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Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz

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Also Known As: Michael Kertesz, Mahala Kurtez, Michael Courtice, Mihaly Kertesz, Kertesz Mihaly Died: April 11, 1962
Born: December 24, 1888 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Budapest, HU Profession: director, producer, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the most prolific directors in the history of the cinema, Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz thrived in the studio system as the top helmsman at Warner Bros. Studio in the 1930s and 40s. Tirelessly hammering out four or five films a year, Curtiz relentlessly tackled both low-budget pictures and more prestigious Oscar-baiting fare, all the while proving amazingly adept at creating lavish results on minimal budgets in a wide variety of genres. Autocratic and overbearing to the extreme, Curtiz clashed constantly with his actors, and his most famous player, Errol Flynn, finally refused to work for him after 12 pictures, including swashbuckler classics like "Captain Blood" (1935) and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). Yet for all his unsympathetic treatment of performers, Curtiz had a knack for detecting and fostering unknown talents, including Flynn, John Garfield - whom he introduced in "Four Daughters" (1938) - and Doris Day, among others. His highly developed visual approach combined with his technical mastery could elevate the most mundane material, and three of his finest films - "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942), "Casablanca" (1942) and "Mildred Pierce" (1945) - made a virtue of melodrama and...

One of the most prolific directors in the history of the cinema, Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz thrived in the studio system as the top helmsman at Warner Bros. Studio in the 1930s and 40s. Tirelessly hammering out four or five films a year, Curtiz relentlessly tackled both low-budget pictures and more prestigious Oscar-baiting fare, all the while proving amazingly adept at creating lavish results on minimal budgets in a wide variety of genres. Autocratic and overbearing to the extreme, Curtiz clashed constantly with his actors, and his most famous player, Errol Flynn, finally refused to work for him after 12 pictures, including swashbuckler classics like "Captain Blood" (1935) and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938). Yet for all his unsympathetic treatment of performers, Curtiz had a knack for detecting and fostering unknown talents, including Flynn, John Garfield - whom he introduced in "Four Daughters" (1938) - and Doris Day, among others. His highly developed visual approach combined with his technical mastery could elevate the most mundane material, and three of his finest films - "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942), "Casablanca" (1942) and "Mildred Pierce" (1945) - made a virtue of melodrama and sentimentality. Though he reached the culmination of his creative powers with "The Breaking Point" (1950), Curtiz entered a financially successful period with more crowd-pleasing pictures like "White Christmas" (1954) and "King Creole" (1958). Having tapped out with "The Commancheros" (1961), Curtiz was nonetheless a tireless director who left behind a rich legacy, some of which displayed the very best Hollywood had to offer.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  The Comancheros (1961) Director
2.
  Francis of Assisi (1961) Director
3.
  A Breath of Scandal (1960) Director
5.
  The Hangman (1959) Director
6.
  The Man in the Net (1959) Director
7.
  The Proud Rebel (1958) Director
8.
  King Creole (1958) Director
9.
  The Helen Morgan Story (1957) Director
10.
  The Scarlet Hour (1956) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 It's a Great Feeling (1949) Himself
2.
 A Medikus (1916)
3.
4.
5.
 Ma es Holnap (1912)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1897:
Made first stage appearance in an opera starring his mother
1906:
Ran away to join a traveling circus at age 17, performing with them as strongman, acrobat, juggler and mime
:
After completing studies, joined the Hungarian National Theatre, eventually working as actor and director
:
Reputedly was a member of the Hungarian fencing team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games
1912:
Film directing debut (although no director credited), "Today and Tomorrow"; also played a leading role; film announced as 'The First Hungarian Dramatic Art Film'
:
Worked at Nordisk Studios in Denmark learning filmmaking techniques; assisted both Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller
1914:
Returned to Hungary
1914:
Directed at least 37 films, many of which--following the Scandinavian example--showed a preference for outdoor locations
:
Drafted into Austo-Hungarian artillery, but through use of connections obtained transfer to the film unit and then was discharged
1917:
Worked as managing director of Hungarian Phoenix Studios; helmed several films which starred first wife Lucy Doraine
1919:
Fled Hungary when Bela Kun's Communist regime nationalized film industry
:
Helmed at least 21 films for Sascha Films of Vienna, credited as Michael Kertesz
1923:
Directed the acclaimed "Sodom and Gomorrah", featuring Walter Slezak
1926:
Brought to Hollywood by Jack Warner who had been impressed by Curtiz's camera work for "Moon of Israel" (1924), produced by Alexander Korda; directed first US film, "The Third Degree"; first of eight collaborations with Warner Bros. star Dolores Costello
1929:
Scored substantial box-office success with "Noah's Ark"; Erich Wolfgang Kornholder provided the first of his six scores for the director
1932:
Directed Hollywood's first all-color horror film, "Doctor X"
1933:
Helmed the well-regarded, all-color horror flick "The Mystery of the Wax Museum"
1934:
First film with James Cagney, "Jimmy the Gent"
1935:
Initial collaboration with screenwriter Julius Epstein, "Little Big Shot"
1935:
Directed first film with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, "Captain Blood"
1936:
Reteamed Flynn and de Havilland in "The Charge of the Light Brigade"; climactic charge was then one of the most dangerous scenes ever filmed with one man dying, several more badly injured, and so many horses killed that the SPCA raised a public protest
1936:
First of 10 films with Claude Rains, "Stolen Holiday"
1937:
Directed "Kid Galahad", featuring a bravura performance by Edward G. Robinson as a ruthless (but ultimately soft-hearted) boxing manager
1938:
Reunited with Cagney for "Angels With Dirty Faces"
1938:
Helmed perhaps the finest swashbuckler, "The Adventures of Robin Hood", starring Flynn and de Havilland; Korngold earned his second Oscar for the film's score
1938:
First of five films with John Garfield, "Four Daughters"; Garfield's feature debut
1939:
Phillip G Epstein teamed with brother Julius on screenplay for "Daughters Courageous"
1939:
Directed the Academy Award-winning two-reel short "Sons of Liberty", a Warner Historical Featurette
1939:
Helmed "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex", with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn
1941:
12th and last film with Flynn, "Dive Bomber"; director and star were barely speaking, and Flynn refused to work with Curtiz afterwards
1941:
Reteamed with Robinson for "The Sea Wolf", adapted from the Jack London novel
1942:
Fourth and last film with Cagney, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", superb biopic of George M Cohan which earned Cagney the Best Actor Oscar; scripted (with others) by the Epstein brothers
1943:
Last film with Costello, "This Is the Army"
1943:
Earned Best Director Academy Award for the classic Oscar-winning Best Picture "Casablanca"; the Epstein twins and Howard Koch picked up Best Adapted Screenplay statue as well
1944:
"Passage to Marseilles" reunited him with four from the "Casablanca" cast (Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Rains)
1945:
Directed "Mildred Pierce", starring Joan Crawford who won a Best Actress Oscar
1947:
Formed Michael Curtiz Productions, an in-house company headquartered at Warner Bros.
1947:
Last film with Rains, "The Unsuspected"; initial movie made under the Michael Curtiz Productions banner
1948:
First of four films with Doris Day, "Romance on the High Seas"; marked Day's film debut
1949:
Final film from Michael Curtiz Productions, "Flamingo Road"; sold company to Warners, tired of exercising a nominal independence that gave final say to the studio
1950:
Fifth and final film with Garfield, "The Breaking Point", a remake of "To Have and Have Not" that was more faithful to the Hemingway novel
1952:
Fourth and last film with Day, "I'll See You in My Dreams", the formulaic musical biopic of Gus Kahn (played by Danny Thomas)
1954:
After almost 28 years, ended exclusive affiliation with Warner Bros.; asked to accept a 50 percent cut in pay, refused and quit studio; also embroiled at this time in a paternity suit with a young actress which ultimately went expensively against him
1954:
Enjoyed biggest commercial success of career, "White Christmas", for Paramount
1958:
Ninth and last film with de Havilland, "Proud Rebel"
1960:
Helmed "A Breath of Scandal", adapted from fellow Hungarian Ferenc Molnar's play "Olympia"
1961:
Directed last film, "The Comancheros", starring John Wayne
:
Honored posthumously with a career retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art entitled "Michael Curtiz: From Hungary to Hollywood"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Markoszy University: -
Royal Academy of Theater and Art: -

Notes

All his life Curtiz retained a strong Hungarian accent, and his creative mishandlings of the English language deserve to be as famous as those of Sam Goldwyn. He once stormed at a confused prop man: "Next time I send a damn fool, I go myself!" He expressed dissatisfaction with a child actor by remarking scathingly: "By the time I was your age, I was fifteen." --from "World Film Directors", Volume One 1890-1945, edited by John Wakeman (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1987)

"Bring on the empty horses!" --Curtiz on the set of "THe Charge of the Light Brigade". When co-stars Errol Flynn and David Niven broke out in laughter, Curtiz reportedly responded, "You people, you think I know fuck nothing; I tell you, I know fuck all!" Niven later titled one of memoirs "Bring on the Empty Horses"

"Don't talk to me when I'm interrupting." --a reported 'Curtizism'

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Lucy Doraine. Actor. Married in 1915; divorced in 1923; star of some of Curtiz's early films.
wife:
Bess Meredyth. Screenwriter. Formerly married to actor-director Wilfred Lucas, with whom she had a son; married in 1929; divorced; remarried; separated permanently in 1960 (although they remained on good terms and she maintained a room for him in her home); died on July 13, 1969 at age 79; adapted Charlotte Armstrong's novel for Curtiz's "The Unsuspected" (1947).

Family close complete family listing

brother:
David Kertesz. Younger.
brother:
Gabriel Kertesz. Younger.
sister:
Margaret Manhart.
sister:
Regina Deregnyoi.
step-son:
John Meredyth Lucas. Screenwriter, director, producer.
daughter:
Katharine Radban. Mother, Lucy Doraine.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Casablanca Man" Routledge
"The Warner Brothers Directors" Arlington House

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