Motion-Picture Director. Born Mihali Kertesz in Budapest, he was the son of a prosperous architect and an opera singer. At 17 he ran away from home to join a travelling circus, and entered Hungarian films as an actor in 1912. His imperious attitude soon led him to the other side of the camera and by the early 1920s Curtiz was one of Europe's leading directors, gaining an international reputation for his German-language epics "Sodom and Gomorrah" (1922) and "Moon of Israel" (1924). In 1926 he was brought to Hollywood by movie mogul Harry Warner. It proved to be a long and rewarding association. Over the next three decades Curtiz directed nearly 100 films for Warner Bros., lavishing equal care on routine programmers as well as big-budget spectaculars. He worked in every known genre and even a partial list of his notable credits is strikingly eclectic: "Noah's Ark" (1929), "20,000 Years In Sing Sing" (1933), "The Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933), "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938), "The Sea Hawk" (1940), "The Sea Wolf" (1941), "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942), and "Mildred Pierce" (1945). His Errol Flynn series, beginning with "Captain Blood" (1935) and peaking with the glorious "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), are among the most rousing of action-adventure pictures, inspiring historian William Myers' claim, "Curtiz is to the swashbuckler what John Ford is to the Western". And "Casablanca" (1943), Curtiz's schmaltzy masterpiece of wartime romance and intrigue, remains one of the best-loved films of all time, going beyond classic status to become part of modern American folklore. For this film Curtiz received the Best Director Oscar. He didn't win any popularity contests along the way. In his time Curtiz was probably the most hated director in Hollywood, a manic-depressive martinet who habitually insulted his casts and crews with elaborate epithets only a born Magyar could concoct. (He referred to everyone as "bums" and once called Bette Davis, to her face, a "no-good sexless sonofabitch". And that was one of his milder comments). He was ruthless in his pursuit of an effective shot. Three extras drowned and dozens were injured filming the flood sequence of "Noah's Ark", and the real-life carnage resulting from the climax of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936), in which several horses (and one stuntman) were killed, caused the SPCA to lodge a public protest. Curtiz's wife, screenwriter Bess Meredyth, waited until he was mortally ill with cancer to leave him, and he died alone in a Hollywood hospital. Curtiz is a problematic figure for historians to assess. Auteurist critics dismiss him as a skilled studio craftsman whose films provide hours of mindless entertainment. Others insist there was more to Curtiz than meets the eye, that he had a distinct visual style (influenced by German Expressionism) and personal themes and motifs (Idealism vs. Cynicism, strong-willed women, etc.). Curtiz's personality as a director was so in sync with Warner Bros.' aggressive brand of moviemaking that, in the words of Ephraim Katz, "It was often difficult to tell who was subservient to whom, Curtiz to the studio system or the studio system to Curtiz. More often than not, they seemed to be one and the same". His younger brother was director David Curtiz, who survived him by only five weeks.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards