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William Wyler

Filmmaker

Born: 1 July 1902
Died: 27 July 1981
Birthplace: Mulhouse, Germany
Best known as:

The director of Ben-Hur and The Best Years of Our Lives

William Wyler was a German-born Hollywood director who was nominated for 12 Oscars and won three, for Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Ben-Hur (1959). He was born in Alsace -- then part of Germany -- and educated in Switzerland and France. A relative of his was the president of Universal Studios, and Wyler went to work as a publicist in New York in 1920. He soon ended up in Hollywood working on movies, and was directing his own by 1925. He began a tense but fruitful relationship with Samuel Goldwyn in 1936, much like his tense but fruitful relationships with a number of movie stars, most especially his reputed lover, Bette Davis. Wyler was known to be dictatorial on the set and was famous for filming long scenes over and over (they called him "90-take Willie"). Personal grudges held on the set were usually forgotten on Oscar night, when both Wyler and his stars were amply rewarded. All three of the movies for which he won directing Oscars also won for best picture (and Ben-Hur won a whopping 11 Oscars). Wyler also took three years off from Hollywood to serve the United States in World War II. In England with the Air Force, Wyler made documentaries, including The Memphis Belle (1944), and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Wyler is considered by many to be one of Hollywood's great directors and has been called a "meticulous craftsman," but to some he's considered an unadventurous filmmaker whose biggest concern was box office receipts. His most famous films include Jezebel (1938, with Bette Davis), Wuthering Heights (1939, with Laurence Olivier), The Letter (1940, again with Davis), The Heiress (1949, starring Olivia De Havilland), Roman Holiday (1953, starring Audrey Hepburn), The Big Country (1958, starring Gregory Peck) and Funny Girl (1968, starring Barbra Streisand).

Extra credit:

Besides his Oscars as best director, William Wyler was awarded the Academy's Irving Thalberg Award in 1965... Wyler was an assistant on the orginal version of Ben-Hur, in 1925.

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