Childhood & Early Life
George Roy Hill was born on December 20, 1921, in Minneapolis into a well-to-do family that owned Minneapolis Tribune. His father’s name too was George Roy Hill and his mother’s name was Helen Frances Hill.
Young George had his schooling at The Blake School and passed out from there in 1939. While in school, he developed an interest in flying and obtained his license at the age of 16. He was equally fond of classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach being his favorite musician.
After passing out from school, he entered the Yale University with music. Here he studied under notable musicians, including German composer Paul Hindemith and earned his degree in 1943.
Afterwards, he joined United States Marine Corps as part of his military service. He was stationed at the South Pacific, where he served as cargo pilot. On his release, he first began working as a newspaper reporter in Texas.
Later taking advantage of the GI Bill, he went to Ireland to study music and literature at Trinity College, Dublin. There he worked on James Joyce and his use of music in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
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In 1947, while still in Ireland, he made his stage debut with ‘The Devil's Disciple’, a play written by Bernard Shaw and produced by Cyril Cusack at Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Later in 1948, he played the leading role in ‘Raven of Wicklow’ and also directed his first play, ‘Biography’.
Subsequently, he returned to the U.S.A, where he started working in Off Broadway shows, touring with Margaret Webster's Shakespeare Repertory Company for some time. During this period, he supplemented his income by working at the radio.
Subsequently, he began appearing on Broadway shows like ‘Richard II’ and ‘The Creditors’. In 1952, he took part in an anti communist docudrama called ‘Walk East on Beacon’. Soon after that, he was recalled to serve in the Korean War.
For 18 months, he served as a night fighter pilot. Stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point jet flight-training center in North Carolina, he soon rose to the rank of a major.
After being released from the military service, he began working in television. During this period, he also wrote a play titled ‘My Brother’s Keeper’, in which he used the experience he gathered during the Korean War. It was telecast on Craft Television Theatre in late 1953 and he himself was one of the casts.
Later, he joined the company as a writer and subsequently directed ‘Playhouse 90’. It featured 90 minutes live episode. ‘A Night to Remember’ (on the sinking of Titanic, 1956) and ‘The Helen Morgan Story’ (1957) are two of his most notable works of this period. He received Emmy Awards for both these woks.
Also in 1957, Hill returned to Broadway as the director of ‘Look Homeward Angel’, a play which was both commercial and critical success. It opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on November 28, 1957 and closed on April 4, 1959; running for 564 performances. It also won several Tony Award nominations.
’Period of Adjustment’ was his next major work on Broadway. The play, which received average review, was premiered at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway on November 10, 1960 and closed on March 4, 1961 after 132 performances.
Although the play received only average review Hill next decided to make a comedy film out of it. Also titled ‘Period of Adjustment’, it was his first feature length film. It was distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayor and was released on October 31, 1962. The film earned a profit of $558,000.
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His second film, ‘Toys in the Attic’ (1963) was however a financial failure. Although it received an Academy nomination in the Best Costume Category and two Golden Globe nominations in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category, it actually made a loss of $1.2 million.
He was able to consolidate his position in the Hollywood with his next comedy film, ‘The World of Henry Orient’. Released in 1964, it starred Peter Sellers as the concert pianist Henry Orient. Later the film became the official U.S. entry at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival.
His subsequent film ‘Hawaii’, starring Julie Andrews and Max von Sydow, was both a critical and financial success. Released in October 1966, the film was set in early nineteenth century Hawaii. Apart from earning $34.5 million at the box office it also earned two Golden Globe Awards and seven Academy Award nominations.
Next in March 1967, he had another successful film, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’, released. Starring Julie Andres and James Fox, it opened to a very good review and earned seven Academy and five Golden Globe nominations. Financially, it was the tenth highest grossing film in 1967.
Then in 1969, Hill directed the movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. Released in the same year, the film tells the story of two Wild West outlaws running away from law after a string of train robberies. It was a huge hit.
His next film ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ (1972) was an anti-war science fiction film, which also won number of prizes. However, it was his 1973 film, ‘The Sting’, which is considered to be his most notable work. It was a big hit at box office and won seven Academy Awards, including the Best Director Award.
Afterwards, Hill started working on something that was close to his heart. Himself an avid flyer, he co-wrote, directed and produced ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’ (1975). It was about a World War I veteran pilot who earned his living by barnstorming. The aerial sequence in the film was simply fabulous.
His next film was ‘Slap Shot’ (1977). It was a comedy film about a minor league hockey team. Most critics found it crude, violent, but very funny. Sportswriter Don Jenkins, however, declared that the film was the “best sports film of the past fifty years”.
Hill’s next film was ‘A Little Romance’ (1979). He was not only the director of the movie, but also co-wrote the screenplay with Allan Burns; but did not take credit.
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Subsequently, he did only three movies, ‘The World According to Garp’ (1982), ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ (1984) and ‘Funny Farm’ (1988), each of which did moderately at the box office. Then he left Hollywood and spent his later years teaching drama at Yale University.