“There is little room in my life for sentiment and soft words”

Happy Birthday, Victor Fleming!

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Victor Lonzo Fleming (February 23, 1889 – January 6, 1949) was an American film director and cinematographer. He is best remembered for his two most successful films, The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) as well as a string of other MGM classics such as Treasure Island (1934), Captains Courageous (1937) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Fleming was known for his adventurous action scenes and ability to muster hard-hitting dramatic moments from some of Hollywood's notoriously fussy stars. Fleming showed no hesitation to pursue his love of fast cars, airplanes and newfangled machines. His strong and silent demeanor and love for the outdoors made him an archetype of classic American masculinity. His name sits proudly on the top ten list of AFI's greatest 100 films.

VictorFleming2Victor Fleming was born in La Canada, California to a couple who had flocked from America's heartland to the promise of the fertile West Coast. Fleming's father worked on the public water supply system and died of heart failure on the family's orange ranch when his son was only four years old. Fleming dropped out of high school, fascinated by more active pursuits like fast cars and aviation - things that were comparatively new at the time. Like many Californians, he was drawn to driving and tried his hand at car-racing in his twenties. He soon became a chauffeur in Santa Barbara where he met director Allan Dwan. Fleming was drawn to Dwan and went on to work as a cameraman for Dwan's films. The camera engrossed Fleming like all his other machines.

 

 

VictorFleming4Through working with Dwan, Fleming met actor Douglas Fairbanks. He would direct Fairbanks in three films When the Clouds Roll By (1919), The Mollycoddle (1920) and Around the World in Eighty Minutes (1931). They became close friends and got into trouble with their boyish lust and adrenaline, each breaking an ankle during bouts of shenanigans. Fleming's affection for outdoor activities earned him the moniker "a man's man." Anecdotes tell of Fleming killing a rhinoceros in Africa to save his friend, slapping actors on set who were misbehaving and shaming an alcoholic Spencer Tracey into work by insisting that he drink a case of Scotch to get it out of his system. Fleming's close relationship with Howard Hawks would also result in flying rickety planes they had built and crashing them into the ground - such were his macho ideal of fun. Naturally, countless young women were drawn to him.

In the 1930s, there were only a handful of studios producing all the films in Hollywood. Victor Fleming signed on with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM, with whom he would make all but one of his films. Fleming was a natural pick to direct Westerns and action films such as canonical The Virginian (1929), Red Dust (1932), Bombshell (1933), Reckless (1935) Treasure Island (1934) and Captains Courageous (1937). The films were all great successes for the studio. Fleming's background in camerawork and ability to focus on a character's strength made him well suited to direct both men and women, especially the likes of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Judy Garland.

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Gone With The Wind Trailer

VictorFleming9In 1939 Fleming directed Gone With the Wind, an adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's novel. The film's production began in disaster, initially being directed by George Cukor. It was, at the time, the most expensive production in Hollywood. The script was a mess and Gable was having difficulty finding his character's voice. The producer fired Cukor and hired Fleming instead. He was able to bring the two promising actors to their full potential by uncovering what was the heart of this Civil War story - a tale of a man and a woman. Today, the film is in the top ten of the American Film Institute's prestigious list.

The Wizard of Oz was also in trouble before Fleming came in. The plot of the script had been vastly changed from that of the book and went through many revisions before the final draft. Two directors tried their luck. The actor playing the Tin Man had to be hospitalized from breathing in the aluminum powder used for his make-up. The following month, Fleming became responsible for the film. During one particular on-set occurence, Garland could not stop herself from laughing and was causing delay to the whole scene. Fleming went up and slapped her face. She quickly recomposed herself and the filming continued, but the sixteen year old star forever admired Fleming for his perseverence and courage. Production went on for months, with actors working six days a week. Fires were started, thespians caused mischeif but despite all the chaos, the film was eventually finished. The Wizard of Oz is also in AFI's top ten, making Fleming the only director to achieve two spots. 

Wizard of Oz Trailer

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Victor Fleming died at age fifty-nine in the arms of his wife Lucile. Despite his success and hard work, Fleming is not usually included in lists of canonical directors from Hollywood's Golden Age. Some say this is because his work did not carry the same stylistics throughout, thus showing no "patterns" that could grant him auteur status. Nevertheless, he managed to save two of America's now prominent films from self-destruction, instead turning them into timeless classics.

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 23 February 2014
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