|Cecil B. DeMille was a director known around the world.
His name above the title was as much a draw as were his stars and
he ranks among the many innovative directors of his time. He was
one of the few directors who survived the transition from silent
to sound films and maintained his popularity throughout his lifetime.
He was born on August 12, 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts. He
was the younger of two sons born to his parents Henry Churchill
DeMille and his wife Mathilda Beatrice. Henry taught English at
Columbia University, preached sermons from the pulpit and wrote
plays. His mother, Mathilda turned their home into a school for
girls when her husband died and the tuition paid to send Cecil's
brother, William to Columbia University.Cecil was sent to the Pennsylvania
Military College. But she is best known for establishing The DeMille
Cecil ran away from military college to join the recruits
to fight in the Spanish-American War, only to be rejected
since he was too young. His mother then enrolled him
as a student at the Academy of the Dramatic Arts in
New York City after he had shown interest in the theater.
While acting, he met his future wife,
Constance Adams whom he married on August 16, 1902.
His debut as an actor was on February 21, 1900 in
a production of Hearts Art Trumps. Cecil collaborated
with his brother William on may plays and while doing
so he met Jesse L. Lasky with whom he would have a
lifelong relationship. After seeing The Great Train
Robbery in 1913, DeMille and Lasky were excited about
motion pictures and immediately decided to form the
Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play company. Samuel Goldfish
(later Goldwyn) also joined them. They purchased the
rights for Edwin Milton Royle's play, The Squaw Man.
After deciding that shooting on location in Arizona
was not appropriate they decided to go west to the
end of the railroad line, Los Angeles.
rented a big old barn at what is now the northeastern
corner of Vine and Selma to house their company. Here
is where they began the interior shots for The Squaw
Man. DeMille was already showing his interest in the
epic since The Squaw Man was the first full length
length (six reels) film. However, it was not until
he made Joan the Woman in 1917 that he realized his
true interest in filming the spectacular.
|During his first years as Director Producer he
was held in high regard by his peers. Among directors,
only his name and those of D.W. Griffith and Alfred
Hitchcock were really sufficient in themselves
to attract top box office trade.
left Lasky for awhile and even did three films
for MGM, but he returned to Paramount (which
Lasky has become) where he reigned for many
DeMille and his wife Constance raised
a large family, a natural daughter and
two sons and a daughter who were adopted,
John, Richard, and Katherine. Katherine
was to act in many of his films.
DeMille had many other interests which
1919 Mercury Aviation Company, one of the first American
airlines to carry air freight and passengers commercially
on regularly scheduled runs.Vice President and chairman of
motion picture loans for commercial National Trust and Savings
Banks of Los Angeles, which was purchased by Bank of Italy
and later became Bank of America.
President, DeMille Foundation for Political Freedom
President, Motion Picture Relief Fund
Chairman of the Motion Picture Division of the Community
Chest of Los Angeles
On the Board of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
and council of Motion Picture Organizations.
Three times president Association of Motion Picture producers.
When sound came, he was ready and able to accept the challenge. His
fourth sound film, The Sign of the Cross, was
truly the beginning of his sound career and
marked the way for all his future films. Most of his films, from then
on were historic or biblical epics for which he is best known.
During this period, he was also the producer of the Lux Radio Theater
from June 1, 1936 to January 22, 1945. Part of its success was his name
recognition. He left over a dispute regarding Proposition Twelve which
is explained in my Lux Radio Theater section.
For his whole life he continued planning and producing and was working on a
film about the boy scouts when he died. Early in the morning of January 21,
1959, he died at the age of 77. DeMille will be remembered for his historic/biblical
epics, but I hope he will also be known for the innovations he provided to
the film industry.