Oscar History–Oscar Directors: Frank Borzage (First Winner)

Screen Elite: Hollywood Film Directors

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Oscar Directors

Year 1: Frank Borzage, Winner for the film 7th Heaven (aka Seventh Heaven)

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All About Oscar

Borzage was one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, bets knwn for his well-acted romantic love stories, features laced with warm tenderness and lyrical touches.


Born April 23, 1893 in Salt Lake City, Borzage joined a touring stage company as a boy and eventually became an actor.

In 1912, he began playing bit parts in Ince films in Hollywood.  He continued playing both heavies and leads in Ince Westerns and Mutual comedies.

By 1916, he was directing for Universal, mostly quickie melodramas and Westerns, in which he also often starred.

Borzage’s first important film, Humoresque (1920), contains many of the elements that would recur in his work.

Borzage was one of the first Hollywood filmmakers to use the soft focus as a visual device.  The lyrical imagery of Borzage’s films, combined with fluid camera movement, gave his stars an idealized look that often contrasted sharply with the cruel socio-political contexts around them.

Borzage is often dismissed by some historians as a sentimentalist, even though he was one of Hollywood’s most consistent directors as far as quality is concerned.

Borzage’s reputation reached its peak in the late silent and early sound eras, producing the largest part of his film output.

He had won two Oscar Awards as Best director, for Seventh Heaven (1927), starring Janet Gaynor (who also won Best Actress for that film), and for Bad Girl (1931).


Among Borzage’s other memorable films are “Lazybones,” “Street Angel,” “The River,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “Man’s Castle,” “No Greater Glory,” “Desire,” “History Is Made at Night,” “Three Comrades,” and “The Mortal Storm.”

His films of the 1940s and 1950s were less interesting.

He died in Utah in 1962, at the age of 69.

Oscar Alert

Borzage was the Winner of 2 Directing Oscars

In 1929, the first year of the Oscars, which honored films made in 1927 and 1928, Borzage won the Directing Oscar for 7th Heaven in a contest that included Herbert Brenon for Sorrell and Son, and King Vidor for The Crowd.

In 1932, Borzage won the Directing Oscar for Bad Girl, competing with King Vidor, nominated for The Champ, and Josef Von Sternberg, in his only nomination, for Shanghai Express, starring Marlene Dietrich.

Career Analysis:

Frank Borzage (April 23, 1894–June 19, 1962) was an Oscar winning film director and actor, known for making 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), Bad Girl (1931), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Man’s Castle (1933), History Is Made at Night (1937), The Mortal Storm (1940) and Moonrise (1948).

Frank Borzage’s father, Luigi Borzaga, was born in Ronzone (then Austrian Empire, now Italy) in 1859. As a stonemason, he sometimes worked in Switzerland, where he met his future wife, Maria Ruegg, a silk factory employee.

Borzaga emigrated to Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the early 1880s where he worked as a coal miner. He brought his fiancée to the U.S. and they married in Hazleton in 1883.

Their first child, Henry, was born in 1885.

The Borzaga family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Frank Borzage was born in 1894, and the family remained there until 1919.

The couple had 14 children, only eight of whom survived: Henry (1885–1971), Mary Emma (1886–1906), Bill (1892–1973), Frank, Daniel (1896–1975, a performer and member of the John Ford Stock Company), Lew (1898–1974), Dolly (1901–2002) and Sue (1905–1998).

Luigi Borzaga died in Los Angeles in a car accident in 1934. His wife Maria (Frank’s mother) died of cancer in 1947.

In 1912, Frank Borzage began acting in Hollywood, and he continued to work as an actor until 1917.

His directorial debut came in 1915 with the film, The Pitch o’ Chance.

On June 7, 1916, Borzage married vaudeville and film actress Lorena “Rena” Rogers in Los Angeles; they remained married until 1941.

In 1945, he married Edna Stillwell Skelton, the ex-wife of comedian Red Skelton; they were divorced in 1949.

For his contributions to the film industry, Borzage received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Frank Borzage Career Summary

Occupational Inheritance: No

Nationality: Son of immigrants (Austrian Empire); born in Salt Lake City, USA

Class: father stonemason, mother silk factory employee.

Family: One of 14 children; only 8 survived



Training: He began his career as actor

First Film: The Pitch o’ Chance, 1915; aged 21

Age at First Nomination: 34

Age at Last Nomination: 37

Gap between First Film and First Nomiation

Gap between First and Last Nom: 3 years

Oscar Films: 7th Heaven (aka Seventh Heaven), 1927 (awarded in 1929, first year of Oscars; Bad Girl, 1931

Age at First Winning: 34

Oscar Noms/Awards: 2 Best Director Oscars

Output: large body of work (over 80; 47 sound films)

Best Decade: 1930s

Career Longevity: 38 years (1913-1961); up until his death

Marriage: 2; first wife, actress


Death: 68 (cancer)



The Mystery of Yellow Aster Mine (1913)

The Battle of Gettysburg (1913)

Samson (1914)

The Wrath of the Gods (1914)

The Geisha (1914)

The Typhoon (1914)

Knight of the Trail (1915)

The Pitch o’ Chance (1915)

The Pride and the Man (1915)

Dollars of Dross (1916)

Life’s Harmony (1916)

The Silken Spider (1916)

The Code of Honor (1916)

Two Bits (1916)

A Flickering Light (1916)

Unlucky Luke (1916)

Jack (1916)

The Pilgrim (1916)

The Demon of Fear (1916)

The Quicksands of Deceit (1916)

Nugget Jim’s Pardner (1916)

That Gal of Burke’s (1916)

The Courtin’ of Calliope Clew (1916)

Nell Dale’s Men Folks (1916)

The Forgotten Folks (1916)

The Forgotten Prayer (1916)

Matchin’ Jim (1916)

Land o’ Lizards (1916)

Immediate Lee (1916)

Flying Colors (1917)

Until They Get Me (1917)

A Mormon Maid (1917)

Wee Lady Betty (1917)

The Gun Woman(1918)

The Curse of Iku (1918)

The Shoes That Danced (1918)

Innocent Progress (1918)

Society for Sale (1918)

An Honest Man (1918)

Who Is to Blame? (1918)

The Ghost Flower (1918)

The Atom (1918)

Toton the Apache (1919)

Whom the Gods Would Destroy (1919)

Prudence on Broadway (1919)

Humoresque (1920)

Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1921)

The Duke of Chimney Butte (1921)

Back Pay (1922)

Billy Jim (1922)

The Good Provider (1922)

The Valley of Silent Men (1922)

The Pride of Palomar (1922)

The Nth Commandment (1923)

Children of the Dust (1923)

The Age of Desire (1923)

Secrets (1924)

The Lady (1925)

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1925)

The Circle (1925)

Lazybones (1925)

Wages for Wives (1925

The First Year (1926)

The Dixie Merchant (1926)

Early to Wed (1926)

Marriage License? (1926)

Seventh Heaven (aka 7th Heaven) (1927)

Sound Films (Talkies): 47

Street Angel (1928)

Lucky Star (1929)

They Had to See Paris (1929)

The River (1929)

Song o’ My Heart (1930)

Liliom (1930)

Doctors’ Wives (1931)

Young as You Feel (1931)

Bad Girl (1931)

After Tomorrow (1932)

Young America (1932)

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

Secrets (1933)

Man’s Castle (1933)

No Greater Glory (1934)

Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Flirtation Walk (1934)

Living on Velvet (1935)

Stranded (1935)

Shipmates Forever (1935)

Desire (1936)

Hearts Divided (1936)

Green Light (1937)

History Is Made at Night (1937)

Big City (1937)

Mannequin (1937)

Three Comrades (1938)

The Shining Hour (1938)

Disputed Passage (1939)

I Take This Woman (1940)

Strange Cargo (1940)

The Mortal Storm (1940)

Flight Command (1940)

Billy the Kid (1941)

Smilin’ Through (1941)

The Vanishing Virginian (1942)

Seven Sweethearts (1942)

Stage Door Canteen (1943)

His Butler’s Sister (1943)

Till We Meet Again (1944)

The Spanish Main (1945)

I’ve Always Loved You (1946)

Magnificent Doll (1946)

That’s My Man (1947)

Moonrise (1948)

China Doll (1958)

The Big Fisherman (1959)

Journey Beneath the Desert (1961) (only some sequences, uncredited)

Output by Year:

1928: 1

1929: 2

1930: 3

1931: 3

1932: 3

1933: 2

1934: 3

1935: 3

1936: 2

1937: 4

1938: 2

1939: 1

1940: 4

1941: 2

1942: 2

1943: 2

1944: 1

1945: 1

1946: 2

1947: 1

1948: 1

No films until 1958

1958: 1

1959: 1