characters. He was apparently aware of this fault, and asked his animators to study Chaplin films to improve their timing and characterization. But he didn’t have time to achieve very much, because in July 1918, Hearst’s bankers caught up with him and International Film Service (IFC) was shut down.

Hearst still wanted his characters animated, so he licensed various studios to continue the IFS series.  La Cava and most of the IFS staff got jobs with John Terry’s studio. This only lasted a few months before Terry’s studio went out of business. The animators were immediately hired by Goldwyn-Bray (as the Bray Studio was now known), but La Cava was not, since Goldwyn-Bray had several producers of its own and La Cava was not interested in starting over. Instead, he moved west to Hollywood.

By 1922, La Cava had become a live-action director of two-reel comedies, the direct competitor to animated films. Among the actors he directed in the silent era are: Bebe Daniels (Feel My Pulse, 1928) Richard Dix, W. C. Fields (So’s Your Old Man, 1926 and Running Wild, 1927) He became a good friend and drinking companion of Fields.

La Cava worked his way up to feature films in the silent era, but it is for his work in sound films of the 1930s—especially comedies—that he is best known today.

Alongside George Cukor, he was a very good actors director, and he enjoyed a particularly fruitful teaming with Ginger Rogers, who starred in three of his pictures.

Filmography (Select)

The Half Naked Truth (1932)

The Age of Consent (1932) for RKO, starring Richard Cromwell, Eric Linden, and Dorothy Wilson.

Symphony of Six Million (1932), based on a Fanny Hurst story, starring Irene Dunne, which featured one of the first symphonic scores by Max Steiner.

Bed of Roses (1932) with Constance Bennett

Gabriel Over the White House (1933) with Walter Huston

What Every Woman Knows (1934) with Helen Hayes

Private Worlds (1935), with Claudette Colbert

She Married Her Boss (1935) with Claudette Colbert.

My Man Godfrey (1936, nominated for Best Director) with William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Stage Door (1937, nominated for Best Director) with Katharine Hepburn, and his first of three consecutive film with Ginger Rogers.

Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

Primrose Path (1940)

His output dropped in the 1950s, and he only directed half a dozen films after that.

La Cava died March 1, 1952, 9 days before his 60th birthday, in Malibu, California.