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Sam Wood

Sam Wood

D.O.B.: July 18, 1884 (Philadelphia, PA)

D.O.D.: September 22, 1949 (Hollywood, CA)

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Location: Forest Lawn Glendale; Garden of Memory; #640

Biographical Notes:

A solo director by 1919, Wood worked throughout the '20s directing some of Paramount's biggest stars, among them Gloria Swanson and Wallace Reid.

He began his long association with MGM in 1927, working with personalities as varied as Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Marie Dressler and Jimmy Durante.

He guided the Marx Brothers through their two most profitable films, A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), and turned out one of the most accomplished sentimental dramas ever made in Hollywood, Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939).

Hopping from studio to studio in the '40s, Wood directed Ginger Rogers through her Oscar-winning performance in Kitty Foyle; successfully transferred Thornton Wilder's highly theatrical Our Town to the screen; and assembled the quintessential baseball biopic, The Pride of the Yankees.

The list of Wood's successes would seem to assure him a niche in the ranks of all-time best Hollywood directors, yet his reputation has tarnished since his death in 1949. Most detractors insist that Wood was a hack, citing his habit of shooting each scene on an average of 20 times with his only verbal direction in each instance being "Go out there and sell 'em a load of clams." When really this technique was invaluable in wearing down such mannered performers as Walter Brennan, Dan Duryea, Frank Morgan and Wallace Beery, until they were tired enough to behave like human beings instead of play-actors.

The 20-take habit also enabled the more limited actors to rethink their interpretations until they'd found nuances that they would never have considered on the first take: Ronald Reagan, who was certainly no Olivier, was never better than in Wood's Kings Row (1942).

Taking into consideration all the complaints about Sam Wood, the biggest bone of contention seems to be his reactionary politics. Wood was active in a number of right-wing organizations, and in 1947 he virulently condemned Hollywood's "left" before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Directed:

"For Whom The Bell Tolls" (1943)

"Our Town" (1940)

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939)

 

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