Preston Sturges

Active - 1930 - 1998  |   Born - Aug 29, 1898   |   Died - Aug 6, 1959   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance

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Biography by Bruce Eder

One of Hollywood's genuinely legendary directors, Preston Sturges redefined the boundaries and meaning of screen comedy during part of the early '40s. The son of a socially prominent couple, Sturges had a cosmopolitan upbringing throughout Europe and America, and served in the Air Corps during World War I. He worked for a time in his mother's cosmetics company before moving into other fields, including inventing. He began writing plays in the late '20s, creating one major hit, Strictly Dishonorable. Sturges then got some experience writing screen dialogue and became a scriptwriter in 1933. By the middle of the decade, he had developed a reputation at Paramount Pictures for his witty, sophisticated, but unpretentious writing, most notably in The Good Fairy and Easy Living. He also learned a lot about filmmaking during this period, and, in 1940, convinced the studio to allow him to direct his first picture, The Great McGinty, a political satire (always considered a risky category for films) that astonished everybody by becoming a major hit. Sturges subsequently directed Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan's Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), all of which were solid commercial and critical successes and seem even more extraordinary today considering their subject matter. Through its pacing and sheer bravado, Morgan's Creek somehow made it past the censors with its story of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, while Sullivan's Travels (considered by many to be Sturges' best film) managed to satirize Hollywood on numerous levels. He got the movie business to laugh at itself and Americans to laugh at their own sentimentality and cultural sacred cows, and he was so successful that many screenwriters began to move into directing. However, Sturges' own career faltered after a dispute with studio management and the failure of an ill-advised "serious" historical drama, The Great Moment (1944). He left Paramount in 1944 and tried to restart his career in collaboration with screen legend Harold Lloyd in Mad Wednesday (1947). After that failed, Sturges then made the successful, sophisticated comedy Unfaithfully Yours (1948) and faded out of Hollywood after making The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend (1949), a Western satire that was a shadow of his former work. A difficult partnership with Howard Hughes ended disastrously, and Sturges retreated to Europe, where he directed one more movie, The French, They Are a Funny Race, four years before his death in 1959. A superb writer and dazzling stylist in his prime, Sturges' reputation loomed larger even decades later, all the more amazing considering that it rested principally on a half-dozen pictures made during a relatively short period of time.

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