William Le Baron

Active - 1923 - 1947  |   Born - Feb 16, 1883   |   Died - Jan 1, 1958   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Drama, Romance, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American producer William LeBaron left New York University with dreams of becoming a playright. This dream came to fruition, after which LeBaron signed on as managing editor of Collier's magazine. His instinctive sense of what constituted a good story enabled LeBaron to take charge of the East Coast branch of Famous Players/Lasky Studios in 1924. LeBaron had an overriding fascination with low comedians, especially W.C. Fields, whom LeBaron insisted upon starring in silent films even though Fields was hardly big box office at the time. In 1928, LeBaron moved to FBO Studios, which later evolved into RKO Radio, the company where LeBaron served as vice president in charge of production from 1929 to 1932. Again, his fondness for comedians surfaced, this time resulting in the signing of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, who for a while were RKO's biggest moneymakers. A disagreement with the RKO brass led LeBaron back to Famous Players, which was now formally known as Paramount Pictures. Once more, LeBaron foisted W.C. Fields upon the public, this time with more success; he also nurtured the screen career of Mae West, whose first starring film She Done Him Wrong literally saved Paramount from bankruptcy. With the departure of Ernst Lubitsch, LeBaron became Paramount's chief of production in 1936. Five years later, he set up an independent unit at 20th Century-Fox; one of his first efforts was to engage the services of (you guessed it) W.C. Fields for an all-star picture called Tales of Manhattan (1942). But the Fields footage was cut from the final release print, so LeBaron turned his attentions to brassy musicals starring such favorites as Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. William LeBaron's final production, released through United Artists, was Carnegie Hall (1947).

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