Oscar History via Oscar Directors: Norman Taurog, 4th Winning Director–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography (Skippy)

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Norman Taurog Career Summation

Norman Taurog is the second youngest person ever to win the Oscar, after Damien Chazelle, who won for La La Land in 2017.

Occupational Inheritance:

Nationality:

Social Class:

Race/Ethnicity: Jewish

Family:

Formal Education:

Training: child performer

First Film: 1919; aged 30

Breakthrough: Skippy, 1931; aged 32

First Oscar Nomination: Skippy

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 2 years

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations: Boys Town, 1938; aged 40

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):

Collaborators: 8 films with Elvis Presley; 6 with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Last Film: 1968; 2 films with Elvis

Contract:

Career Length: 1920-1968

Career Output: 180 films

Marriage:

Politics: Republican (supported Barry Goldwater in 1964)

Death: 82

Norman Taurog was born February 23, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois.

He was a child performer on stage, making his movie debut at the age of 13 in the short Tangled Relations, produced by Thomas Ince.

In 1919, Taurog returned to the movie industry as a director, collaborating with Larry Semon in The Sportsman (1920).

From 1920 to 1968, Taurog directed 180 films.

In the coming decade, he made 42 films, mostly shorts. During this time, he developed his style, his forte being light comedy, though he could also deal with drama.

In 1931, he made his breakthrough, directing Skippy, for which he won the Best Director Oscar.  (Taurog’s award statue sold for $301,973 at an auction).

Taurog’s nephew Jackie Cooper was also nominated for his performance.  In his 1981 autobiography Please Don’t Shoot My Dog, Cooper wrote that, during filming, Taurog threatened to shoot his dog if the child actor could not cry for the scene.

Skippy tells of the adventures of the eponymous hero, his antics and adventures with his friend Sooky as they try to come up with a license for Sooky’s dog, save his shantytown from demolition, sell lemonade and save for a new bike. Based on a popular comic strip character, the movie was a success, and the studio immediately scheduled a sequel, Sooky.

Taurog established reputation as a versatile director who could work in many genres. He directed a series of well-received films, including If I Had a Million (1932), in which he worked with all-star cast—Gary Cooper, George Raft, Charles Laughton, and W. C. Fields.

In 1934, he directed We’re Not Dressing, starring Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Ray Milland.

In 1935, he directed the star-studded musical showcase The Big Broadcast of 1936, starring Bing Crosby, George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Best Year of Career: 1938

In 1938, Taurog made a successful adaptation of classic literature, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which was a commercial hit.  In the same year he also helmed Boys Town, which earned him another Oscar.

Lucky Night (1939) starring Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor was a flop.

While Taurog shot test scenes for The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming was chosen to direct, and Taurog was reassigned to work on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

He helmed the last of MGM’s big pre-war musical showcases, 1940’s Broadway Melody, starring Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell.

His directed a biopic, working with Mickey Rooney again, in Young Tom Edison (1940).

Two with Judy Garland

He directed Judy Garland twice, in Little Nellie Kelly (1940) and Presenting Lily Mars (1943).

After directing re-takes for a wartime propaganda film, Rationing (1944), Taurog made a docudrama about the atom bomb, The Beginning or the End(1947).

He was good with light comedies, The Bride Goes Wild with Van Johnson and June Allyson, and Big City, both in 1948.

He also directed a third film that year combining the genres of comedy, drama and biography and dealing with an all-star cast.

Words and Music, a fictionalized biopic of the relationship between Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, starred Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney and Cyd Charisse.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had been a double-act since 1946 and had made five films together, before Taurog directed Jumping Jacks (1952), one of their finest films. Taurog worked well with the duo, directing them in The Stooge (1953), The Caddy (1954), Living It Up (1955), You’re Never Too Young (1954), and their penultimate film, Pardners (1956).

Afterwards, Taurog worked with Lewis alone twice more, in Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959) and Visit to a Small Planet (1960).

In 1960, Taurog directed his first Elvis Presley film, G.I. Blues. Elvis’ goal was to become a James Dean figure, playing brooding rebel roles in Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and King Creole (1958).

However, Colonel Tom Parker had different plans for the singer. G.I. Blues was Elvis’s first film after his return from the army, setting the tone for future films—girls, adventures, songs, along with weak plots and uninspired acting.

Eight Elvis Movies

Taurog directed Elvis in eight more films: Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), Tickle Me (1965), Spinout (1966), Double Trouble (1967), Speedway (1968), and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968).

Although some were better than others—and some were almost identical—Taurog ensured that the films had pace, the comedy was delivered well, and the songs were well executed.

Live a Little, Love a Little was his last film.

In 1968, Taurog retired from directing, and began  teaching part-time at the University of Southern California School of Cinema. Toward the end of his life he became blind, and served as director of the Braille Institute in L.A.

Taurog died on April 7, 1981 in Palm Desert, California, at the age of 82.

He directed some of the best-known actors of the twentieth century, including his nephew Jackie Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Elvis Presley. Taurog directed six Martin and Lewis films, and nine Elvis Presley films, more than any other director. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Norman Taurog has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1600 Vine Street.

Norman Taurog was born February 23, 1899, in Chicago, Illinois, to Jewish parents Arthur Jack Taurog and Anita (originally “Annie”) Taurog (née Goldsmith). His father’s naturalization records claim that Arthur was born in the Russian Empire in 1872 or 1873 and naturalized as a minor, while his mother was from New York. Later census records claimed that Arthur’s parents were from Germany, and Anita’s were from England. The couple were married in Chicago in 1896.

Norman became a child performer on the stage at 13, making his debut in the short film Tangled Relations, produced by Thomas Ince’s studios.

In the eight years until his next screen credit, he worked in theater, mostly off-Broadway.

In 1919, Taurog returned to the film industry as a director, collaborating with Larry Semon in The Sportsman (1920). In the coming decade, he made 42 silent films, mostly shorts. During this time, he developed his style, his forte being light comedy although he could also deal with drama and maintain complex narratives. In early 1928, he directed his first feature length film, The Ghetto starring George Jessel, which was expanded in late 1928 with musical and dialogue portions directed by Charles C. Wilson for eventual release as Lucky Boy (1929).

In 1931, he made his breakthrough, directing Skippy, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director. Recently, Taurog’s award statue sold for $301,973 at auction in Beverly Hills. Taurog’s nephew Jackie Cooper was also nominated for his performance; in his 1981 autobiography Please Don’t Shoot My Dog, Cooper wrote that, during filming, Taurog threatened to shoot his dog if the child actor could not cry for the scene. (While this book was being written, attempts were made by Cooper’s editor to get Taurog’s version of events; Taurog declined to participate.) Skippy tells of the adventures of the eponymous hero, his antics and adventures with his friend Sooky as they try to come up with a license for Sooky’s dog, save his shantytown from demolition, sell lemonade and save for a new bike. Based on a popular comic strip character, its sentiment, comedy and moral didacticism (common with movies of the time), added to a gritty realism made it a huge success, so much so that the studio immediately scheduled a sequel, Sooky, for the following year.

The next few years saw Taurog enter the third chapter of his career, as an established director who could work in a number of genres. He directed a series of well-received films, including If I Had a Million (1932), which showed his ability to work with an all-star cast—Gary Cooper, George Raft, Charles Laughton, and W. C. Fields. In 1934, he directed We’re Not Dressing, starring Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Ray Milland. In 1935, he directed the star-studded musical showcase The Big Broadcast of 1936 starring Bing Crosby and George Burns and Gracie Allen.

In 1938, Taurog brought all his skill and experience to bear with one of the liveliest and most successful adaptations of classic literature; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was an artistic and commercial triumph. The year also brought Boys Town, showing Taurog to be more than capable of sustaining a dramatic narrative and earning him another Academy Award nomination. It wasn’t all success, though. Lucky Night (1939) starring Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor was a turkey, and while Taurog shot test scenes for 1939’s cinematic extravaganza The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming was chosen to direct. Taurog was reassigned to work on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a change which he had little to no say in. However, Taurog went on to earn a Best Director nomination for Boys Town later that year, despite losing out on directing Oz.[2] He did, however, helm the last of MGM’s big pre-war musical showcases, 1940’s Broadway Melody, starring Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. He expanded his range into biographies, working with Mickey Rooney again, in the well-received Young Tom Edison (1940). He directed Judy Garland three times in the early 1940s, in Little Nellie Kelly (1940), the ‘small-town-girl-gets-big-break’ Presenting Lily Mars (1943), and the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy (1943).

After directing re-takes for a wartime propaganda film, Rationing (1944), Taurog entered new territory with a docudrama of the atom bomb, The Beginning or the End (1947). It was back to his metier of light comedy for his next couple of outings, The Bride Goes Wild with Van Johnson and June Allyson, and Big City, both in 1948. Remarkably, he also directed a third film that year combining the genres of comedy, drama and biography and dealing with an all-star cast; Words and Music was a fictionalized biopic of the relationship between Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It starred, among others, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney and Cyd Charisse. By now, Taurog had established a reputation as a director who was comfortable working in the musical and comedy genre, and who could be relied upon to work with slight material—qualities which would be useful later in his career.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had been a double-act since 1946 and had made five films together, three Martin and Lewis top-liners, before Taurog directed Jumping Jacks (1952), regarded by many Martin and Lewis fans as the finest of their films. Taurog worked well with the duo and he went on to direct them in The Stooge (1953), The Caddy (1954), Living It Up (1955), You’re Never Too Young (1954), and their penultimate film together, Pardners (1956). Taurog worked with Lewis alone twice more, in Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959) and Visit to a Small Planet (1960).

In 1960, Taurog directed his first Elvis Presley film, G.I. Blues. This was a turning point for Elvis. Up until then, he had harbored ambitions of being a James Dean figure, playing brooding rebel roles in Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and King Creole (1958). However, Colonel Tom Parker had different plans for the singer. G.I. Blues was Elvis’s first film in two years, following his return from the army, and would set the tone for future films—a few girls, a few adventures, and a few songs along the way with weak plots and uninspired acting. When well-made, this was an entertaining, light-hearted formula and Taurog, now in his sixties, was an old hand at it. So impressed was Parker with his work that over the next eight years, Taurog directed Elvis in eight more films: Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), Tickle Me (1965), Spinout (1966), Double Trouble (1967), Speedway (1968), and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). Although some were better than others—and some were almost identical—Taurog ensured that the films had pace, the comedy was delivered well, and the songs were well executed. Live a Little, Love a Little was his last film.

In 1968, Taurog retired from directing. He later taught at the University of Southern California School of Cinema and remained a board member of the Director’s Guild. He owned a camera shop in Canoga Park.

Toward the end of his life, he became blind. In his last years, he served as director of the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.

Taurog died on April 7, 1981 in Palm Desert, California, at the age of 82. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

Taurog supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 US presidential election.

Awards and nominations
1931 Academy Award for Best Director (Skippy)
1938 Venice Film Festival Mussolini Cup, Best Film (Adventures of Tom Sawyer)
1939 Academy Award Nomination for Best Director (Boys Town)
1960 Star on the Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures, dedicated on February 8, 1960 at 1600 Vine Street
1966 Laurel Award Nomination for Director, fourth place
1967 Laurel Award Nomination for Director, fifth place
1968 Laurel Award Nomination for Director, eighth place

Filmography

From 1920 to 1968, Taurog directed 180 films.

1920s

The Fly Cop (1920) with Larry Semon
Lucky Boy (1929)

1930s
Troopers Three (1930)
Sunny Skies (1930) with Benny Rubin and Rex Lease
Skippy (1931) with Jackie Cooper
Newly Rich (1931) with Mitzi Green
Huckleberry Finn (1931) with Jackie Coogan
Sooky (1931) with Jackie Cooper and Robert Coogan
The Phantom President (1932) with George M. Cohan, Claudette Colbert, and Jimmy Durante
A Bedtime Story (1933) with Maurice Chevalier
We’re Not Dressing (1934); Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, and George Burns
The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935) with Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Dandridge, and Glenn Miller
Rhythm on the Range (1936) with Bing Crosby and Frances Farmer
Mad About Music (1938) with Deanna Durbin and Herbert Marshall
The Girl Downstairs (1938) with Franciska Gaal and Franchot Tone
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) with Tommy Kelly and Jackie Moran
Boys Town (1938) with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney

1940s
Young Tom Edison (1940)
Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell
Little Nellie Kelly (1940) with Judy Garland
Men of Boys Town (1941) with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney
Design for Scandal (1941) with Rosalind Russell and Walter Pidgeon
A Yank at Eton (1942) with Mickey Rooney
Presenting Lily Mars (1943) with Judy Garland and Van Heflin
Girl Crazy (1943) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland
The Canterville Ghost (1944) co-directed (uncredited) with Jules Dassin
The Beginning or the End (1947) with Brian Donlevy
The Bride Goes Wild (1948) with Van Johnson and June Allyson
Big City (1948) with Margaret O’Brien
Words and Music (1948) with June Allyson, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, and Cyd Charisse

1950s
Please Believe Me (1950); Deborah Kerr, Robert Walker and Peter Lawford
The Toast of New Orleans (1950); Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, David Niven
Room for One More (1952) with Cary Grant
Jumping Jacks (1952) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
The Stooge (1953) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
The Caddy (1953) with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Donna Reed
Light’s Diamond Jubilee (1954, TV special with 6 other directors)
Living It Up (1954) with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Janet Leigh
You’re Never Too Young (1955) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
Pardners (1956) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
The Birds and the Bees (1956) George Gobel, Mitzi Gaynor, David Niven
The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957) with Jane Russell
Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959) with Jerry Lewis

1960s
Visit to a Small Planet (1960) with Jerry Lewis
G.I. Blues (1960) with Elvis Presley and Juliet Prowse
All Hands on Deck (1961) with Pat Boone
Blue Hawaii (1961) with Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman and Angela Lansbury
Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) with Elvis Presley and Stella Stevens
Palm Springs Weekend (1963) with Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens
It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963) with Elvis Presley and Gary Lockwood
Tickle Me (1965) with Elvis Presley and Jocelyn Lane
Sergeant Deadhead (1965) with Frankie Avalon
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) with Vincent Price
Spinout (1966) with Elvis Presley and Shelley Fabares
Double Trouble (1967) with Elvis Presley

Speedway (1968) Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, and Bill Bixby
Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) Elvis Presley, Michele Carey, Dick Sargent