Lewis Milestone Poster


Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (1)  | Trivia (14)  | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (5)

Born in Kishinev, Russian Empire [now Chisinau, Moldova]
Died in Los Angeles, California, USA  (after surgery)
Birth NameLev Milstein
Nickname Milly
Height 5' 7½" (1.71 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Lewis Milestone, a clothing manufacturer's son, was born in Bessarabia (now Moldova), raised in Odessa (Ukraine) and educated in Belgium and Berlin (where he studied engineering). He was fluent in both German and Russian and an avid reader. Milestone had an affinity for the theatre from an early age, starting as a prop man and background artist before traveling to the US in 1914 with $6.00 in his pocket. After a succession of odd jobs (including as a dishwasher and a photographer's assistant) he joined the Army Signal Corps in 1917 to make educational short films for U.S. troops. Following World War I, having acquired American citizenship, he went on to Hollywood to meet the director William A. Seiter at Ince Studios. Seiter started him off as an assistant cutter. Milestone quickly worked his way up the ranks to become editor, assistant director and screenwriter on many of Seiter's projects in the early 1920s, experiences that would greatly influence his directing style in years to come.

Milestone directed his first film, Seven Sinners (1925), for Howard Hughes and two years later won his first of two Academy Awards for the comedy Two Arabian Knights (1927). He received his second Oscar for what most regard as his finest achievement, the anti-war movie All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The film, universally praised by reviewers for its eloquence and integrity, also won the Best Picture Academy Award that year. A noted Milestone innovation was the use of cameras mounted on wooden tracks, giving his films a more realistic and fluid, rather than static, look. Other trademarks associated with his pictures were taut editing, snappy dialogue and clever visual touches, good examples being the screwball comedy The Front Page (1931), the melodrama Rain (1932)--based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham--and an adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1939). When asked in 1979 about the secret behind his success, he simply declared "Arrogance, chutzpah--in the old Hollywood at least that's the thing that gave everybody pause" (New York Times, September 27, 1980). Milestone had a history of being "difficult", having clashed with Howard Hughes, Warner Brothers and a host of studio executives over various contractual and artistic issues. Nonetheless, he remained constantly employed and worked for most of the major studios at one time or another, though never on long-term contracts. While he was not required to testify before HUAC, Milestone was blacklisted for a year in 1949 because of left-wing affiliations dating back to the 1930's. His output became less consistent during the 1950s and his career finished on a low with the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and its incongruously cast, equally headstrong star Marlon Brando.

Milestone must be credited with a quirky sense of humor: when the producer of "All Quiet on the Western Front", Carl Laemmle Jr., demanded a "happy ending" for the picture, Milestone telephoned, "I've got your happy ending. We'll let the Germans win the war".

Having suffered a stroke, Lewis Milestone spent the last ten years of his life confined to a wheelchair. He died September 25, 1980, at the University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Family (1)

Spouse Kendall Lee (1936 - 30 July 1978)  (her death)

Trivia (14)

Won the only ever Best Comedy Director Oscar (for Two Arabian Knights (1927)) at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.
Replaced Carol Reed as director of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) after Reed quit because he could not cope with the massive ego of the film's star, Marlon Brando. Milestone didn't find Brando any easier to work with and in the end let him do as he pleased. When asked by the cameraman why he wasn't watching the filming, Milestone replied, "I hate to see movies in pieces, so you let him do this and when it's all finished and cut, for ten cents I can walk into the theatre and see the whole thing at once. Why should I bother to look at it now?".
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 770-778. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Born in Russia, he emigrated to the US in 1917 in order to escape being drafted into the Russian army during World War I, but upon his arrival in the US immediately enlisted in the US Army and was sent to France, where he fought until the war's end.
A device Milestone used in most of his war films--i.e., All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Edge of Darkness (1943), A Walk in the Sun (1945) and Pork Chop Hill (1959)--is the dolly shot that moves across infantry attacking toward the camera in echelon and being felled one at a time by machine-gun fire.
Cousin of virtuoso violinist Nathan Milstein.
A founding member of the Directors Guild.
Directed two actors to Oscar nominations: Adolphe Menjou (Best Actor, The Front Page (1931)) and Akim Tamiroff (Best Supporting Actor, The General Died at Dawn (1936)).
His career was adversely affected by the "McCarthy" era in the late 1940s and early 1950s. To avoid being humiliated by the House Un-American Activities Committee--which was desperately trying to find "Communist subversion" in Hollywood films--he began making films abroad, in both Britain and Italy, but they were not successful. His last three films were Hollywood productions with large budgets, but Milestone had a bad time on all of them--Gregory Peck re-edited Pork Chop Hill (1959) (which he co-produced); Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" seem to have largely ignored him on the set of Ocean's 11 (1960); and he had the worst experience of his career trying to direct Marlon Brando on Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) remake. This last was also a hugely expensive box-office failure. Milestone was then scheduled to direct PT 109 (1963), a film about President John F. Kennedy's wartime adventures, but was replaced by a minor TV director, Leslie H. Martinson. After that, Milestone seems to have given up on films, although he directed a few television series episodes, an experience he did not enjoy.
Mr. Milestone and his wife regarded actor, 'Christopher Riordan, as family. They often referred to him as "the son they never had".
Directed five Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Racket (1928), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Front Page (1931), Of Mice and Men (1939) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), with All Quiet on the Western Front winning Best Picture in 1930.
The first person to win two Best Director Oscars: Best Director (Comedy) for Two Arabian Knights (1927) and Best Director for All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). This actually made him the first person to win two Academy Awards (in any category).
After winning two Best Director Oscars, he became the first director to be nominated in three different years when he was given a nod for The Front Page (1931).
He has directed three films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Front Page (1931) and A Walk in the Sun (1945).

Personal Quotes (4)

[on taking over the direction of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] I thought, "This is one way of getting rich quick--I get the salary and, at most, it couldn't take two or three months". After I'd signed the contract I found out that in the previous year all they'd had on screen was about seven minutes of film. I spent a year on it.
[on directing Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] Everything went off fine for a couple of weeks, and then suddenly we were doing a scene and Marlon spoke to the cameraman, right past me. He said, "Look, I'll tell you, when I go like this, it means roll it, and this gesture means you stop the camera. You don't stop the camera until I give you the signal". Well, I was amazed, but I didn't say anything about it.
[on Errol Flynn] His faults harmed no one but himself.
[on Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] I thought Brando's performance as Fletcher Christian was horrible. I've only seen him act once, and that was on Broadway in "A Streetcar Named Desire"; a marvelous performance. But he was never an actor before and hasn't been one since.

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