Oscar Directors: La Cava, Gregory–Background; Career; Awards; Filmography

Research in Progress (Septembe3 21, 2020)

Gregory La Cava Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Nationality: US

Social Class/Ethnicity/Religion:

Education: Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students’ League.

Training: animator

First Film:

Gap between First Film and First Nomination

First Oscar Nom: My Man Godfrey, 1936; age 44

Other Oscar Noms: Stage Door, 1937; 45 (consecutive)

Genre: comedies

Commercial Hits:

Frequent Actors: Ginger Rogers

Masterpieces: My Man Godfrey; Stage Door;

Signature: actor’s director

Last Film: age 55

Career Output: 38 features (15 silent; 23 talkies)

Career Span: 1921-1948; 27 years

Marriage:

Politics:

Death: age 59

 

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

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 he is best known for his sound films of the 1930s—especially comedies.

Alongside George Cukor, he was a very good actors director.

Frequent Collaborator: Ginger Rogers

La Cava enjoyed a particularly fruitful teaming with Ginger Rogers, who starred in three of his pictures.

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

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

Filmography

Output: 38 films

Silent: 15

1921: His Nibs

1923: The Life of Reilly; Beware of the Dog

1924: Restless Wives; The New School Teacher

1925: Womanhandled

1926: Let’s Get Married; Say It Again; So’s Your Old Man

1927: Paradise for Two; Running Wild; Tell It to Sweeney; The Gay Defender

1928: Half a Bride

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1928: Feel My Pulse

Sound Films: 23

1929: Saturday’s Children; Big News; His First Command

1931: Laugh and Get Rich; Smart Woman

1932: Symphony of Six Million; The Age of Consent; The Half-Naked Truth

1933: Gabriel Over the White House; Bed of Roses; Gallant Lady

1934: The Affairs of Cellini, 4, 0; What Every Woman Knows

1935: Private Worlds, 1, 0; She Married Her Boss

1936: My Man Godfrey, 6, 0

1937: Stage Door, 4, 0

1939: 5th Ave Girl

1940: Primrose Path, 1, 0

1941: Unfinished Business

1942: Lady in a Jam

1947: Living in a Big Way

1948: One Touch of Venus (William Seiter is credited)

Best Known Films

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

Symphony of Six Million (1932), based on a Fanny Hurst story, starring Irene Dunne, featuring one of Max Steiner’s first symphonic scores.

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 Oscar, with William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Stage Door (1937), nominated for Best Director, with Katharine Hepburn; the first of three consecutive films with Ginger Rogers.

Fifth Avenue Girl (aka 5th Avenue Girl (1939)

Primrose Path (1940), with Ginger Rogers

His output dropped severely in the 1940s, and he only directed one film after 1942, “Living in a Big Way,” 1947; aged 55

La Cava died nine days before his 60th birthday on March 1, 1952 in Malibu, CA.

References

George Carpetto, “Gregory La Cava,” in Italian Americans of the Twentieth Century, ed. George Carpetto (Tampa, FL: Loggia Press, 1999), pp. 196–197.