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||Rouben (Zachary) Mamoulian (1898-1987)|
Russian-born film and stage director, who had a successful series of shows on Broadway before entering Hollywood. Mamoulian made 16 films in the 29 years of his cinema career. He was among the liberators of cinema who created his unique rhythm and poetic stylization by blending sound, visuals and camera movement with montage effects. In 1982 Mamoulian received the Directors Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to motion pictures. His most famous films include Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1932), starring Fredric March, and Queen Christina (1933), starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
"What I feel strongly is that the artist – and I broaden this – the great majority of artists in every field are betraying mankind. To me, the hope of the future is in the arts. It's not in politics. It's not in economics. It's not in religion. It's not in the arts. Because the arts are the only truly universal medium. The whole thing should serve to remind you that man still has a potential, that he's not just crawling on earth. He still has wings and he can fly. We need this reminder of faith, of optimism, to reestablish the dignity of a human being." (Mamoulian in Directing the Film by Eric Sherman, 1976)
Mamoulian was born in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), Georgia, of
Armenian descent. His father, Zacharie (1866-1966), a bank president,
had been a colonel in the Russian army. Virginia Kalantarian
his mother, was an actress, and the family often went to the theater.
The Mamoulian house was a meeting place of Armenian intelligentsia,
writers, and artists. Part
of his childhood Mamoulian spent in Paris, where his family moved
for a period and
then returned to Tiflis. He learned in his youth at least five
languages, including Armenian, Georgian, Russian, French, and possibly
some English, which would be the last of the eight languages he mastered.
Originally Mamoulian went to Moscow to study
law, but basically he was more interested in theatre than anything
else. At the Moscow Art Theatre Mamoulian was trained under Eugene
Konstantin Stanislavsky. In 1918 Mamoulian
organized his own drama studio in Tiflis and two years later he toured
in England. He studied drama at the University of London and directed in 1922 Austin Page's The Beating on the Door.
After leaving Georgia for good, Mamoulian did
not see Tbilisi until a half century later, as a guest of the Soviet
government. In 1923 he moved to America and directed for three years
operas and operettas at the George Eastman School of Music in
Rochester, N.Y. Martha Graham and the Swedish modern dancer Ronny
Gustafson were hired to stage expressionistic dances for his operas. For a 1926 version of Maurice
Maeterlinck's Sister Beatrice he had
Otto Luening compose an original score.
Mamoulian produced many notable plays for New York's Theatre Guild, including DuBose Heyward's Porgy (1927), about a handicapped black beggar and his lover, Bess. When he began working with the play, no one wanted "an all-colored cast," and, as Mamoulian himself admitted decades later, the only black man he knew "was the shoeblack in a Rochester hotel". The Austrian theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt declared the production was one of his great experiences. Mamoulian later directed the premiere of George Gershwin's operatic version of the play, Porgy and Bess (1935); the script, which transformed Heyward's quasi-realistic novella from 1925 into a landmark in American musical theater, has since been performed in countless stagings by professional and amateur companies. At the close of the opera, Porgy says the much quoted line "Bring my goat!" The words were not written by Heyward, but Mamoulian. ("On My Way": The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess by Joseph Horowitz, 2013, pp. 1-2)
Between 1928 and 1949, Mamoulian directed nine times on Broadway. As a result of his growing reputation in the theatre world,
Mamoulian was offered a seven-year contract in the Hollywood film
business. However, Mamoulian answered that he signs only short
contracts without options. After five weeks studying the mechanics of
motion picture making, he was ready to direct, and eventually came to like the early studio system. His first talking films
for Paramount Pictures were acclaimed among the most innovative sound
productions of the day. Applause (1929) was Mamoulian's first
step to free camera and soundtrack from the constraints of the early
days' techology. Mamoulian put his camera booth on wheels in order to
move it about. He also used two cameras to increase the number of
Mamoulian's other directions from this experimental period
include the horror classic Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde
(1932), which used subjective camera, special camera filters, and
synthetic sounds. "I do believe the cinema is in imagery, not in
Mamoulian once said. Jekyll's arrival at the medical theater is a long,
uncut take, seen from his point of view from his house to the
university. His transformation into Hyde is accompanied
with the sound of the hearbeat. To obtain the "boom, boom" of the
heart-pump, the microphone was held over Jekyll's (Fredric March)
heart. This suggestive sound effect was heard only in one scene but it
was used in the promotion of the film. March won an Academy Award for
performance as the kindly doctor and evil Hyde. The film is considered
the best adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's
novella. However, Stevenson's work contained no mention of a pipe
organ, but Mamoulian opened his screen version with Dr. Jekyll playing
one in his home. The organ piece, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,
possibly chosen by the dírector himself, has become infamous for
its overuse in horror films. The idea of having Jekyll play organ
(performed by Sigmund Krumgold) may have originated with the
screenwriters Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein.
The Jeanette MacDonald – Maurice Chevalier musical Love Me Tonight (1932) had big, densely-populated musical set-pieces. Every member of the cast sang. The opening sequence is famous for its innovative use of sound design: a rhytmic melody grows from the streets of awakening Paris, the heartbeat of the city. Mamoulian's gangster melodrama City Streets (1931), starring Sylvia Sidney, Gary Cooper, and Paul Lukas, was based on Ernest Booth's story Ladies of the Mob. Dashiell Hammett, who was at the height of his literary career and had been signed to create original stories for the screen, co-wrote the script.
Queen Christina (1933) was a tour de force for Greta Garbo, although Mamoulian had thought a few years earlier that she was not ready for the big part in Ivan Turgenev's A Month In The Country, a Theatre Guild production which opened in 1930. "There's a certain luminosity about her freckled face," he said. The film includes one of the most famous moments in Garbo's career. She glides around an inn room, in which she has slept with her lover, memorizing every moment for posterity. Mamoulian's advice for his star was, "I want your face to be a blank sheet of paper. I want the writing to be done by every member of the audience." The camera proceed from a long-shot to a final, extended close-up of the actress's unmoving face. In the final scene she stands in the prow of the ship, the wind blowing her hair. Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957), the general manager of MGM, wanted a happy ending. Laurence Olivier was hired for the male lead, but Garbo had him booted off the production in favour of John Gilbert. The censors kept a close eye on the script due to Queen Christina's supposedly bisexual tendencies. The film did poorly in America, but was popular in Europe. Becky Sharp (1935), based on Thackeray's classic novel Vanity Fair, was noted as the first feature in three-color Technicolor. It won the color prize at the third Venice Film Festival.
"Director Rouben Mamoulian, who took over when Lowell Shwrman died, did a remarkable job with color experimentation. He decided to use color thematically to express character mood, and added more and more color as the film progresses and the plot thickens. Every shot looks color-coordinated. The most famous sequence in the panicky exit of the quests at the Duchess of Richmond's gala in Belgium on the eve of the battle of Waterloo - rather than having all the red-jacketed soldiers in attendance exit first (as would be the case), Mamoulian had guests leave according to their color group so only the one in red remained in the ballroom." (Danny Peary in Guide for the Film Fanatic, 1986)
In The Mark of Zorro (1940) Mamoulian combined elemets from Robin Hood and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Tyrone Power played the role of the foppish Don Diego, who actually is Señor Zorro, a mysterious vigilante and swordsman. He leads his caballeros and peasants against the tyrannical Don Luis Quintero and Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Power's duel with Rathbone is the highlight of the cat and mouse game. Blood and Sand (1941) was based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. It had been filmed in 1922, starring Rudolph Valentino. In the new version Tyrone Power played the great but naive matador, Juan. Linda Danell was his devoted sweetheart and wife and Rita Hayworth a temptress, Dona Sol. "Was it Oscar Wilde who said, 'The sphinx is an enigma which has no solution.' That's Rita. Casting her was a hunch, something I felt rather than saw. I've always been strong on my impressions of people, usually first impressions. Nobody else could have played it, because you couldn't play Dona Sol, you had to be it. Garbo is the only other woman who could have done it... The rarest thing on stage or screen is a beautiful walk. On the screen there is Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Cyd Charisse and Rita Hayworth, and after that... period." (Mamoulian in Rita Hayworth by John Kobal, 1978) Mamoulian's film pulsed again with color and had references to works of such Spanish painters as El Greco and Goya. Mamoulian considered red the most exciting color. "A progression of color should lead to a climax, which can only be red," he has argued. "Not blue, not yellow, red."
Mamoulian periodically returned to the Broadway stage when his ideas clashed with the Hollywood studio hierarchy. A unique stylist, he was the right choice to direct Laura (1944), based on Vera Caspary's novel, but after a few days' shooting he was replaced by Otto Preminger, a comparative newcomer to Hollywood. The portrait of Laura, a target of obsession in the film, was first painted by Azadia Newman, but Preminger scrapped it with the rest of the set and used a photograph by Frank Polony, smeared with oil paint. According to Gene Tierney, who played Laura in the title role, "I am not being modest when I say that people remember me less for my acting job than as the girl in the portrait, which was the movie's key prop."
Azadia Newman (1902-99) and Mamoulian married in 1945; they
met at a party at Tierney's home. Their marriage lasted until
Mamoulian also developed an interest in portraiture and made collage
pictures of his lynx-eyed wife out of stamps, maps, shells, leaves and
By the late 1950s his poetic visions received little understanding. " I
feel that any subject – it doesn't have to be a fantasy – any subject
should be approached from a poetical point of view, and therefore
stylized," Mamoulian argued. He lost in 1958 assignment of directing
the film version of Porgy and Bess, and he was also fired from
the set of Cleopatra, because he wanted to shoot in Rome and
the studio opted for London. Both films turned out to be critical and
commercial failures. When Mamoulian abandoned Cleopatra, $7
million had been spent, and Mankiewicz took over. Mamoulian lived his
last years a forgotten man in a Beverly Hills mansion, filled with cats
and old furniture. He and his wife Azazia had no children.
For the theatre Mamoulian directed the premiers of such landmark productions as Oklahoma (1943), Carousel (1945), and Lost in the Stars (1949). Among his later films were Summer Holiday (1948), a musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! and Silk Stockings, (1957), a remake of Ninotchka, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. In this musical comedy an icy female Soviet official is sent to the West where she is melted by romance. Astaire did a rock 'n' roll number which both he and Cole Porter, the composer, loathed. Ninotchka and Silk Stockings were forbidden in Finland because of their jokes about the Soviet system. In 1982 Mamoulian received the Directors Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award. Mamoulian died in Los Angeles on December 4, 1987. "A film must have two elements – it must deal with the real world and show how it could be made better," Mamoulian said in an interview in 1983.
For further reading: Mamoulian by Tom Milne (1969); Directing the Film: Film Directors on Their Art by Eric Sherman (1976); Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, edited by Richard J. Anobile (1976); Sound and the Cinema: The Coming of Sound to American Film, edited by Evan William Cameron (1980); The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz (1994); Reinventing Reality: The Art and Life of Rouben Mamoulian by Mark Spergel (1993); The Literary Monster on Film: Five Nineteenth Century British Novels and Their Cinematic Adaptations by Abigail Burnham Bloom (2010); Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear, edited by Neil Lerner (2010); Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen by David Luhrssen (2013); "On My Way": The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess by Joseph Horowitz (2013)
Works as a writer: