Walter Lang Biography

Walter Lang was an eminent American film director best known for directing a number of the spectacular colorful musicals for Fox Studios during the 1940s. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: August 10, 1896

Nationality: American

Famous: Directors American Men

Died At Age: 75

Sun Sign: Leo

Born in: Memphis, Tennessee

Famous as: Film Director

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Spouse/Ex-: Madalynne Field (m. 1937–1972; his death)

children: Richard Lang

Died on: February 7, 1972

U.S. State: Tennessee

City: Memphis, Tennessee

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Walter Lang was an eminent American film director best known for directing a number of the spectacular colorful musicals for Fox Studios during the 1940s. Not much is known about his early life except that during the First World War he served the US Army in France. On coming back, he got a job at a film production company and slowly became interested in directing. He got his first chance when Dorothy Davenport asked him to direct her in her own production ‘The Red Kimono’. Subsequently he made twelve more silent films. Therefore, by the time sound arrived, Walter Lang was already an established director. Yet, he did not get any good opening until the mid-1930s, when the 20th Century Fox hired him. They provided him with good scripts and first-rate actors and Lang began producing hits, many of which were musicals. In the meantime, he had made a short trip to Paris, hoping to make a mark as painter; but was unsuccessful in the venture. However, in spite of being billed as one the greatest directors of Hollywood, he nurtured a love for painting, which he took up once again after retiring from film industry. He was a thorough gentleman and was highly respected by contemporaries.

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Childhood & Early Life
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  • In 1925, Dorothy Davenport appointed Lang as the director of her production ‘The Red Kimono’. The silent film was based on the life of a prostitute, whose real name was used. Because of it, Davenport was successfully sued by the prostitute for a hefty amount.
  • However, Lang continued making films and over the next four years, he was able to make a dozen more silent films. ‘The Spirit of Youth’, released in 1929, was the last film of this lot.
  • His first Pre Code film, ‘Hello Sister’, was released on February 15, 1930. In the same year he made ‘Cock O’ the Walk’, ‘The Big Fight’, ‘The Costello Case’ and ‘The Brothers’. Among them ‘The Brothers’, released by Columbia Pictures, then a minor studio, made some impact.
  • In 1931, he made ‘Command Performances’, ‘Hell Bound’ and ‘Women Go on Forever’. Fed up of working with small companies, he decided to go to France and try his hand at painting.
  • In France, he spent sometime in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris, but soon realized he was not cut out to be a painter. Therefore, he returned to the U.S.A and made his second film with Columbia Pictures, Titled ‘No More Orchids’. the film was released on November 25, 1932. It starred Carole Lombard as Ann Holt; but unfortunately, it was not very successful at the box office. In spite of that, Lang continued making films.
  • ‘Meet the Baron’ (1933), ‘The Party’s Over’ (1934) and ‘Love before Breakfast’ (1936) were few other significant, but not real successful films that followed ‘No more Orchids’. In fact, it was not until he was hired by 20th Century-Fox in the mid-1930s that he tasted real success.
  • In 1937, he opened his innings with Fox with a comedy film named ‘Wife Doctor and Nurse’. Subsequently, he made 34 films over a period of four decades with the same company. It was here at Fox, that Lang, for the first time, had the privilege of working with front-line actors and excellent scripts.
  • ’The Little Princess’, his fourth film with Fox was his first major hit. Released in 1939, the movie was made with a budget of $ 1 million and starred Shirley Temple as a child artist.
  • ’The Blue Bird’ made in 1940 was another of his significant films. Although it was a box office failure it earned two Academy nominations and is now available on both VHS and DVD.
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  • Lang’s next major work was ’Tin Pan Alley’. Released on November 29, 1940, this periodical musical had Alice Faye, Betty Grable, John Payne and Jack Oakie in lead roles. The music was done by Alfred Newman, who received his first Oscar for this film. It did exceedingly well at the box office.
  • His next film, ‘Moon Over Miami’, released on June 18, 1941, was even a greater hit. It was another musical film, telling the story of two sisters (Betty Grable and Carole Landis) who go husband hunting in Miami. The male lead was Don Ameche and the film's original songs were composes by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger.
  • Subsequently, he made two more musicals, ‘Weekend in Havana’ (1941) and ‘Song of the Island’ (1942), both of which were considerable hits. Thereafter he made a non-musical comedy called ’The Magnificent Dope’. Starring Henry Fonda, Lynn Bari and Don Ameche, it was released on July 1, 1942.
  • Thereafter, he went back to musicals and made ‘Coney Islands’. Released on June 11, 1943, the film starred Betty Gable as Kate Farley. It was also a very big hit. Made with a budget of $1.62 million, it earned $3.5 million in US rental.
  • Walter Lang then continued churning more hits films. ‘Greenwich Village’, released on September 27, 1944 earned $1,850,000, at the box office. His next film, ‘State Fair’, released on August 29, 1945 earned $4 million in US and Canada rentals.
  • In 1946, he had two films released in quick succession. ‘Claudia and David’ was released on February 25 and ‘Sentimental Journey’ on March 6. Although the later film failed to attract good reviews it was nonetheless a box office success.
  • His next film, ‘Mother Wore Tights’ was released in September, 1947. Gable, who had been ruling the box office since the beginning of the 1940s, scored her biggest triumph with this film.
  • In 1948, he had two films released. Among them, ‘Sitting Pretty’ was the year’s greatest comedy hit. It is about one Mr. Belvedere, who is hired to babysit three wild children, who had driven away all other babysitters. His next film, ‘When My Baby Smiles at Me’ was also a big hit.
  • This was followed by ‘You're My Everything’ (1949) and ‘Cheaper by Dozen’ (1950). ‘Cheaper by Dozen’ was about a family with twelve children and was a super hit, earning $4,425,000 at the box office. It was followed by an equally successful satire titled, ‘Jackpot’ (1950).
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  • In 1951, he had ‘On the Riviera’, a successful backstage musical released. The following year, he made ‘With a Song in My Heart’; it was a biographical film about actress and singer Jane Froman and won great accolades. It was followed by ‘Call Me Madam’ (1953) and ‘There's No Business Like Show Business’ (1954).
  • In 1956, Lang produced a master hit; ‘The King and I’. It was both a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning five.
  • It was followed by ‘Desk Set’, released as ‘His Other Woman’ in the UK. This 1957 comedy film, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepbur, currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Next in 1959, he had his ‘But not For Me’ released. Unlike his other films, it was distributed by Columbia Pictures. However, for ‘Can Can’ he went back to 20th Century Fox. Unfortunately, this musical extravaganza bombed at the box office; failing to incur its production cost.
  • Thereafter Lang made a light and witty film, ‘The Marriage Go Round’ (1961). Then in 1962, he made his last film, ‘Snow White and the Three Stooges’. It was a comedy-fantasy, tailored specifically for children and so the studio could not recover the production cost, which was around $3,500,000.
Major Works
  • ’The Little Princess’ (1939), ’Tin Pan Alley’ (1940), ‘Moon Over Miami’ (1941), ‘Coney Island’ (1943) and ‘There's No Business Like Show Business’ (1954) are some of Lang’s more significant works.
  • His finest work is ‘King and I’ (1956), which tells the story about a strong-willed, widowed schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, who arrives in Bangkok from Wales, with her young son Louis, as the tutor of King Mongkut’s many children. Made with a budget of $4.55 million, it earned $21.3 million at the box office and received great critical acclaim.
Awards & Achievements
  • Although Lang received Academy nomination for his work in ‘King and I’ he failed to receive any award. Nonetheless, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6520 Hollywood Blvd for his contribution to the motion picture industry.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1937, Lang married Madalynne Field, a former actress and a close friend of Carole Lombard. Before her marriage, she often acted as Carole’s secretary. Their son, Richard Lang, later followed his father’s footstep and became a renowned director.
  • Walter Lang died on February 7, 1972 and was buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery, in Inglewood, California.
  • Although Lang never received any significant award, he had directed six Oscar winning actors; Clifton Webb (Sitting Pretty), Dan Dailey (When My Baby Smiles at Me), Susan Hayward and Thelma Ritter (With a Song in My Heart), Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr (The King and I).

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- Walter Lang Biography
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Last Updated
- October 12, 2017
Walter Lang

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