Directors: Leisen, Mitchell–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

Oct 5, 2022

Mitchell Leisen Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance:

Social Class:

nationality: US



First Film: 1933, Cradle Song; aged 35

First Oscar Nomination: Not nom as director

Other Nominations: art direction, costumes

Genre (specialties): comedies, melodramas

Commercial Success: Midnight, 1939; aged 41

Critical Acclaim: Hold Back the Dawn, 1941, Best pic nom, 43


Last Film: 1958; aged 60

Contract: Paramount Picturesm (2 decades)

Career Output: 40 features in 25 years, 40s most fertile decade

Career Span: as director, 1933-1958; 25 years

Marriage: Gay



Death: 1972, heart attack; aged 74


Mitchell Leisen (October 6, 1898–October 28, 1972) was American director, art director, and costume designer.

He entered the film industry in the 1920s, beginning in art and costume departments. He directed his first film in 1933, Cradle Song, and became known for keen sense of aesthetics in the glossy Hollywood melodramas and screwball comedies.

His best-known films include Alberto Casella’s adaptation of Death Takes a Holiday and Murder at the Vanities, a musical mystery story (both 1934), as well as Midnight (1939) and Hold Back the Dawn (1941), both scripted by Billy Wilder.

Easy Living (1937), written by Preston Sturges and starring Jean Arthur, was another hit for the director, who also directed Remember the Night (1940), the last film written by Sturges before he started directing his scripts.

Lady in the Dark (1944), To Each His Own (1946), and No Man of Her Own (1950) were later successes.

Charles Brackett’s comedy The Mating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney, Miriam Hopkins and Thelma Ritter was an updated version of Leisen’s earlier screwball comedies of the 1930s, and was also his last big movie success.

When his film career ended, Leisen directed episodes of TV series as Thriller, Shirley Temple’s Storybook, The Twilight Zone, and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. He later became nightclub owner.


Though married, Leisen was reported to be gay or bisexual.

According to Carolyn Roos, Leisen’s longtime business manager’s daughter, he had long relationship with dancer-actor-choreographer Billy Daniel until the 1950s (Daniel died in 1962).

Leisen, Daniel and dancer-actor Mary Parker formed Hollywood Presents Inc. as a means of promoting Daniel and Parker off-screen.

Leisen died of heart disease in 1972, aged 74.

Oscar Nominations

He garnered his sole Oscar nomination in 1930 for Art Direction for Cecil B. DeMille’s Dynamite.

He directed Hold Back the Dawn (1941), which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.


1930s: 14

1933 Cradle Song, Paramount, Dorothea Wieck, Evelyn Venable

1934 Bolero, Paramount, George Raft, Carole Lombard; Co-directed with Wesley Ruggles

1934 Death Takes a Holiday, Paramount, Fredric March, Evelyn Venable

1934 Murder at the Vanities, Paramount, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Carl Brisson

1934 Behold My Wife, Paramount, Gene Raymond, Ann Sheridan, Sylvia Sidney

1935 Four Hours to Kill! Paramount, Richard Barthelmess, Ray Milland, Gertrude Michael

1935 Hands Across the Table, Paramount, Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray

1936 13 Hours by Air Paramount, Fred MacMurray, Joan Bennett, ZaSu Pitts

1936 The Big Broadcast of 1937, Paramount, Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Ray Milland

1937 Swing High, Swing Low, Paramount, Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Lamour

1937 Easy Living, Paramount, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland

1938 The Big Broadcast of 1938, Paramount W. C. Fields, Martha Raye, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour

1938 Artists and Models Abroad, Paramount, Jack Benny, Joan Bennett

1939 Midnight Paramount, Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor

1940s: 18

1940 Remember the Night Paramount, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray

1940 Arise, My Love Paramount, Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland

1941 I Wanted Wings Paramount, Ray Milland, William Holden Wayne Morris, Veronica Lake

WON Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

1941 Hold Back the Dawn Paramount, Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard, Nominated for Best Picture.

1942 The Lady Is Willing Paramount Marlene Dietrich / Fred MacMurray

1942 Take a Letter, Darling Paramount Rosalind Russell / Fred MacMurray

1943 No Time for Love Paramount Claudette Colbert / Fred MacMurray

1944 Lady in the Dark Paramount Ginger Rogers / Ray Milland Technicolor film

1944 Frenchman’s Creek Paramount Joan Fontaine / Arturo de Córdova / Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce Technicolor film

1944 Practically Yours Paramount Claudette Colbert / Fred MacMurray

1945 Kitty Paramount Paulette Goddard / Ray Milland

1945 Masquerade in Mexico Paramount Dorothy Lamour / Arturo de Córdova

1946 To Each His Own, Paramount, Olivia de Havilland / John Lund Academy Award for Best Actress.

1947 Suddenly, It’s Spring Paramount, Paulette Goddard, Fred MacMurray

1947 Golden Earrings Paramount, Marlene Dietrich, Ray Milland

1948 Dream Girl Paramount Betty Hutton / Macdonald Carey

1949 Bride of Vengeance Paramount Paulette Goddard / Macdonald Carey / John Lund

1949 Song of Surrender Paramount Claude Rains / Wanda Hendrix / Macdonald Carey

1950s: 8

1950 No Man of Her Own, Paramount, Barbara Stanwyck, John Lund

1950 Captain Carey, U.S.A. Paramount, Alan Ladd, Wanda Hendrix

1951 The Mating Season Paramount, Gene Tierney, John Lund, Miriam Hopkins, Thelma Ritter

Nominated Best Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter

1951 Darling, How Could You! Paramount, Joan Fontaine, John Lund

1952 Young Man with Ideas, MGM, Glenn Ford

1953 Tonight We Sing 20th Century Fox, David Wayne, Ezio Pinza, Roberta Peters, Tamara Toumanova, Technicolor film

1955 Bedevilled MGM, Anne Baxter, Steve Forrest Co-directed with Richard Thorpe, Eastmancolor film

1958 The Girl Most Likely, RKO Radio Pictures, Jane Powell, Cliff Robertson, Technicolor film


1967 Spree, Trans American, Co-directed with Walon Green, Documentary, Color film


Barrios, Richard (2005). Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood From Edison To Stonewall. Routledge. p. 157.
Mitchell Leisen at the TCM Movie Database
“Leisen’s Circus”. Look Magazine. August 1941.
Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 27393). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
“NY Times: Dynamite”. Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved December 7, 2008.

Chierichetti, David (1995). Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director. Photoventures. Revised version of 1973 biography.

Kehr, Dave (May 13, 2008). “New DVDs: Mitchell Leisen and ‘The Big Trail'”. The New York Times.

The model of the studio director, Leisen spent much of his career at Paramount, where he tackled projects as radically different as the archly theatrical “Death Takes a Holiday” (1934) and the frothy revue film “The Big Broadcast of 1938” with the same composure and elegance.

Melville, David (2006). “Mitchell Leisen”. Senses of Cinema (37).

Melville writes, “Leisen, glimpsed in this new light, is no longer a swishy hack. He’s a subtle and stylish auteur who could add heart and humanity to the brittle sophistication of Billy Wilder, lend grace and elegance to the boisterous Americana of Preston Sturges.

In his Biographical Dictionary, David Thomson hails Leisen as “an expert at witty romantic comedies, too reliant on feeling to be screwball, too pleased with glamour to be satires, and thus less likely to attract critical attention.””

Rappaport, Mark (2008). “Mitchell Leisen”. Rouge.

An introduction to retrospective series of showings of Leisen’s films in 2008 at the Cinémathèque Française, Paris, France.

Rappaport: Some of Billy Wilder’s and Preston Sturges’ scripts that Leisen directed would have fared if their writers had directed them instead.

Shadoian, Jack (September 1, 1998). “Exacting standards: Director Mitchell Leisen’s film “To Each His Own” epitomizes the director’s work”. Film Comment. 34 (5): 40.

Seeing Leisen’s films, though, kindles the urge to get up in arms, hoist a banner or two in the hope of securing the director his rightful share of the limelight.

To Each His Own, a quintessential Leisen weepie, glittery trash created by the best minds of the industry, but that just might be wonderful enough to do the job.