Childhood & Early Life
Frank Borzage was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA on April 23, 1894. His father was Luigi Borzage, an Italian stonemason, and his mother was Maria Ruegg, a Swiss woman. They had fourteen children but only eight survived. Frank was the fourth of the surviving eight comprising of Henry, Mary Emma, Bill, Frank, Daniel, Lew, Dolly and Sue.
At the age of 14 he left school and went to work in a silver mine. Later he worked as a prop man for travelling theater groups and started doing bit parts with them during this time.
Fascinated by films, he started working for Thomas Ince, a pioneer film producer and director, at the age of 18.
Frank Borzage got his first lead role in the melodrama 'The Wrath of the Gods’ in 1914.
He continued acting in lead roles for Ince and started directing films as well. He started with small one reel films like ‘The Pitch O’ Chance’ in 1915 and ‘The Silken Spider’ in 1916.
A large number of his early films were either westerns like ‘Nugget Jim’s Parrdner’ in 1916 or thrillers like ‘The Ghost Flower’ in 1917 starring William Desmond, Bessie Love, Gloria Swanson and Pauline Starke.
In 1920 he made the sentimental drama ‘Humoresque’ in his characteristic style which made him very popular.
He moved from ‘Paramount Pictures’ to ‘First National Pictures’ to ‘MGM and finally landed up in ‘Fox Film Corporation’ in 1925.
He directed silent movies like ‘The Higher Law’ in 1923, ‘Lazybones’ and ‘Wages for Wives’ in 1925, ‘Early to Wed’ in 1926 and ‘Seventh Heaven’ in 1927 starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor for which he won the best director’s award.
In 1929 he made ‘Lucky Star’ starring Gaynor and Farrell and his last silent film ‘The River’ starring Farrell and Mary Duncan.
He made his first hit talkie ‘They Had to See Paris’ in 1929 starring Will Rogers, ‘Song o’ My Heart’ in 1930 starring John McCormack and then ‘Lilom’. He was again successful with ‘Bad Girl’ starring Sally Eilers and James Dunn which brought him his second Academy Award for ‘Best Director’.
His last films with Fox were ‘Young as You Feel’ in 1931, followed by ‘After Tomorrow’ starring Spencer Tracy and ‘Young America’ in 1932.
Borzage directed the classic ‘Farewell to Arms’ in 1932 based on Ernest Hemingway’s book, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, ‘Secrets’ starring Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard and ‘Man’s Castle’ starring Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in 1933.
‘No Greater Glory’ starring George Breakston and ‘Little Man, What Now?’ starring Douglass Montgomery and Margaret Sullavan were made by Borzage in 1934.
He joined ‘Warner Bros’ and made ‘Flirtation Walk’ starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in 1934.
In 1935 he made ‘Living on Velvet’ and ‘Stranded’ both starring George Brent and Kay Francis and ‘Shipmates Forever’ starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.
In 1936 he paired Dick Powell and Marion Davies in the musical ‘Hearts Divided’ and Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in the romantic comedy ‘Desire’.
He next romantic film was ‘History is Made at Night’ in 1937 starring Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur and Colin Clive.
He settled down at MGM and made ‘Big City’ in 1937 starring Spencer Tracy and Luise Rainer.
He directed Joan Crawford in three films, ‘Mannequin’ and ‘Shining Hour’ in 1938 and ‘Strange Cargo’ in 1940.
He made ‘Three Comrades’ in 1938 starring Robert Taylor, Robert Young, Franchot Tone and Margaret Sullavan, ‘The Mortal Storm’ starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in 1940.
The quality of his direction declined a little with ‘Flight Command’ and ‘Smiling Through’ in 1941.
His best film during this period was ‘Stage Door Canteen’ in 1943 which had a long list of stars.
In 1944 he made ‘Till We Meet Again’ starring Ray Milland and Barbara Britton.
He switched from MGM to the RKO studio in 1945 where he made a gentle satire ‘The Spanish Main’.
He again moved from RKO to ‘Republic Pictures’ and made the finest movie during the end of his career titled ‘Moonrise’ in 1949.
During the mid 1950s he directed three installments of the ‘Screen Director’s Playhouse’ series.
After 1949 he next directed a World War II drama ‘China Doll’ in 1958 which starred Victor Mature and Ward Bond.
The religious epic ‘The big Fisherman’ was his last film in 1959 starring Howard Keel and Susan Kohner.
In 1962 he directed some uncredited sequences in the film ‘Journey Beneath The Desert’.
Awards & Achievements
Frank Borzage won the ‘Kinema Junpo Award’ for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ in 1928 and the ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Director’ in 1929 for ‘7th Heaven (1927)’.
In 1932 he won the Oscar for the ‘Best Director’ for a second time for the film ‘Bad Girl (1931)’.
In 1935 he won ‘The Fascist Party Cup’ for the ‘Best Foreign Film’ and was nominated for the ‘Mussolini Cup’ for ‘No Greater Glory (1934)’ at the ‘Venice Film Festival’.
In 1955 and 1957 he received the ‘George Eastman Award’ from the ‘George Eastman House’.
He was honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 1960.
In 1961 he was honored with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the ‘Director’s Guild of America’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Lorena ‘Rena’ Rogers in 1916 and divorced her in 1941.
In 1945 he married Edna Skelton, the ex-wife of comedian Red Skelton and divorced her in 1949.
He finally married Juanita Scott, an accountant, in 1953 and was with her till his death.
Frank Borzage died of cancer in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on June 19, 1962.