Allan Dwan Biography

A man of innovation with over 400 movies to his credit, Allan Dwan was a writer, director, producer belonging to the era of silent films. To read more about his childhood, profile, timeline and career read on

Quick Facts

Birthday: April 3, 1885

Nationality: American

Famous: Millionaires Directors

Died At Age: 96

Sun Sign: Aries

Also Known As: Joseph Aloysius Dwan, Alan Dwan, Dwan

Born in: Toronto

Famous as: Director


Spouse/Ex-: Marie Shelton, Pauline Bush

Died on: December 28, 1981

place of death: Woodland Hills

More Facts

education: University of Notre Dame

Continue Reading Below

A filmmaker belonging to the era of silent movies, Allan Dwan is touted as an actor’s director. With a background in engineering, he attempted to shoot films more effectively in terms of cost and quality. His ability to visualise a scene in his mind with minute details and then converting them to celluloid, lent a dramatic appearance to his shots. He always followed a logical approach to solve filmmaking problems. The techniques and approaches devised by him went on to become the standard norm later on He is credited for being the first ever director to use equipment such as cranes and dolly back then. The list of movies directed by him includes over 400 movies which comprises of about 300 silent short movies and over a hundred feature films. He’s believed to have contributed as a writer, actor, producer, and director to as many as 1500 movies. His career faltered with the advent of talkies. Though he had a slew of works, this filmmaker never got a chance to work with major projects. He was acknowledged as an actor’s director, since he liked to develop friendly relations with his actors, and always let the actors express their perceptions and views. He became an inspiration for many of the modern day directors. In his interview, book Peter Bogdanovich championed Allan as ‘The Last Pioneer’

Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

Childhood & Early Life
  • Joseph Aloysius Dwan was born in Ontario, Canada on April 3rd 1885. He was renamed Allan Dwan later, since he was teased in his school for having a girlish name. The family then migrated from Canada to America when he was barely eight years old.
  • He then attended the prestigious ‘University of Notre Dame’ located in Indiana, United States to pursue a degree in engineering.
    Continue Reading Below
  • Allan started his career as an engineer with a lighting company in Chicago. The production house ‘Essanay Studios’ was a client of the company he was working with, and during one of his assignments to inspect the lights installation in the studio, he came across movie producer George Spoor. Thus began his tryst with Hollywood, when he submitted his written works to the latter’s studio and was offered a job as the scriptwriter in 1909.
  • The story of how he turned a director is hilarious. This man initially worked as a scriptwriter for a movie production firm named ‘Flying A Studios’ in La Mesa, California. In August 1911, during the filming activity of one of the banner’s movies, he was asked to trace the whereabouts of the director.
  • It was later discovered that this director had fled town after one of his drinking episodes, and the responsibility to direct the movie passed on to Allan.
  • He then went on to work with the production company ‘Flying A Studios’ till 1913, directing as many as fifty Westerns starring the new-comer Pauline Bush. He later went on to marry her.
  • He next worked at the ‘Universal Pictures’ from 1913-1915, where he apparently directed twenty films including flicks like ‘A Girl of Yesterday’, which starred Mary Pickford.
  • He then directed the then famous actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, dubbed as the ‘power-couple’ of movie industry then, in a series of successful movies. Allan directed as many as ten movies starring Fairbanks, starting with the 1916 released ‘The Habit of Happiness’.
  • This director’s other works in 1916 include the Lillian and Dorothy Gish starrers ‘An Innocent Magdalene’ and ‘Betty of Greystone’. Both these movies were based on women-centric stories.
  • Dwan’s most notable movie with Douglas Fairbanks was the 1922 flick ‘Robin Hood’. The movie acquired him the reputation of being a major filmmaker.
  • Another actress with whom the director had a long term association was Gloria Swanson. He directed her in the 1925 movie ‘Manhandled’, followed by ‘Stage Struck’ the following year. The performances of Gloria in both these movies were considered to be top-notch.
    Continue Reading Below
  • He then directed actor Douglas Fairbanks for the last time in the movie ‘Iron Mask’, in 1929. Douglas played the role of ‘D’Artagnan’ in this flick and the movie turned out to be quite successful. By this time this filmmaker was at the zenith of his directorial career.
  • With the advent of talkies, Allan’s career started taking the path downhill. Though he was making numerous movies, most of them were B-list.
  • The maverick director bounced back in the year 1937, through the movie ‘Heidi’, which starred the prodigal child Shirley Temple The following year he directed her in the movie ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’.
  • In 1938-1939, he worked for the famous ‘20th Century Fox’ productions and made movies like ‘Suez’ and ‘Frontier Marshal’. He also directed the parodies ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Gorilla’.
  • This man directed the 1949 John Wayne starrer box-office hit ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima’. The movie which narrated a tale of war had the right mix of all elements including action and drama. Actor John Wayne earned his first Oscar nomination for this movie.
  • He continued working through the fifties and the year 1958 marked an end to his directorial career, with the science fiction movie ‘The Most Dangerous Man Alive’. The movie was released three years later. It is believed the director couldn’t find funding for another movie which forced him to retire.
  • With a career spanning 42 years, the filmmaker is apparently believed to have directed 400 films. He outlived his contemporaries both in professional and personal sphere and became an inspiration for many modern day directors.
Major Works
  • His movies ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Iron Mask’ starring Douglas Fairbanks were a big success at the box office. ‘Robin Hood’ established him in the industry as a major film maker.
  • The war movie ‘The Sands of Iwo Jima’, which came out in 1949 was also a block buster and earned Oscar nominations. The movie is a prized collection of the Republic Pictures Library.
Awards & Achievements
  • The legendary director has been honoured with a star in the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 1960 at ‘6263 Hollywood Boulevard’ street in California.
  • This great filmmaker was honoured with the ‘Career Achievement Award’ in 1976.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • This filmmaker was married to actress Pauline Bush whom he directed in many of his movies. After her death, he remarried to Marie Shelton.
  • His story as mentioned in the book ‘Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios’ by Frederic Lombardi, was released in New York accompanied by a screening of Allan’s directorial works.
  • He died in his woodland hills home in Los Angeles, California. The burial ceremony was held at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, Mission Hills, California

See the events in life of Allan Dwan in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Allan Dwan Biography
- Editors,
Last Updated
- November 09, 2017
Allan Dwan

People Also Viewed

Brie Larson
Robert De Niro
Clint Eastwood
Sylvester Stallone

Kirk Douglas
John Krasinski
Danny DeVito
Jack Nicholson