Oscar Directors: Van Dyke–Multiple Nominee

In 1915, Van Dyke worked assistant director to D. W. Griffith on the film The Birth of a Nation.

The following year, he was Griffith’s assistant director on Intolerance.

He worked as assistant director to James Young on Unprotected (1916), The Lash (1916), and Oliver Twist, in which he also played the role of Charles Dickens.

In 1917, Van Dyke directed his first film, The Land of Long Shadows, for Essanay Studios.

That same year he directed five other films: The Range Boss, Open Places, Men of the Desert, Gift O’ Gab, and Sadie Goes to Heaven.

In 1927, he went to Tacoma to direct two silent films for H.C. Weaver Productions: Eyes of the Totem and The Heart of the Yukon (a lost film).

During the silent era he learned his craft and later became one of MGM’s most reliable directors.

He came to be known as “One-Take Woody” or “One-Take Van Dyke,” for the speed with which he would complete his projects. MGM regarded him as one of the most versatile directors, making period dramas, westerns, comedies, crime picture, and musicals.

Many of his films were huge box office hits.

He received two Best Director Oscar nominations for The Thin Man (1934) and San Francisco (1936).

He had also directed the Oscar-winning Eskimo (aka Mala the Magnificent), in which he played a featured role.

His other films include the island adventure White Shadows in the South Seas (1928); its follow-up, The Pagan (1929); Trader Horn (1931), which was filmed almost entirely in Africa; Tarzan the Ape Man (1932); Manhattan Melodrama (1934); and Marie Antoinette (1938).

He is best remembered for directing Myrna Loy and William Powell in four Thin Man films: The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).

He teamed Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in six of their greatest hits, Naughty Marietta (1935), Rose Marie (1936), Sweethearts (1938), New Moon (1940) (uncredited because Robert Z. Leonard took over), Bitter Sweet (1940), and I Married an Angel (1942).

The earthquake sequence in San Francisco is considered to be one of the best special-effects sequences ever filmed.

To help direct, Van Dyke called upon his early mentor, D. W. Griffith, who had fallen on hard times.

Van Dyke was also known to hire old-time, out-of-work actors as extras. Because of his loyalty, he was much beloved and admired in the industry.

Van Dyke encouraged ad-lib in his efforts to coaxing natural performances from his actors.

He helped catapult to stardom Nelson Eddy, Jimmy Stewart, Myrna Loy, Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O’Sullivan, Eleanor Powell and Margaret O’Brien.

He was often called in to work uncredited on a film that was in trouble or had gone over schedule.

Promoted to the rank of major prior to World War II, Van Dyke set up a Marine Corps recruiting center in his MGM office. He was one of the first Hollywood bigwigs to advocate early U.S. involvement. To that extent, he convinced stars Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, and Nelson Eddy to get involved in the war effort.

In 1942, despite having cancer and bad heart, Van Dyke directed one last film, Journey for Margaret, which premiered in New York on December 17. This emotionally touching movie made child actor Margaret O’Brien an overnight star at age 5.

A devout Christian Scientist, he refused medical treatments and care during his final years.

After the release of Journey for Margaret in January 1943, he bid farewell to his wife, children, and studio head Louis B. Mayer and then committed suicide on February 5 in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, in accordance with Van Dyke’s wishes, sang and officiated at his funeral.

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