Mark Sandrich

Active - 1928 - 1944  |   Born - Jan 1, 1900   |   Died - Jan 1, 1945   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Romance, Drama

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Biography by Bruce Eder

One of Hollywood's most gifted and least heralded directors of the '30s and early '40s, Mark Sandrich was an engineering student at Columbia University when he entered the movie business by accident -- visiting a friend on the set of a film, he saw that the director had run into a problem in setting up a shot; Sandrich offered his advice, which worked. He entered movies in the prop department, and became a director specializing in comedy shorts five years later, in 1927. He made his first feature the next year, but returned to shorts following the arrival of sound. He won an Oscar in 1932 for So This is Harris and returned to feature films, most notably, comedies starring the team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, such as Hips Hips Hooray. In 1934, Sandrich got his first directing assignment on a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical Gay Divorce, which proved a success -- the following year, he directed what is widely regarded as the best movie ever made by the legendary dance team, Top Hat, which excelled in every department from music to choreography and was all pulled together seamlessly by Sandrich. Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), and Carefree (1938) followed. In 1940, Sandrich, who made his career at RKO, left the studio for Paramount, which offered him a chance to be a producer/director. He made several successful films in this capacity, including two Jack Benny classics, Buck Benny Rides Again and Love Thy Neighbor (both 1940), and the romantic comedy Skylark (1941), with Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland. But it was Holiday Inn (1942), starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, with music by Irving Berlin, that showed Sandrich at his best -- the musical/comedy started on the eve of America's entry into World War II, it featured sufficient serious overtones to capture the mood of the time, and showed Crosby and Astaire to brilliant advantage as performers who are rivals for the same woman; and it introduced the song "White Christmas," which remains the biggest selling popular song in history more than 50 years later. So Proudly We Hail (1943) was a Sandrich-produced and directed adaptation of a hit play, about army nurses sreving in the Pacific, and it was extremely popular and successful, and featured a pair of performers -- Adrian Booth and George Reeves -- whom Sandrich intended to bring to stardom after the war. Alas, it wasn't to be. In 1945, while in pre-production on a follow up to Holiday Inn called Blue Skies, starring Bing Crosby and featuring Irving Berlin's music, and serving as president of the Directors Guild, Sandrich died suddenly of heart failure. He was at the time one of the most trusted and influential directors in Hollywood, respected by his colleagues and the studio management -- his style was straightforward yet elegant, without pretentions, and he was equally adept at comedy, drama, and musicals. His sons Mark Jr. and Jay have gone onto successful careers as directors.

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