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Michael Curtiz (1886–1962)Director | Actor | Producer
Date of Birth 24 December 1886, Budapest, Austria-Hungary [now Hungary]
Date of Death 10 April 1962, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA (cancer)
Birth Name Manó Kertész Kaminer
Height 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Curtiz began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912. After WWI, he continued his filmmaking career in Austria and Germany and into the early 1920s when he directed films in other countries in Europe. Moving to the US in 1926, he started making films in Hollywood for Warner Bros. and became thoroughly entrenched in the studio system. His films during the 1930s and '40s encompassed nearly every genre imaginable and some, including Casablanca (1942) and Mildred Pierce (1945), are considered to be film classics. His brilliance waned in the 1950s when he made a number of mediocre films for studios other than Warner. He directed his last film in 1961, a year before his death at 74.
Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-born (as Mihaly Kertesz) American director who turned out some of the best-regarded films ever to come out of Hollywood. He received his diploma from the School for Dramatic Arts in Hungary in 1906. He then went to live in Pécs, then Szeged. He began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912. The next year he went to Denmark to study the newest achievements of film art in the studios of the then flourishing Nordisk company. Here he worked as assistant and director and acted as the main character in Atlantis (1913). Returning to Hungary in 1914, he worked for Jenö Janovics's production company in Kolozsvár (today Cluj-Napoca, Romania). In 1915 he returned to Budapest and the next year worked for Kinoriport, then as a director for Phönix until late 1918. He shot a total of 38 films in Hungary. He was one of the most productive and educated artists in Hungary at the beginning of the silent film era. In 1919 he shot Jön az öcsém (1919), based on a popular poem by Hungarian poet Antal Farkas. Hungary entered a period of political instability known as the Commune, and Curtiz settled down in Vienna, Austria. After World War I--during which he fought in the Hungarian army--he continued his filmmaking career in Austria and Germany, and in the early 1920s he began directing films in other European countries. Curtiz moved to the US in 1926 and began making films for US studios, mainly Warner Brothers, where he spent most of his career and where he directed such classic films as Casablanca (1942), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Dodge City (1939) and Mildred Pierce (1945), among many others.
Bess Meredyth (7 December 1929 - 10 April 1962) (his death) (1 child)
Lili Damita (1925 - 1926) (divorced)
Lucy Doraine (1918 - 1923) (divorced)
Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, CA., in the Whispering Pines section.
Older brother of assistant director David Curtiz.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 172-181. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Could be intensely absorbed, to the point of distraction. Once was hurt falling out of a moving car because he wanted to write down an idea. He was driving at the time.
His adopted son, John Meredyth Lucas, said he spoke five languages, all of them badly. His thick Hungarian accent often made it difficult for cast and crew to understand him when he spoke English. During the filming of Casablanca (1942), for instance, he asked a set dresser for a "poodle", and when the dresser brought him a small poodle dog, Curtiz exploded at the man--he had meant that he wanted a "poodle" of water. On the set of The Cabin in the Cotton (1932), Curtiz made a speech to the actors on how he wanted them to act like "woodpeckers" when the script described them as "peckerwoods". NOTE: A number of Curtiz' other misstatements were mistakenly attributed to producer Samuel Goldwyn, who was also famous for verbal slips.
Directed ten different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Paul Muni, John Garfield, James Cagney, Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Eve Arden and William Powell. Cagney and Crawford won Oscars for their performances in one of Curtiz' movies.
Jodie Foster used to own a home that Curtiz built in 1934. The house was originally a guest house on the large estate that he owned. It is copied from small quaint Cotswold cottages found in the midlands in England. In 1995 she put the home up for sale for $1.1 million.
Fought in the Hungarian army during World War I.
He had one son, John Meredyth Lucas, whom he adopted in 1929 when the boy was ten years old.
His two most fruitful collaborations with stars were with Errol Flynn (they did 12 films together) and Humphrey Bogart (they did eight films together).
Was assigned to direct Adventures of Don Juan (1948) in 1947, but he and star Errol Flynn had a falling-out and Vincent Sherman wound up directing the picture.
After directing Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958) Curtiz was set to direct Presley's first post-Army film, G.I. Blues (1960) but for unknown reasons the film was eventually directed by Norman Taurog. Hal B. Wallis produced both.
After Nunnally Johnson bowed out, 20th Century-Fox started negotiations with Curtiz to direct the Elvis Presley film Flaming Star (1960), but the job was later given to Don Siegel. Curtiz had previously directed Presley in King Creole (1958) and was originally set to direct him again in G.I. Blues (1960).
Credited with "discovering" Doris Day, whom he heard sing at a Hollywood party. At the time he was about to direct Romance on the High Seas (1948) and was seeking a singer/actress to replace Betty Hutton, who had become pregnant and had to back out of the film.
At one point he was attached to direct Serenade (1956), which wound up being directed by Anthony Mann.
In 1946 Curtiz was invited by Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler to join them in Liberty Pictures, which would have given him autonomy. Jack L. Warner granted him semi-independence with his own unit within Warners. After making lukewarm features--Flamingo Road (1949), two mediocre Doris Day musicals and The Unsuspected (1947)--he gave it up and rejoined Warners full time.
When he worked on the set, he never had lunch, explaining that disturbed the pace of work.
Despite his great wealth, Michael Curtiz did not live in luxury. By the end of his death, he lived in a small apartment in Sherman Oaks, California.
His father, brother and sisters died in Auschwitz. Only his mother came to the USA, thanks to Jack L. Warner who helped him.
Along with Ernst Lubitsch, Jack Conway, Victor Fleming, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Wood, Francis Ford Coppola, Herbert Ross and Steven Soderbergh, he is one of ten directors to have more than one film nominated for Best Picture in the same year. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (which he co-directed William Keighley) and Four Daughters (1938) were both so nominated at the 11th Academy Awards in 1939.