15 September 2005

Farewell To A Hollywood Legend: Robert Wise Passes Away At 91

Condolences to the family and friends of Hollywood legend Robert Wise, who passed away today of heart failure in Los Angeles at the age of 91. Wow, what a career this fellow had...

He was the film editor on Orson Welles' debut , the classic (and frequent winner in most of those "best film of all time" polls) "Citizen Kane" (1941), one of those rare films that almost single-handedly changed motion picture language and techniques.

Wise became a director with 1944’s "The Curse of the Cat People", after the original director fell too far behind schedule. Horror film icon Val Lewton hired Wise to direct another chiller, "The Body Snatcher" the following year. He directed 37 more films, among them some of the most acclaimed, influential, and beloved in the short history of the art form. Genre fans in an era pre-Lucas and Spielberg blockbusters marveled to his still-classic “The Haunting” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still”, as well as “The Andromeda Strain” and the underrated “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. The Hollywood musical was forever defined by his “West Side Story” (co-directed with Jerome Robbins) and “The Sound Of Music”. He worked in almost every genre, including straight drama (“Somebody Up There Likes Me”), the war film ("Run Silent Run Deep"), historical spectacle (“Helen Of Troy”), and the Western ("Tribute to a Bad Man"). His last film was 2000’s “A Storm In Summer”, which he directed, incredibly, at age 85 for Showtime from an unproduced screenplay by Rod Serling.

Wise was awarded four Oscars during his career, as well as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966. He also received the D.W. Griffith Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1988. He served as both President of the Director’s Guild and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was championed by seemingly everyone who ever knew and worked with him.

I had the pleasure of meeting Wise briefly when he came to Toronto in 1995 to promote the book “Robert Wise On His Films”. In a cramped memorabilia shop, he graciously took the time to speak to every one of his fans and sign materials despite the obvious ravages of age and road fatigue.