Motion Picture Director. Born Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke II in San Diego, California. Orphaned from his father when he was only a day old, he accompanied his actress mother on vaudeville tours and made his performing debut at age three. After some rough experiences as a prospector and lumberjack, he entered films as one of D.W. Griffith's assistants on "Intolerance" (1916). He became a director the following year and shot dozens of B westerns. In 1926 he joined MGM and rose to prominence when he successfully took over the production of "White Shadows of the South Seas" (1928) from filmaker Robert Flaherty. For many years Van Dyke was Metro's most reliable "house director", a versatile, efficient craftsman who usually completed films under budget and ahead of schedule. His rapid-fire shooting methods earned him the nickname "One-Take Woody". An inveterate big-game hunter and explorer, he took his film crews to such exotic locations as Tahiti (for "The Pagan", 1929), Africa ("Trader Horn", 1931), and the Arctic Circle ("Eskimo", 1933), but was just as assured with studio-bound Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy musicals. Although he had a reputation among his colleagues for sloppiness, Van Dyke was, at his best, a strong technician who elicited spontaneous performances from his actors, some of whom (William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Norma Shearer, Robert Morley) received Oscar nominations under his direction. He himself won Best Director nominations for "The Thin Man" (1934) and "San Francisco" (1936). Another Van Dyke opus, "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934), is notorious as the film "Public Enemy Number One" John Dillinger saw before the FBI shot him outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago. His more than 90 other credits include "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932), "Naughty Marietta" (1935), "Rose Marie" (1936), "Rosalie" (1937), "It's a Wonderful World" (1939), "Rage in Heaven" (1941), and "Journey for Margaret" (1942). In his spare time Van Dyke was involved in politics and was a California delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention. At the start of World War II he was commissioned a major in the US Marines and turned his MGM office into a recruiting center. He committed suicide at 53, after a long battle with heart disease and cancer; he had refused most medical treatment because of his Christian Science beliefs.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards