When the American Film Institute released its list of the Top 100 American films of all-time in 1998, some film buffs were a little surprised to find that two of the top 10 -- Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both 1939) -- were credited to someone named Victor Fleming. No one, however, has ever made the case that Victor Fleming was one of the great filmmakers of the 20th century, or that he was even a very important American filmmaker.
Fleming, who was born on this day in 1883 in Pasadena, California, was, basically, a Hollywood hack. He started in film as a chauffeur, fixing director Allan Dwan's car, and through that connection he eventually worked as a cameraman on a number of Douglas Fairbanks films. From there he graduated to directing. During the silent period, he gained a reputation for making bad films which made a profit (as well as for bedding Clara Bow), and landed at MGM with the coming of the talkies, frequently working with Clark Gable.
In 1939, he took over The Wizard of Oz, which had been started by Richard Thorpe and George Cukor, and directed about 45% of Gone With the Wind, before and after suffering a nervous breakdown (with Cukor and Sam Wood directing the rest). He managed to ruin neither film, despite having slapped Judy Garland's face when she was being difficult on the set of Oz.
To be fair, he was an excellent technician, which made him well-suited to action pictures such as Captains Courageous (1937, with Spencer Tracy) and Test Pilot (1943, with both Tracy and Gable), but he did not have the personal skills to obtain superior performances from actors in need of guidance.
Fleming died January 6, 1946 in Arizona.
Labels: Classic Cinema