“It was a theory that died very hard that the public would not stand for anyone
dressed in clothes of another period....I got around this objection by staging
what we call a vision. The poor working girl was dreaming of love and reading
‘Tristan and Isolde.’ The scene faded out, and scenes were depicted on the
screen that the girl was supposed to be reading....Thus a bit of costume picture
was put over on the man who bought the picture for his theater, and there was no
protest from the public.” Cecil B. DeMille
One of the most flourishing filmmakers during the first half of the 20th
century, Cecil B. DeMille, born in 1881, died in 1959, was a fundamental figure
in the early development of the classic Hollywood narrative filmmaking style, a
form which remains dominant to this day. Though less critically respected than
D.W. Griffith, he in fact played a more significant role in shaping the
structure of the Hollywood system. For his great contributions to the business,
DeMille has been named “the founder of Hollywood,” “the showman of showmen” as
well as “the world’s greatest director.” Additionally, the lifetime achievement
award from the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globes) is named after him. The
film school at Chapman University in Orange, California is also named in honor
Gaining first recognition for his efforts in the most famous early feature film
The Squaw Man (1914), the 1958 recipient of Golden Laurel’s Top
Producer/Director continued to develop a status as one of the finest filmmakers
in the industry with such films as The Cheat (1915), and reached the zenith of
his fame in the late 1910s and early 1920s with films like Don’t Change Your
Husband (1919), The Ten Commandments (1923), and The King of Kings (1927).
Before his death, DeMille proved he remained a great director by nabbing an
Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his spectacular work in The Greatest
Show on Earth (1952). His last amazing behind-the camera-efforts is the
remarkable remake of The Ten Commandments (1956), which received an Oscar nod
for Best Picture.
Outside the limelight, one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), who earned $500/week for The Warrens of Virginia
(1915), $500/week for The Captive (1915) and $10,000 for Sunset Blvd. (1950),
married actress-wife Constance Adams from 1902 until his death in 1959. The pair
shared one biological daughter and three adopted children. Though DeMille and
his wife were together for almost sixty years, he had long-term affairs with
companions Julia Faye and Jeanie Macpherson. He sporadically entertained the two
women simultaneously on his yacht or his ranch. Knowing the affairs, his wife
chose to live with their children in the main house.
Childhood and Family:
On August 12, 1881, Cecil Blount DeMille was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts,
but raised in Saint John, New Brunswick. His father, Henry Churchill de Mille,
was a lay minister in the Episcopal Church and taught at Columbia University. He
also worked as a play reader with New York’s Madison Square Theater, wrote
several plays, and even enjoyed a very victorious partnership with David Belasco.
After his death in 1893, Cecil’s mother, Matilda Beatrice Samuel de Mille,
developed the family house into a girl’s school and later built the DeMille Play
Company. Cecil had an older brother named William C de Mille.
Cecil B. DeMille, known by family and close friends as C.B, attended
Pennsylvania Military College, but dropped out to join the Armed forces at the
outburst of the American-Spanish War. Declined for being too young, he then
enrolled in American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in order to follow in
his brother’s footsteps who had started a fruitful stage career.
While on tour, Cecil met actress Constance Adams and they got married on August
16, 1902. The couple welcomed a daughter named Cecilia DeMille Presley in 1908.
Cecil and his wife also had three adopted children, John, Richard and Katherine
On January 21, 1959, Cecil passed away because of heart failure and was buried
in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. His wife died a year
later, on July 17, 1960.
'The Greatest Show on Earth
One of the most thriving filmmakers in Hollywood history, Cecil B. DeMille
started his career on Broadway with a role in “Hearts Are Trumps” in 1990. A
touring actor, he teamed up with the silver haired “wizard of Broadway” David
Belasco seven years later on a production of “The returned of Peter Grimm,”
while also helping his mother run the DeMille Play Company. Meanwhile, he
directed or stage managed numerous shows, as well as wrote or co-wrote plays
like a one act cabaret drama, “The Royal Mounted,” which would later become the
root of his 1940’s film North West Mounted.
By 1913, DeMille had added the quality of judicious businessman to his credits
when he collaborated with burlesque producer Jesse L. Lasky, with whom he
formerly penned many one-act operettas, Arthur Friend and glove salesman Samuel
Goldfish to form a motion picture firm called Lasky Feature Play Company. Moving
to Hollywood, DeMille immediately scored a success with The Squaw Man (1914),
the most celebrated early feature film in which he served as co-director and
co-producer. The film’s massive victory subsequently established the new company
as a force and helped set DeMille’s directorial career on the rise.
The following years, DeMille cemented a reputation for himself as A-list
director with such projects as Carmen (1915), The Cheat (1915) and The Golden
Change (1916). Also in 1916, the Lasky Feature Play Company merged with Adolph
Zukor’s Famous Players Films Company and Frank Garbutt’s Bosworth, Inc to form
the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, and then assumed control of Paramount. He
maintained his position as Director General for the company, but he gradually
resigned his decision-making duties to focus on making his own films.
His early work for Famous Players was Joan the Woman (1917), which earned
critical acclaim, but met with only humble box-office success. He followed it up
with such successful and powerful domestic social comedies as Old Wives for New
(1918), Don't Change Your Husband (1919), Why Change Your Wife? (1920) and
Saturday Night (1922). In this era, DeMille also started to spread out his
business welfares by forming California’s first commercial airline named Mercury
Aviation Company in 1919. He also sat on the board of the Bank of Italy (later
Bank of America) and helped launch the bank’s association with the cinematic
In 1923, DeMille again attracted the attention with his behind-the scene-effort
in the highly successful The Ten Commandments, starring Theodore Roberts,
Charles de Rochefort and Estelle Taylor. Despite the massive sensation, the film
went enormously over budget that led to a tension in relationship between the
director and Famous Players-Lasky. As a result, the studio did not renew
Demille’s contact, and he finally departed Paramount in 1925 to set up his own
studio, Cecil B. DeMille Pictures. He bought the old Inc. Studios to form Cinema
Corporation of America and later the company fused with the Keith vaudeville
chain, then into Pathe.
Working on his own, DeMille produced such major hits as The Volga Boatman (1926)
and King of Kings (1927). However, the company’s lack of other such achievements
compelled DeMille to sign a three film deal MGM in 1928. His first picture,
Dynamite (1929), was a modest hit, and his next, Madam Satan (1930) and a remake
of the highly successful The Squaw Man (1931), proved to be box-office
disasters. With the disappointing result, MGM did not renew his contract. To
avoid the prospect of being jobless and nearly bankrupt, DeMille and his wife
then made a European trip in hope of kindling film productions in The Soviet
Union and Great Britain. Unfortunately, the efforts were useless and they
returned to the U.S., where DeMille managed to get a one-picture contract to
direct and produce The Sign of The Cross (1932) which was jointly produced by
his old studio, Paramount. The film was incredible hit, and DeMille stayed with
the company for the remainder of his amazing career.
Again with Paramount, DeMille reestablished his status as a bankable filmmaker,
making many hits like The Plainsman (1937), The Buccaneer (1938), Union Pacific
(1939, won a Golden Palm from Cannes Film Festival), Northwest Mounted Police
(1940), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), Unconquered
(1947) and Samson and Delilah (1949). He also delivered his best work at
historical costume epics with the Oscar-nominating for Best Picture, Cleopatra
(1934), and The Crusades (1935). Under studio boss Y. Frank Freeman and
President Barney Balaban DeMille helped make the company the most advantageous
of the studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age.
During his busy scheduled with Paramount, in 1936, DeMille received the offer to
host the CBS successful radio show, “Lux Radio Theater,” in which he also served
as director. He stayed with the dramatic anthology series until he decided to
quit in 1945 due to disagreement with the radio union.
Back to the director’s chair after three years hiatus, DeMille continued to make
a name for himself with the drama film The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).
Starring Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston, the charming film with
an un-typically contemporary-setting won him an Oscar for Best Picture and a
nomination for best director. He also picked up a Golden Globe for Best
Director. His directorial career finished with his impressive remake of The Ten
Commandments (1956), which was nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture.
At his death in 1959, DeMille was in the process of directing /producing a
classic film about the making of the Boy Scouts, to star James Stewart. His
property papers include a script, and general research material.
Laurel: Golden Laurel, Top Producer/Director, 1958
Oscar: Best Picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1953
Golden Globe: Best Director, The Greatest Show on Earth, 1953
Directors Guild of America: Lifetime Achievement, 1953
Cecil B. DeMille: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1952
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial: Honorary Award, Distinguished motion
picture pioneer for 37 years of brilliant showmanship, 1950
Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm, Union Pacific, 1939