Unless you’re a film student or devoted to the history of Cinema, the name King Vidor may not ring many bells with you. The history of Cinema, particularly the early days, is fascinating and mostly unknown to anyone who was born sometime after the first Star Wars was released. Hard to imagine, but there are people who have never seen a Black & White film and have no idea what a Silent film is. That’s especially sad because the Art of Film is a constantly evolving one – not just from a technical standpoint, but also a stylistic one. And those people who were at the forefront, who took it from its beginnings and shaped it into an art form.
One of those people in the vanguard was King Vidor. King Wallis Vidor (February 8, 1894 – November 1, 1982) was an American film director, film producer, and screenwriter whose career spanned nearly seven decades. In 1979, he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his “incomparable achievements as a cinematic creator and innovator.” He was nominated five times for a Best Director Oscar, and won eight international film awards during his career. Vidor’s best known films include The Big Parade (1925), The Crowd (1928), Stella Dallas (1937), and Duel in the Sun (1946).
A freelance newsreel cameraman and cinema projectionist, Vidor made his debut as a director in 1913 with The Grand Military Parade. In Hollywood from 1915, he worked as a screenwriter and as director of a series of at least ten short juvenile-delinquency films for Judge Willis Brown before directing his first feature, The Turn in the Road, in 1919. A successful mounting of Peg o’ My Heart in 1922 won him a long-term contract with Goldwyn Studios (later to be absorbed into MGM). Three years later he made The Big Parade, among the most acclaimed war films of the silent era, and a tremendous commercial success. This success established him as one of MGM’s top studio directors for the next decade. In 1928, Vidor received his first Oscar nomination, for The Crowd, widely regarded as his masterpiece and one of the greatest American silent films. In the same year, he made the classic Show People, a comedy about the film industry starring Marion Davies (in which Vidor had a cameo as himself), and his much-loved screwball comedy The Patsy, which also starred Davies and was his last silent film.
Vidor’s first sound film was Hallelujah, a groundbreaking film featuring an African-American cast. He had no difficulty adjusting to sound and he continued making feature films until the late 1950s. Some of his better known sound films include Stella Dallas, Our Daily Bread, The Citadel, Duel in the Sun, The Fountainhead, and War and Peace. He directed the Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz (including “Over the Rainbow” and the twister) when director Victor Fleming had to replace George Cukor on Gone with the Wind, but did not receive screen credit.
Vidor was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a film director: beginning in 1913 with Hurricane in Galveston and ending in 1980 with The Metaphor, a 36-minute documentary featuring the painter Andrew Wyeth. He was nominated five times for an Oscar but never won in direct competition; he received an honorary award in 1979.
This interview, conducted by noted Film Scholar Arthur Knight was part of the In Conversation series for radio and was first broacast in March of 1975.