Who was Robert Z. Leonard?
Robert Z. Leonard was an American film director, actor, producer, and screenwriter known for films like ‘Dancing Lady’ and ‘The Great Ziegfeld,’ the latter of which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director. Primarily known for his stylish, opulent and lavish musicals, he made a rare foray into the genre of film noir with ‘The Bribe’ which was a steamy melodrama that did not perform well at the box office. Born in Chicago, Illinois, he ventured into films almost by chance. He aspired to be a lawyer as a young man and studied law at the University of Colorado. However, it did not take him long to realize that being a lawyer was not his calling. When his family moved to Hollywood, he realized that the newly developing film industry offered many exciting opportunities and embarked on a career as an actor. Within a few years, he established himself as an actor and was began looking for newer challenges. He turned to directing and led the creation of a series of comedy shorts before tasting considerable success as a director. Over a career spanning around three decades, he was one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s premier directors.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert Zigler Leonard was born on October 7, 1889, in Chicago, Illinois.
As a young man, he decided to study law and enrolled at the University of Colorado. He soon realized that the legal profession held no interest for him and started exploring alternative occupations.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
His family moved to Hollywood in 1907 where the fledgling film industry was gradually taking roots. Excited by the prospects offered by the emerging industry, he ventured into filmdom and began his acting career.
Some of his early films were: ‘The Courtship of Miles Standish’ (1910), ‘The Sea Urchin’ (1913), and ‘Shon the Piper’ (1913).
By this time he was gaining an interest in getting behind the camera and made his directorial debut with the 1913 drama ‘A Woman’s Folly.’
In 1914, he made a series of comedy shorts in which he also starred—‘The Boob’s Honeymoon’, ‘The Sherlock Boob’, and ‘The Boob’s Nemesis’, among others.
He directed several movies during the late 1910s including ‘Secret Love’ (1916), ‘The Bride's Awakening’ (1918), ‘Danger, Go Slow’ (1918), and ‘The Miracle of Love’ (1919).
His rising stature as a director prompted him to found Tiffany Productions, a movie-making venture, in 1921, in collaboration with his then-wife Mae Murray and Maurice H. Hoffman. The company made eight films before spiraling downwards following the breakdown of Leonard and Murray’s marriage in 1925.
The year 1921 also marked the beginning of Leonard’s long term collaboration with Metro Pictures (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer [MGM]) as the producer and director on ‘Peacock Alley’ which was released in 1922.
Over the ensuing years he, established himself as a popular director and earned a reputation for his opulent musicals characterized by extravagant sets and stylish costumes. Among his most successful hits for MGM were the musical ‘Dancing Lady’ (1933), the extravagant musical biopic ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ (1936), and the stylish ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1940).
In 1941, he directed yet another musical, ‘Ziegfeld Girl’, starring James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner. Set in the 1920s, the film tells the parallel stories of three aspiring performers who aim to make it big in the renowned Broadway show the Ziegfeld Follies. The film was a huge commercial hit.
His career hit a plateau following the success of ‘Ziegfeld Girl.’ He continued directing but none of his later films including ‘Duchess of Idaho’ (1950), ‘Her Twelve Men’ (1954), ‘Beautiful But Dangerous’ (1955), and ‘Kelly and Me’ (1957) could recreate the magic of his previous ones.
Robert Z. Leonard received much acclaim for directing the Norma Shearer starrer ‘The Divorcee’, based on the novel ‘Ex-Wife’ by Ursula Parrott. The film, which portrayed the female protagonist as a sexually independent woman was a critical as well as commercial success.
Best known for his sophisticated musicals, he directed the musical ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ which starred William Powell as the theatrical impresario Florenz "Flo" Ziegfeld, Jr. With highly elaborate costumes, dances and sets, the film was acclaimed as the greatest musical biography to be made in Hollywood and still remains a standard in musical film making.
Awards & Achievements
Robert Z. Leonard was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for ‘The Divorcee’ and ‘The Great Ziegfeld.’
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6368 Hollywood Blvd.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first marriage was to the actress, dancer, film producer, and screenwriter, Mae Murray, in 1918. Murray was known for her volatile temperament and the marriage came to an end in 1925.
He married actress, Gertrude Olmstead, in 1926 and remained together until his death.
Robert Z. Leonard died on August 27, 1968, at the age of 78.