Menzies, William Cameron: Oscar-Winning Art Director and Film Director

William Cameron was born on July 29, 1896 in New Haven, Connecticut to Scottish immigrant parents, Charles A. and Helen Menzies.

He studied at Yale and the University of Edinburgh, and after serving in the US Army during WWI he attended the Art Students League of New York.

Menzies joined Famous Players-Lasky, which evolved into Paramount, working in special effects and design. He quickly established himself with elaborate settings for Robin Hood (1922), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Bat (1926), The Dove (1927), Sadie Thompson (1928), and Tempest (1928).

In 1929, Menzies formed a partnership with producer Joseph M. Schenck to make some sound short films about great works of music, including 10-minute version of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and created the production design and special effects for Schenck’s feature, The Lottery Bride (1930).

Menzies’s work on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) prompted David O. Selznick to hire him for Gone with the Wind (1939) and to grant him “final word” on issues of Technicolor, scenic design, set decoration, and the production’s overall look.

The title “Production designer” was coined specifically for Menzies, intended to describe his ability to translate Selznick’s ideas into drawings from which his fellow directors worked.

Menzies was the director of the burning of Atlanta sequence in Gone with the Wind. He also re-shot the Salvador Dalí dream sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945).

Menzies also directed some dramas and fantasy films, and made two sci-fi films: the 1936 film Things to Come, based on H.G. Wells’ work that predicted war, the search for peace and technical advancement; and Invaders from Mars (1953), which reflected fears about aliens and outside threats to humanity in the 1950s.

After completing his work as associate producer on Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Menzies died of cancer on March 5, 1957, age 60.

Oscar Track Record
At the First Academy Awards, on May 16, 1929, Menzies won for Best Art Direction for The Dove and Tempest. The following year he was nominated in the same categories for Bulldog Drummond, Alibi, and The Awakening, but lost to Cedric Gibbons.
At the 12th Academy Awards, on February 29, 1940, Menzies won Honorary Award “for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood” in the production of Gone With the Wind.

Art Direction Credits
The Iron Mask (1929)
Alibi (1929)
Condemned (1929)
Coquette (1929) (set decoration, credited as “settings”)
Puttin’ on the Ritz (1930)
Alice in Wonderland (1933; also co-wrote screenplay)

Production Design Credits
Made for Each Other (1939)
Our Town (1940)
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Kings Row (1942)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)
Arch of Triumph (1948)
Invaders from Mars (1953)

Directing Credits
Always Goodbye (1931)
Chandu the Magician (1932)
Things to Come (1936)
Conquest of the Air (1936, uncredited co-director)
The Green Cockatoo (1937)
The Thief of Bagdad (1940, uncredited)
The Whip Hand (1951)
Address Unknown (1944)
Duel in the Sun (1946, uncredited)
Drums in the Deep South (1951)
The Maze (1953)
Invaders from Mars (1953)