Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys here today to introduce a very special treat, the first in a six-part series devoted to the man pictured above, Allan Dwan.
As critic-columnist Dave Kehr of The New York Times noted in May, it’s looking to be a good year for the pioneer American filmmaker, who began directing in 1911, and worked without a break for half a century.
His extraordinary career is the subject of an exhaustively researched recent biography by Fredric Lombardi. The book is titled Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios, published by McFarland, 2013.
Lombardi is a friend of Classic Movie Chat, and we are most pleased that his book prompted (and was the basis of) a full-fledged retrospective Dwan’s work staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from June 5 through July 8.
Lombardi’s biography is termed by MOMA as being “definitive,” capturing Dwan’s long journey in unprecedented detail. This exhibition tried to do justice to the former’s scholarship and the latter’s artistry.
Fred has kindly agreed to adapt portions of his new book into six guest blogs for us, the first of which is published today. Here’s Fred:
Dwan was one of the early pioneers of the film industry. After a stint as a screenwriter, Dwan started directing movies in 1911, just three years after the greatest of America’s pioneering filmmakers, D.W. Griffith, directed his first film.
But where Griffith’s directorial career ended in 1931, Dwan’s last directorial credit followed thirty years later. Thus, Dwan’s career spanned almost the entire length of what people refer to as the classic film era.
He was also astonishingly prolific, helming well over 100 feature films and over two hundred short movies. If we combine all the pictures Dwan made as a director, writer, producer and supervisor, the total would come to a staggering amount somewhere between 400 and 500 movies.
However, quantity alone is not the real story here. What was extraordinary about Dwan was that he showed that he could make films swiftly and economically, and still deliver quality.
Dwan became a film director by accident. When working as a scenarist for the Flying A Company, Dwan was asked to check out why its Western unit was not delivering films to the main office in Chicago. Dwan discovered that the director had gone off on a bender and when no one else proved available, he was instructed that he would have to take over as director. Dwan then continued to provide Flying A with highly successful movies that would keep the company afloat.
As a combination of trail boss and director, Dwan kept the Western unit moving on, exploiting colorful locales throughout southern California.
While the company had a business manager, they were too far from their Chicago base to get approvals so Dwan had charge of all the business decisions. Although this lasted only two years until the spring of 1913, Dwan would never forget his taste of open-range filmmaking and would continue to fight for independence for the rest of his career.
Dwan went on to become one of the most successful directors of the silent film era, making some of the biggest hits of the legendary stars Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson.
Like other celebrated personalities of the time, Dwan’s career came close to ending in the early sound era. Somehow he managed to hang on and at the age of 50 found a spot in the roster of Fox’s B-movie directors.
His career got a boost when he was plucked by Darryl F. Zanuck in 1937 to direct Shirley Temple in what would become one of her most beloved films, HEIDI.
Ed Sullivan, then a syndicated columnist, would comment in 1939 that ‘Dwan had staged a miracle comeback at 20th-Century Fox.’ And it was true”
Thanks Fred. We’re sure our reader’s would love more info and we heartily recommend your book.