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Cecil B. De Mille

Filmmaker

Born: 12 August 1881
Died: 21 January 1959
Birthplace: Ashfield, Massachusetts
Best known as:

The legendary film director who did The Ten Commandments

Name at birth: Cecil Blount de Mille

Early 20th century filmmaker Cecil B. De Mille was the living stereotype of the flamboyant, egotistical director, known especially for big screen epics such as The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956). His work at Paramount Studios in the early days of cinema helped make Hollywood the movie capital of the world. De Mille started as an actor in 1900. He helped run his mother's theatrical company as a jack-of-all-trades until 1913, when he formed a movie company with Jesse L. Lansky and Samuel Goldfinch (later Goldwyn). Their first film out of Hollywood was 1913's The Squaw Man; it was a hit and De Mille made his mark with a longer, more extravagant feature than audiences were used to. Their studio became Paramount, and De Mille went on to work in almost all genres, but it was the sweeping spectacle that was his signature: The 1923 and 1956 versions of The Ten Commandments; 1934's Cleopatra (starring Claudette Colbert); 1935's The Crusades; 1927's The King of Kings; 1939's Union Pacific; 1942's Reap the Wild Wind (starring John Wayne); 1949's Samson and Delilah; and, the one that brought him an Oscar for best picture, The Greatest Show on Earth. A born showman, he also appeared in films now and then, often as a narrator and notably playing himself in the 1950 classic Sunset Blvd. (with Gloria Swanson, his one-time star). His off-screen reputation was tarnished in the 1950s, when he got a bit of Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist fervor and demanded loyalty oaths from members of the Screen Directors Guild (now the Directors Guild of America). Even so, De Mille is remembered as one of the great film directors of the 20th century.

Extra credit:

Cecil B. DeMille's adopted daughter, Katherine DeMille, acted in movies between 1930 and 1956, and was married for many years to actor Anthony Quinn.

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