Motion Picture Director. He occupies a curious place in cinema history. In the 1930s Fleming was hailed as one of Hollywood's greatest filmakers. He is the credited director of "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and "Gone With the Wind" (1939), two of the most popular movies of all time, and won a Best Director Academy Award for the latter. Yet he has been largely ignored by critics and historians, and his name has long been forgotten by the public. Fleming was born in Pasadena, California. A former auto mechanic and portrait photographer, he bluffed his way into a job as cameraman at the Flying A studio in 1911 and frequently worked with director Allan Dwan and star Douglas Fairbanks. Upon America's entry into World War I he joined the intelligence bureau's photography section and accompanied President Wilson to Europe as chief cinematographer. Making his directing debut in 1919, he was under contract at Paramount during the 1920s and joined MGM in 1932. Fleming developed into a superior artisan of the classic Hollywood tradition. His best films are elegantly crafted, stylish and entertaining, yet somehow lacking a strong individual stamp. They include "Mantrap" (1926) and "Hula" (1927), two vehicles starring "It Girl" Clara Bow; "The Way of All Flesh" (1927), one of the first Best Picture Oscar nominees; "The Virginian" (1929), which made Gary Cooper a star; "Red Dust" (1932), with its sensational teaming of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow; "Bombshell" (1933), a wicked satire of the film business; the splendid literary adaptations "Treasure Island" (1934) and "Captains Courageous" (1937); and "Test Pilot" (1938). Fleming seemed an odd choice for "The Wizard of Oz", having never made a musical or fantasy film before, but he rose to the challenge with consummate skill and captured a childlike sense of wonder throughout. He had shot all but the Kansas scenes (later completed by King Vidor) when he was assigned to "Gone With the Wind". This was done at the insistence of Clark Gable, who felt that the original director, George Cukor, was placing too much emphasis on Vivien Leigh. After ten weeks under producer David O. Selznick's micro-managing supervision, Fleming feigned a nervous breakdown; Sam Wood took over while he "recovered", then they co-directed. Six directors in all worked on this monumental production, and Fleming received sole billing only because his contract required it. The seeming injustice of his taking the credit (and the Oscar) for such a collaborative effort rankled some in the industry and may have backlashed upon his reputation. It did not help that Fleming's subsequent films, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1941), "Tortilla Flat" (1942), "A Guy Named Joe" (1943), and "Adventure" (1945), grew rather heavy-handed and self-consciously "artsy". His last, the epic "Joan of Arc" (1948), was an expensive flop. Fleming was known as one of Hollywood's great tough guys, a rugged sportsman who stood up to studio heads and insatiably seduced his leading ladies. In the silent era he was briefly engaged to Clara Bow and romantically linked with Norma Shearer, Lupe Velez, and Alice White, among others. Gable idolized Fleming and modeled his cocky screen persona after the director. He had a sensitive side, too, though he tended to reserve it for his work. (Persuading Gable to shed tears for a scene, he counseled, "It's okay for a man to cry - sometimes"). In 1934 Fleming impregnated his best friend's wife and reluctantly married her; surprisingly, the confirmed bachelor became a devoted family man. This domestic tranquility lasted until 1948, when the 59 year-old Fleming had a final fling with his 29 year-old "Joan of Arc" star, Ingrid Bergman. Soon after that film's premiere he died of a heart attack while on vacation in Arizona. MGM producer Arthur Freed said of him, "He was a poet, one of the great unsung men of this business. Someday someone's going to bring up what Victor Fleming meant to movies."
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
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