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Vincente Minnelli

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vincente Minnelli
Vincente Minnelli, circa 1950s
Lester Anthony Minnelli[1]

(1903-02-28)February 28, 1903
DiedJuly 25, 1986(1986-07-25) (aged 83)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
  • Theatre director
  • film director
Years active1928–1976
Notable work
(m. 1945; div. 1951)
Georgette Magnani
(m. 1954; div. 1958)
Denise Gigante
(m. 1962; div. 1971)
Margaretta Lee Anderson
(m. 1980)
Children2, including Liza Minnelli

Vincente Minnelli (born Lester Anthony Minnelli; February 28, 1903 – July 25, 1986) was an American stage director and film director. For a career nearly spanning almost five decades, he is best known for his sophisticated innovation and artistry in musical films. As of 2024, six of his films have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.[a]

Minnelli made his stage debut as an actor in a production of East Lynne, staged by the Minnelli Brothers' Tent Theater (co-founded by his father and paternal uncle). After graduating from high school, he worked as an apprentice window designer at Marshall Field's department store in Chicago. There, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago and became a costume designer for the Balaban and Katz theater chain. By the early 1930s, he moved to New York City and served as the art director for the Radio City Music Hall.

In 1935, Minnelli became a theatre director with At Home Abroad (1935), starring Beatrice Lillie and Eleanor Powell. In 1937, Minnelli moved to Hollywood and served a brief stint at Paramount Pictures before returning to Broadway. In 1940, Minnelli was hired by Arthur Freed to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he directed sequences in Babes on Broadway (1941) and Panama Hattie (1942). He made his directorial film debut with Cabin in the Sky (1943). A year later, Minnelli directed Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) starring Judy Garland. He married Garland a year later, and their daughter Liza was born in 1946. He subsequently directed Garland in The Clock (1945), Ziegfeld Follies (1945) and The Pirate (1948). He divorced Garland in 1951.

Throughout the 1950s, Minnelli directed numerous comedies, dramas and musicals, including Father of the Bride (1950), An American in Paris (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Lust for Life (1956) and Gigi (1958). An American in Paris and Gigi respectively both won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Minnelli winning the Best Director for the latter film. For over 26 years, Minnelli became the longest-tenured film director for MGM.[3]

By 1962, Minnelli's relationship with MGM worsened due to the commercial failures of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Two Weeks in Another Town. He formed his production company called Venice Productions, partnering with MGM and 20th Century Fox on The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) and Goodbye Charlie (1964). He directed his final film A Matter of Time (1976), starring his daughter Liza. Ten years later, in 1986, Minnelli died at his Beverly Hills residence, at age 83.

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1903–1919: Early life

Lester Anthony Minnelli was born on February 28, 1903, to Marie Émilie Odile Lebeau and Vincent Charles Minnelli.[4] He was baptized in Chicago, and was the youngest of four known sons, only two of whom survived to adulthood. His mother, whose stage name was Mina Gennell[5], was born in Chicago. She was of French-Canadian descent, and there is a likelihood of Anishinaabe lineage through her mother, who was born on Mackinac Island, Michigan.[6] His father co-founded the Minnelli Brothers' Tent Theater, serving as the musical conductor. Both had met each other at a musical revue; although they initially argued over her accompaniment, they grew closer and were married in November 1894. Following the marriage, she joined the Minnelli Brothers troupe.[7][8]

His paternal grandfather, Vincenzo Minnelli, and grand-uncle, Domenico Minnelli, both Sicilian revolutionaries, were forced to leave Sicily after the collapse of the provisional Sicilian government that arose from the 1848 revolution against Ferdinand II and Bourbon rule. Domenico Minnelli had been Vice-Chancellor of the Gran Corte Civile in Palermo at the time he helped organize the January 12, 1848, uprising there.[9] After the Bourbon return to power Vincenzo reportedly hid in the catacombs of Palermo for 18 months before being successfully smuggled onto a New York-bound fruit steamer.[10]

At three years old, Minnelli made his debut stage performance portraying Little Willie in East Lynne, alongside his mother performing dual roles as Lady Isabel and Madame Vine.[11] During the performance, Minnelli broke character when his character was supposed to have died.[12] His family moved to Delaware, Ohio, where he spent the first three years of high school at St. Mary's. Since St. Mary's had no twelfth grade, he spent his last year at Willis High School in Columbus, graduating at 16 years of age.[13] There, he appeared in a school production of H.M.S. Pinafore and starred in The Fortune Hunter at the Delaware Opera House.[14]

1919–1939: Theatre career

Following his high school graduation, Minnelli moved to Chicago, where he lived briefly with his maternal grandmother Le Beau and his aunt Amy. In search for a job, Minnelli took his portfolio of watercolor paintings to the Marshall Field's department store. Arthur Valair Fraser, the store's display director, reviewed his portfolio and hired him immediately as an apprentice window dresser.[15] There, the store windows were changed four times a year with elaborate themes matched to each corresponding season. Minnelli was first assigned to design the men's store, but he instead asked to design windows on Wabash Avenue where furniture and decorative antique items were frequently rearranged.[16] Meanwhile, Minnelli enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago with personal ambitions to become a painter. However, he dropped out due to his work schedule and lack of interest in the curriculum.[17]

While working at Marshall Field's, a blind female customer arrived to rent stage props for the Radical Playhouse. She asked Minnelli to join their acting group where they were performing one-act plays by Eugene O'Neill. Minnelli agreed, and read for the part of a retired sea captain in O'Neill's Where the Cross is Made.[18][19] He disliked this acting job, but Minnelli remained a frequent attendee of Chicago's theatre district. In his spare time, he painted watercolor sketches of contemporary theatre actors, including Ina Claire and Mary Nash. Encouraged by his friends, he sold his paintings backstage, and earned enough money to live on his own. One night, while selling his artwork backstage, he was approached by Paul Stone, who admired Minnelli's pictorial composition. "If you can do this sort of thing, you can become a fine photographer," Stone told him.[20]

Minnelli left his Marshall Field's job, and worked for Stone as an assistant photographer. Stone specialized in photographing actors and socialites from Chicago's theater district at theatrical luminaries, society matrons and wedding parties.[18][21] At Stone's Raymor studio, Minnelli photographed numerous celebrities, including Ina Claire, where he coaxed them into capturing their best angles. Minnelli reflected, "Stone's photography was soft, but in sharp focus, so that it could reproduce on the printed page. This taught me a way of creating mood."[22] Months later, Stone suffered a nervous breakdown, and Minnelli assumed his photography duties. Feeling photography was not his suited profession, Minnelli grew dissatisfied and began reading Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell's 1911 biography of James McNeill Whistler, an American painter. Inspired by Whistler's art techniques, Minnelli immersed himself in impressionist and surrealist painters, such as Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. He also admired the experimental films of Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel, and the writings of Sigmund Freud.[21] Around this time, Minnelli dropped Lester from his name, replacing it with "Vincente"; the final "e" was added in order to seem more sophisticated and elegant.[23]

One day, Minnelli approached Frank Cambria, who headed the Chicago Theatre, which was a part of the Balaban and Katz theater chain. He told Cambria that he should open his own costume department, and allow him to run it. Cambria took Minnelli to A. J. Balaban's office, where he was hired as a costume and set designer.[24] Assigned to give the stage productions "a custom touch", Minnelli was shocked the costume department operated on meager budgets. At the time, theatre productions ran one week at the Chicago Theatre where the sets and costumes were disassembled and reused at the Tivoli and Uptown Theatre.[25]

In 1931, Balaban and Katz merged with the Paramount-Publix theater chain, and Minnelli was asked to work on New York stage productions for $150 a week. He left Chicago and rented a tiny Greenwich Village apartment. At Paramount, Minnelli worked exclusively in costumes, and restricted from designing sets because he wasn't in the set designers' union. He was eventually accepted into the union membership thanks to sponsorship from J. Woodman Thompson, a prominent stage designer.[26] His first Broadway assignment was designing the show curtain for Earl Carroll's 1931 edition of the Vanities musical revue. Taking inspiration from Léon Bakst's designs for the Ballets Russes, Minnelli fashioned a 300 feet (91 m)–tall green and silver curtain to accompany the Art Deco theatrical style. Impressed, Carroll rehired Minnelli as a costume and set designer for the 1932 Vanities.[27][28]

By this time, Grace Moore asked Minnelli to supervise the art direction for the operetta, The Dubarry. During rehearsals, Minnelli and Moore had creative differences but remained cordial. The operetta had tryouts in Boston, and premiered in New York in November 1932 where it ran for 87 performances.[29] Based on his success, Paramount executives selected him for costume and set design for the 1933 edition of Ziegfeld Follies. However, by 1933, Paramount-Publix filed for bankruptcy protection, in which Adolph Zukor fired B. P. Schulberg as the studio's head of production and began a corporate restructuring.[30] Paramount's East Coast studios were relocated to Astoria, New York, but it was decided their touring theatre unit was no longer profitable and were closed down in favor of touring big bands.[31]

Minnelli was eventually employed as a set designer at Radio City Music Hall, after it opened in December 1932. During rehearsals, theatre businessman Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel harshly criticized Minnelli, art director Clark Robinson, and dance director Russell Markert. Following another heated discussion, Robinson immediately resigned, to which Minnelli assumed Robinson's former position.[32] In July 1933, Minnelli's first art direction assignment was designing a "Water Lily" ballet, a Cuban potpourri illustrated with a backdrop of fighting cocks, a Big Top interior for a circus number, and a Rue de la Paix dress shop to display the Roxettes.[33] In December 1933, Minnelli art-directed a production of the Scheherazade suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. His efforts were applauded in the mainstream press, including The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune.[34][35]

Despite this, Rothafel was later fired and was replaced by W. G. Van Schmus. In 1934, Schmus selected Minnelli to produce his first stage show titled Coast to Coast, which opened on October 25. Accompanied with music from E. Y. Harburg and Duke Ellington, the show displayed several sets, illustrating the French Riviera, the British Gold Coast, Ivory Coast and the Barbary Coast. Backstage, Minnelli was offered a directing job by Lee Shubert for his stage company.[36] Despite the offer, Minnelli continued working for Radio City Music Hall until he left in April 1935. After months of considering, he joined Shubert's organization, signing a contract to produce three musical shows over eighteen months.[37]

Minnelli was handed his first directorial project titled At Home Abroad, with music composed by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. Starring Beatrice Lillie, Ethel Waters, and Eleanor Powell, the Broadway musical centered on a married couple who flee the United States, and travel across Europe, Africa, Japan, and the West Indies. The musical had a try-out in Boston and opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 19, 1935.[38] In his New York Times review, Brooks Atkinson praised Minnelli's efforts, writing: "Without resorting to opulence he has filled the stage with rich, glowing colors that give the whole work an extraordinary loveliness. Nothing quite so exhilarating as this has borne the Shubert seal before."[39]

While At Home Aboard continued its Broadway run, Minnelli returned to costume and scenic design for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, starring Fannie Brice. John Murray Anderson was the director, but during rehearsals, he transferred directing duties to Minnelli. To update the look, Minnelli used the 1880s as inspiration for the hair styles and elegant costumes.[40] Opening on January 30, 1936, the Ziegfeld Follies was a commercial success, running for five months and reopened for another five months after a summer hiatus. Minnelli was not involved in the revival, but instead chose to direct a musical revue titled The Show Must Go. Minnelli devised an original story, featuring new songs from a team of Tin Pan Alley lyricists. The show premiered on Christmas Day 1936 and ran for 237 performances during its initial run.[41] A reprise opened in September 1937 and played for two weeks.[42]

Brief stint at Paramount Pictures

Based on his Broadway success, Hollywood had taken notice of Minnelli as a rising director. Samuel Goldwyn tentatively approached Minnelli to direct The Goldwyn Follies (1938), and in 1937, Paramount Pictures offered him a contract to produce and direct films.[43] Although he was initially reluctant,[44] Minnelli accepted the offer and was paid $2,500 a week. His first project was Times Squares, a mystery film set on Broadway. Leo Birinski was hired to write the script, with the plot detailing characters venturing throughout various musical numbers from Broadway shows to piece together vital clues.[45] Minnelli also proposed a surrealist ballet featuring Paramount's contract actors, and held conversations with Kurt Weill about a potential musical film.[46] Minnelli discussed the project with Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount, but he was uninterested; discussions with William LeBaron, the studio's head of production, did not move the project forward.[45]

Meanwhile, Minnelli proposed the title Shall We Dance (1937) to the Fred AstaireGinger Rogers film. He consulted on Raoul Walsh's 1937 film Artists and Models devising the "Public Melody No. 1" number, featuring Louis Armstrong and Martha Raye.[46]

Return to Broadway

After six months of negotiating, Minnelli was released from his contract and returned to Broadway. Lee Shubert offered him the musical Hooray for What!, which starred Ed Wynn and featured music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. Minnelli was given only three months for preparation before its premiere on December 1, 1937. The musical was well-received,[47] with Life magazine calling it "the funniest show of the year."[48] Time magazine also applauded: "Sharing credit with Wynn for the show's success is able Vincente Minnelli, trained in the hard school of movie stage-shows, who directed it and designed the scenery."[49]

Inspired by the musicals Pins and Needles and Four Saints in Three Acts, Minnelli began developing a surrealist fantasy titled The Light Fantastic, with Beatrice Lillie in mind to star. He offered her four musical numbers and four sketches outlining his vision, but Lillie, then in England, had not responded in time. He then shifted to a musicalization of S. N. Behrman's play Serena Blandish, wanting to feature Black American actors. Cole Porter was hired to write the musical score. Sid Perelman wrote the libretto, while Lena Horne read for the title role. After six months of development, Minnelli abandoned the project.[50] Exhausted, Minnelli took a sabbatical break until producer Max Gordon offered him to direct Very Warm for May. Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern were hired to write the lyrics and compose the musical score, respectively. Pleased with the musical's first act, Minnelli unsuccessfully tried to rearrange the second act. The musical opened at the Alvin Theatre on November 17, 1939,[51] with musical critic Brooks Atkinson writing in his review that Minnelli had not "solved the confusion of the story."[52]

Adjacent of this time, William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life had opened three weeks before and was well-regarded. Minnelli became friends with Saroyan and they partnered on a black surrealist musical comedy, with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart composing the score. Both men collaborated with David Freeman on the script, but Saroyan exited the project.[53] During the spring of 1940, Harburg brought Arthur Freed into Minnelli's studio on East 54th Street.[54] Minnelli remembered, "Then Arthur Freed came to see me at my studio and convinced me to come to MGM to do the kind of thing that I liked, you know?"[44] After a discussion, Minnelli agreed to be paid $300 a week.[55]

1940–1963: Career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

1940–1942: Work as a musical number consultant

On April 2, 1940, Minnelli began working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[56] In 1941, he did minor consulting work, which included critiquing Norman Z. McLeod's Lady Be Good (1941) and advising Pandro Berman to change the beginning of Rio Rita (1942). Sometime later, McLeod had filmed Panama Hattie (1942) but received lackluster responses during test screenings. In reaction, Freed hired Roy Del Ruth to film reshoots and Minnelli to direct the musical numbers featuring Lena Horne.[57]

Meanwhile, Minnelli visited the set for Strike Up the Band (1940), starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Freed mentioned they needed a musical number for a scene where Rooney's character aspires to be like Paul Whiteman, a bandleader. Minnelli suggested using a bowl of fruits, having spotted one on set.[58] Freed liked the idea and hired Henry Fox to create a tabletop,[59] while George Pal provided the stop motion animation of the musicians made of fruit. During filming, Minnelli met Garland, who had turned 18 years, for the first time.[60] Minnelli subsequently worked on Busby Berkeley's Babes on Broadway (1941), which also starred Rooney and Garland, for the "Ghost Theater" sequence. Minnelli suggested they imitate veteran Broadway stars, but Berkeley rejected the idea.[61]

1943–1949: Early MGM films

Cabin in the Sky
Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell in I Dood It (1943)

In 1942, Minnelli was called to Freed's office where he was offered to direct Cabin in the Sky (1943). Minnelli accepted, writing he "interpreted the assignment, with more freedom than I'd dreamed possible, as just reward for past contributions."[62] Based on the 1940 musical by Vernon Duke and John La Touche, Cabin in the Sky tells the story of Petunia (Ethel Waters), a devout woman, who prays for the soul of her gambler-husband "Little" Joe Jackson (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson).[63] Filming began in August 1942, with only Waters and Rex Ingram reprising their Broadway roles. Lena Horne was cast as Georgia Brown, a seductive woman who tempts Jackson.[64] During production, Minnelli had shot a musical number "Ain't It the Truth," featuring Horne in a bubble bath. Joseph Breen of the Motion Picture Production Code objected to the scene, in which it was excised from the film.[65] Modestly budgeted at $679,260 (in 1942 dollars), Cabin in the Sky earned $1.6 million at the box office.[66]

I Dood It

Three weeks after he finished filming Cabin in the Sky, Minnelli was assigned to direct I Dood It (1943), starring Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell. Del Ruth was the film's original director but he had been drafted into the United States Army, leaving the film unfinished, and MGM dissatisfied with his cut.[67] The film's producer Jack Cummings hoped Minnelli would inject his style into the film. Onboard as director, Minnelli hired Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy to rewrite the script.[68] A loose remake of Spite Marriage (1929), Skeleton plays Joseph Renolds, a tailor's assistant, who becomes enamored with Constance Shaw (Powell), a Broadway star, and attends every performance of her Civil War melodrama. Shaw impulsively marries Renolds to spite her lover (John Hodiak).[69] Herzig and Saidy updated the plot by having Skeleton's character reveal Hodiak as a spy for the Axis Powers.[67]

Between projects, Minnelli directed Lena Horne in her "Honeysuckle Rose" segment in Thousands Cheer (1943).[70]

Films with Judy Garland
Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

For Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Freed again hired Minnelli to direct. Framed around the four seasons, the film tells of the Smith family and their conflicts, with the conclusion focused on the family's celebration of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.[71] Judy Garland was cast as Esther Smith, though she felt her role would be overshadowed by Margaret O'Brien, who was portraying Tootie. Principal photography began on December 7, 1943 though continued filming was frequently delayed by Garland's tardiness and claims of illness.[72] Determined to have Garland's physical beauty showcased, he requested make-up artist Dorothy Ponedel be assigned to Garland. Ponedel refined her appearance, which included extending and reshaping her eyebrows, changing her hairline, modifying her lip line and removing her nose discs and dental caps. Filming wrapped on April 7, 1944.[73] During filming, Garland and Minnelli had some creative differences, though Garland grew closer to him after watching the dailies. At the time, Garland was married to David Rose, but after they divorced, she began dating Joseph L. Mankiewicz.[74] Premiering in November 1944, the film received universal critical acclaim and exceeded box office expectations,[75] earning $7.56 million worldwide during its initial run.[76][77]

Meanwhile, the 1945 musical Ziegfeld Follies was in production with George Sidney as the film's initial director. The film featured several musical numbers from the Ziegfeld Follies musical revues, starring many of MGM's contracted talents. Midway through filming, Sidney asked to leave the production, in which Minnelli was hired to finish filming.[78] Garland's segment was shot in July 1944,[74] with principal photography concluding in August. Minnelli directed a total of ten segments, with the remaining four directed by Sidney, Lemuel Ayers, Roy Del Ruth, and Robert Lewis.[79]

The Clock (1945) was Garland's first straight dramatic film after starring in several musical films. Fred Zinnemann was initially hired to direct the film. By August 1944, he was removed at Garland's request after they could not get along and the dailes proved disappointing. When Freed asked who she wanted to replace him, Garland requested Minnelli to direct.[80] Minnelli accepted the assignment on two conditions: Zinnemann would not object to his hiring and he would have creative control over Garland.[81] Zinnemann's footage was discarded aside from exterior shots of New York. The Pennsylvania Station was recreated on the MGM soundstage while local New York sites were filmed using rear projection.[82] On January 9, 1945, before Garland was to film The Harvey Girls (1946), Minnelli and Garland were engaged to be married. The two married on June 15, inside Garland's mother's house in Wilshire, Los Angeles.[80]

Lucille Bremer and Fred Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief (1945)

Minnelli's next film was Yolanda and the Thief (1945) starring Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. Before he was hired for The Clock, Yolanda and the Thief was intended to be Minnelli's next film.[83] Adapted from the 1943 magazine short story by Ludwig Bemelmans and Jacques Théry, the film tells of two con men (Astaire and Frank Morgan) who are hiding from extradition in South America. Both men learn about Yolanda, a young heiress living a sheltered life in a covent and decide to con her. One night, Yolanda prays for a "guardian angel" to which Astaire's character impersonates.[82] Freed had came across the magazine story to which he hired Bemelmans and Théry to write a treatment, and Robert Nathan to write the final screenplay.[84] Filming began on January 15, 1945 and wrapped four months later.[83] Upon its release, the film received mixed reviews with criticism towards its script and was a commercial disappointment.[85][86][87]

By this point, Garland had become pregnant with her first daughter, Liza. A musicalized biopic of Jerome Kern titled Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) was scheduled to begin production in October 1945. Garland had been cast as Marilyn Miller and Minnelli had been assigned to direct Garland's scenes. Her scenes took two weeks to complete and were finished on November 8, 1945.[88] However, one number "D'Ya Love Me?" was excised from the film.[89]

Minnelli directed Garland's scenes in Till the Clouds By (1946).

Minnelli was next approached to direct Undercurrent (1946) by Pandro Berman with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor cast in the lead roles. Based on a story by Thelma Strabel, the film is about the daughter of a small-town college professor who marries an industrialist and moves into the city with him. She soon learns about her missing brother-in-law, whom her husband is suspected of murdering, and investigates his disappearance.[90] Robert Mitchum, who portrayed the missing brother, was loaned out to MGM by RKO Radio Pictures to co-star in the film. During filming, Hepburn was initially displeased with Minnelli as her director, though both became cordial as production continued. Meanwhile, Taylor grew irritated at their developing friendship and was feeling overshadowed by Mitchum.[91]

The idea to adapt S. N. Behrman's play The Pirate originated with Minnelli, with Garland suggesting it be adapted into a musical during their honeymoon.[92] The story tells of Manuela, a local Caribbean woman, who daydreams of the pirate Macoco, better known as Mack the Black. She is unknowingly engaged to him, now identifying as Don Pedro, the portly and elderly village mayor. Serafin, a traveling actor, roleplays as the pirate to win Manuela's affection.[93] Freed initially resisted the idea but reluctantly agreed to produce it after reading a treatment. To replicate the success of For Me and My Gal (1942), Gene Kelly was cast to reunite his pairing with Garland.[92]

On December 27, 1946, a recording session with Garland had be to canceled due to her illness.[92] Due to Garland's frequent absences, filming did not begin until February 1947. Out of 135 days for rehearsals, filming and reshoots, Garland was absent for 99.[93] After a preview in October, Minnelli agreed to shorten the film's run time. Between October 21 and December 19, reshoots were taken with the musical number "Voodoo" replaced with a livelier reshoot of "Mack the Black". When filming concluded, the film had went over budget, costing $3.7 million. The film earned over $2.9 million at the box office, but posted a net loss of $2.2 million.[94][95]

Madame Bovary

Despite the financial failure of The Pirate, Minnelli was slated to direct Easter Parade (1948) with Garland and Gene Kelly cast in the lead roles (though Kelly was later replaced by Fred Astaire after a rehearsal injury). Rehearsals began on September 5, 1947, but five days later, Minnelli was called into Freed's office and removed from the film. Freed had cited Minnelli's removal based on the advice of Garland's psychiatrist. Charles Walters was hired to replace him.[96][97] For almost a year, Minnelli was without a film project while Garland filmed Easter Parade and In the Good Old Summertime (1949). Pandro Berman phoned Minnelli at his office, offering him to direct a film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. Minnelli accepted as it was one of his favorite novels.[98]

Lana Turner was initially offered the lead role but Minnelli rejected the idea as Turner was perceived as a sex symbol.[99] The Production Code also warned that Turner's onscreen image, along with the novel's portrayal of marriage infidelity, would violate its guidelines.[100] Jennifer Jones was considered but was under contract to her husband David O. Selznick, but MGM executive Benjamin Thau successfully negotiated a stipulation deal to borrow her. James Mason had wanted to play the role of Flaubert, while Louis Jourdan and Alf Kjellin (billed as Christopher Kent) were lent onto the film courtesy of Selznick.[101]

Madame Bovary was shot from mid-December 1948 to February 1949.[102] During production, Minnelli notably filmed an elaborate waltz sequence, utilizing 360-degree pan camera movements accompanied to Miklós Rózsa's pre-recorded instrumental score. Biographer Stephen Harvey called it "one of the audacious epiphanies in any Minnelli movie."[103] Released in August 1949, critics deemed Madame Bovary as an unusually distinguished film, adapting its source material with considerable drama and atmosphere.[103] Sneak preview audiences responded favorably to the film and Jones's performance,[104] though it earned $2 million at the box office.[105]

That same year, Minnelli reportedly directed the climax sequence in Robert Z. Leonard's The Bribe (1949).[106]

1950–1958: Peak years

Father of the Bride
Minnelli directed Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in Father of the Bride (1950).

Minnelli's subsequent collaboration with Berman was Father of the Bride (1950) based on the bestselling 1949 novel by Edward Streeter. Jack Benny pursued the lead role and was given a screen test, but Minnelli wanted Spencer Tracy and cast him. Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett were cast as the bride and her mother respectively.[107] Filming began on January 16, 1950 and wrapped a month and a day later.[108] Released in May 1950, the film earned $4.15 million in distributor rentals at the box office.[109]

Critical reception was positive, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times calling the film "equally wonderful" when compared to the book, with "all the warmth and poignancy and understanding that makes the Streeter treatise much beloved."[110] The film was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay.[111]

An American in Paris

The basis for An American in Paris (1951) began from Freed's friendship with Ira Gershwin at his residence. Freed told Ira he wanted to adapt his brother George's orchestral piece An American in Paris into a film and potentially include a ballet sequence.[112] In 1949, MGM and the estate of George Gershwin entered negotiations, to which the studio acquired the rights to Gershwin's catalogue for $158,750 (equivalent to $2,032,888 in 2023).[113] The story was inspired by a Life magazine article of American G.I.s studying art in Paris on sponsorship from the G.I. Bill, which Freed had remembered.[112]

In the film, Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) is an artist studying in Paris. He meets Milo Roberts (Nina Foch), an heiress and arts patron who expresses a romantic and professional interest in Jerry. Meanwhile, Jerry romances Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron), a young teen engaged to Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary), a friend of Jerry's.[114] Filming began on August 1, 1950 at the MGM studios, though production was halted on September 15 to prepare for the ballet sequence.[115] Minnelli left to direct another film, Father's Little Dividend (1951), the sequel to Father of the Bride. Filming began on October 9 and was finished 23 days later.[111] After this, Minnelli returned to film the ballet sequence, starting on December 6 and wrapping on January 8, 1951.[116] The film proved popular with audiences, earning over $8 million in the United States. Kelly and Caron were praised by film critics, though the film's dramatic continuity was criticized.[117] At the 1952 Academy Awards, An American in Paris was nominated for eight Oscars, winning six including Best Picture.[118]

Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas during filming for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

On January 18, 1951, Minnelli was announced to direct a musical film adaptation of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Dean Stockwell was cast in the title role. William Warfield was cast as Jim, along with Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye as the Duke and Dauphin respectively. Rehearsals began in August;[119] simultaneously, Minnelli was enlisted to film the fashion show finale for Mervyn LeRoy's Lovely to Look At (1952). Adrian Greenburg (also known as "Adrian") and Tony Duquette had designed costumes for the sequence, costing over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,147,368 in 2023). Minnelli declined to be credited for the film.[120] On September 21, production on Huckleberry Finn was postponed indefinitely due to Kelly and Kaye's withdrawal.[121]

The Bad and the Beautiful

Due to similarities with An American in Paris (1951), Minnelli turned down the offer to direct Lili (1953). During a lunch meeting at the Romanoff's, MGM producer John Houseman showed Minnelli a screenplay draft titled Memorial to a Bad Man based on a short story by George Bradshaw.[122] It was later retitled The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Minnelli agreed to direct, with Kirk Douglas as his sole choice to portray ruthless film producer Jonathan Shields. However, MGM production head Dore Schary had offered the role to Clark Gable but he declined. Douglas read the script and accepted the role. Lana Turner was hired to portray Georgina Lorrison, the "beautiful"; when both casting choices were announced, the trades questioned: "when these two get together..."[123]

The story focuses on Jonathan Shields (Douglas) and his Hollywood rise by manipulating three individuals: actress Georgina (Turner) whom he deceives by professing his love, director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) whose picture he expropriates, and screenwriter James Bartlow (Dick Powell) who loses his wife to a scandalous affair.[124] Upon its release, critics praised the film's seedy depiction of Hollywood and the performances from the cast, most particularly Douglas, Turner and Gloria Grahame. The scene of Georgina's emotional breakdown inside a moving vehicle was highlighted.[125][126][127] At the 1953 Academy Awards, The Bad and the Beautiful was nominated for six Oscars, winning five including Grahame for Best Supporting Actress.[128]

At the behalf of Sidney Franklin, Minnelli was approached to direct two segments ("Mademoiselle" and "Why Should I Cry") for the 1953 anthology film The Story of Three Loves. Minnelli agreed to direct the segment "Mademoiselle," adapted from the short story "Lucy and the Stranger" by Arnold Phillips. Reuniting with Caron, the segment featured Ricky Nelson, Eva Gabor, Farley Granger, and Ethel Barrymore. Filming lasted for three weeks before wrapping in February 1952.[129][130] The segment "Why Should I Cry" was dropped and reworked into Torch Song (1953), starring Joan Crawford.[131]

The Band Wagon
The cast of The Band Wagon (1953) L–R: Oscar Levant, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Fred Astaire, and Nanette Fabray

Because of the success of An American in Paris (1951) and Singin' in the Rain (1952), Freed decided to produce another film adapting the musical catalogue of renowned composers.[132] For The Band Wagon (1953), it was decided to adapt the music and lyrics by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. To write a suitable storyline, Minnelli turned to the screenwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green to devise the script.[133] The film tells of Tony Hunter, an aging musical star who hopes a Broadway show will restart his career. He meets with two writer friends and a Broadway producer who stage a musical, starring Hunter and a ballerina. Fred Astaire was cast as Troy Hunter, while the writers Lester and Lilly Marton (portrayed by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) were loosely based by Comden and Green. Cyd Charisse was cast as the ballerina Gabrielle Gerard.[134]

Filming began on October 20, 1952 and was finished on January 28, 1953.[135] Premiering in July 1953, The Band Wagon received enthusiastic critical reception and earned $5.6 million at the box office.[136][137] Archer Winsten of The New York Post called the film "the best musical of the month, year, the decade, or, for all I know, of all time."[132] The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Story and Screenplay, Best Costume Design (Color), and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.[138]

Minnelli reteamed with Pandro Berman and the screenwriting team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich for The Long, Long Trailer (1954), which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Adapted from the 1951 novel by Clinton Twiss, a married couple, Nicky and Tacy Collins, purchases a new travel trailer home and spend a year traveling across the United States. Shot during the summer hiatus for I Love Lucy, filming began on June 18, 1953 and wrapped the next month.[139] On February 18, 1954, the film premiered at the Radio City Music Hall and earned $4.5 million in domestic box office rentals.[140][141]


In March 1951, MGM acquired the screen rights to Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Broadway musical Brigadoon. Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson were set to star, though Kelly's precommitments delayed production for two years. During the interim, Grayson departed and Moira Shearer was considered as a replacement, but Freed ultimately cast Cyd Charisse.[142] Brigadoon was also Minnelli's first film recorded in stereophonic sound and shot in the widescreen CinemaScope format, which Minnelli disliked due to concerns it would crop the actors' feet.[143] In 1953, Minnelli, Kelly and Freed initially planned to film on location in Scotland while interior scenes would be shot at the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood. During the spring, they scouted potential filming locations, though Minnelli stayed behind as he was occupied with The Long, Long Trailer. Kelly and Freed were convinced the Scottish climate was unreliable, and decided to film entirely on the MGM backlot in Culver City, California.[142]

The story concerns two Americans Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas (Kelly and Van Johnson) who get lost during a hunting trip in Scotland. They wander into the village of Brigadoon, which becomes visible once every century. During a joyful wedding, Tommy becomes smitten with a local woman Fiona Campbell (Charisse) despite his engagement to Jane Ashton (Elaine Stewart) back home.[144] During filming, Minnelli admittedly felt "frustrated by the picture" as he was unsure on how to salvage Lerner's script.[145] Released in 1954, Brigadoon received a mixed reception from film critics.[146] In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowther dismissed the film as "curiously flat and out-of-joint, rambling all over creation and seldom generating warmth or charm."[147]

During the fall of 1953, Minnelli began developing a film adaptation of William Henry Hudson's novel Green Mansions. The next year, Lerner was recruited to write the screenplay. Intending to shoot on location in South America, Minnelli scouted locations in Peru, Panama, British Guiana, and Venezuela. There, he, art director E. Preston Ames, and a skeletal film crew shot 16 mm test footage of the jungles in Venezuela. Pier Angeli and Edmund Purdom were courted for the lead roles and given a screen test, but Freed was left unimpressed. The project was cancelled, though it later became a 1959 film starring Audrey Hepburn.[148]

The Cobweb

Minnelli then directed The Cobweb (1955) after John Houseman handed him the 1954 novel by William Gibson. The story concerns the staff working at a psychiatry clinic, who are embroiled in a dispute over the latest draperies to be installed in the library. Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, and newcomers John Kerr and Susan Strasberg were cast in the ensemble.[149] The film was shot over seven weeks, starting in December 1954. Released in July 1955, the film received mixed reviews and failed at the box office, earning $1.5 million in domestic rentals.[150]

Lust for Life

While The Cobweb was being edited, Minnelli discussed a film version of the novel Lust for Life by Irving Stone as his next project to MGM president Dore Schary. MGM had already obtained the film rights, though they requested an extension as its moratorium would lapse by December 1955.[151] In the meantime, Schary and Arthur Freed wanted Minnelli to shoot a film adaptation of Kismet. Minnelli resisted as he disliked the original Broadway production. Schary offered Minnelli creative autonomy to film Lust for Life provided he would film Kismet first.[152] Kismet (1955) tells of Haji, an opportunist street poet, whose powers are abused by the Wazir for personal gain. Meanwhile, Haji's daughter Lalume falls in love with the young Caliph. The film began shooting on May 23, 1955. Ten days before filming was complete, Minnelli left for France to begin filming Lust for Life (1956). Stanley Donen was brought in to finish the film, which was completed on July 22, 1955. Kismet premiered on October 8, 1955 at the Radio City Music Hall, earning $2.9 million at the box office (against a production budget of $2.6 million).[153][154]

Simultaneously, Kirk Douglas' production company Byrna Productions announced they were producing Lust for Life, with Jean Negulesco as director. Soon after, Douglas was contacted by MGM, who noted they held the rights. A compromise was reached to have Minnelli direct and Douglas star as Vincent van Gogh.[155] Filmed entirely on location in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, filming started in August 1955 and ended in December 1955. Throughout filming, Douglas notably remained in character.[156] Minnelli called the film his personal favorite of the ones he directed.[157] Released in September 1956, the film was mildly received by audiences, earning nearly $1.6 million in domestic box office rentals.[158] However, at the 1957 Academy Awards, Lust for Life received four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Kirk Douglas), Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Quinn), Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration — Color. Quinn won for Best Supporting Actor.[159]

Tea and Sympathy

Before Minnelli left to Europe to film Lust for Life, he agreed to direct Robert Anderson's 1953 play Tea and Sympathy into a feature film. The story tells of a young student named Tom who is accused of being a homosexual at a boys' prep school. The headmaster's wife Laura takes a keen interest in him hoping to strengthen his masculinity.[160] Due to the themes of homosexuality, Anderson, who was hired to rewrite his own play, had to sanitize the script due to regulations from the Production Code. Deborah Kerr, John Kerr (who previously starred in 1955's The Cobweb), and Leif Erikson reprised their roles from the stage production.[161][162] During its 1956 release, Tea and Sympathy received positive reviews from film critics. It earned nearly $2.2 million in domestic box office rentals.[163]

Designing Woman

Designing Woman (1957) began as an original story by Helen Rose, MGM's costume designer, loosely taken from Woman of the Year (1942). Intended as a star vehicle for Grace Kelly, James Stewart was cast opposite as the male lead and Joshua Logan was to direct. However, Kelly departed from the project when she retired from acting, two months after marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. Stewart and Logan departed accordingly. In haste, Schary hired Minnelli to direct the film. As the new director, Minnelli selected Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall as the new leads.[164] Principal photography began on September 10, 1956 and was finished ten weeks later, with on-location filming at the Newport Beach, Beverly Hills Hotel, and Marineland. Released in May 1957, the film earned $3.7 million worldwide, but resulted in a loss of $136,000.[165]

During pre-production for Gigi (1958), Minnelli replaced Ronald Neame during filming for The Seventh Sin (1957), a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Painted Veil. Neame had developed creative differences with MGM producer David Lewis. Sidney Franklin replaced Lewis as producer. Despite his contributions, Minnelli personally requested not to be credited.[166]


Gigi originated as a 1944 novella by Colette, which was adapted into a 1949 film starring Danièle Delorme. In 1951, playwright Anita Loos adapted the novella into a play, which went to Broadway and starred Audrey Hepburn in her first major role.[167] Minnelli and Arthur Freed had discussed adapting Gigi years prior, but in 1953, Freed's interest was renewed after seeing the Broadway play. Both approached Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, fresh off their success from My Fair Lady, to compose songs for their adaptation. Lerner agreed on two conditions: to expand Honoré Lachaille's role and have cast Maurice Chevalier in the film.[168]

Hepburn was approached to reprise the role but declined. Minnelli instead cast Leslie Caron, having directed her in An American in Paris (1951). Louis Jourdan was cast as Gigi's lover Gaston, while Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, Eva Gabor and Isabel Jeans filled the supporting roles.[169] Desiring to film entirely on location, Minnelli shot the film in Paris starting in July 1957 during a massive heat wave.[170] Because of the heavy period clothes, cast members grew overheated and even Minnelli contracted a case of whooping cough. Conflicts between Minnelli and Freed also arose. In September, having gone over budget, the crew decamped to California to film on the studio backlot; the Venice Beach was also used to represent Trouville.[171] Filming was finished on October 30, 1957.[172]

In early 1958, test previews for Gigi were poorly received, in which MGM president Joseph Vogel ordered nine days of reshoots. However, Minnelli was unavailable as he was filming The Reluctant Debutante (1958) overseas. Charles Walters was brought in to film the reshoots.[173] The film premiered on May 15, 1958 at the Royale Theatre in New York, and went to receive critical acclaim. At the 1959 Academy Awards, the film won all nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Minnelli was awarded his first Oscar for Best Director.[174]

By the time of Gigi's premiere, Minnelli had spent seven weeks filming The Reluctant Debutante (1958) from mid-February to early April.[175] Adapted from the 1955 play by William Douglas Home, the story centers on Jane Broadbent, an American teenage girl, who arrives in London to attend debutante balls for her wealthy father Lord Jimmy Broadbent and stepmother Lady Sheila. During the fall of 1957, Pandro Berman showed Minnelli a first draft of the script, which displeased Minnelli who felt Americanizing the play was the wrong approach. The original London locale was reinstated back into the script. Regardless, he agreed to direct, and after Berman had recommended them, Minnelli approached Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall in New York with the central roles.[176] Berman nevertheless cast American actress Sandra Dee so it would broaden American appeal.[177] The Reluctant Debutante premiered at Radio City Music Hall in August 1958 to indifferent box office.[178]

Some Came Running

In spring 1958, MGM purchased the film rights to James Jones's 1957 novel Some Came Running. Sol Siegel, who had succeeded Schary as the new production head, hired Minnelli to direct the film adaptation.[179] The novel tells of David Hirsh, an Army veteran and novelist, who returns home to the fictional town of Parkman, Indiana. He romances Gwen French, an emotionally repressed high school teacher, and befriends Ginny, a young, uneducated girl with loose morals.[180] Frank Sinatra was cast as David Hirsh, alongside Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer, and fellow Rat Pack member Dean Martin as Bama Dillert. Because of its potential as an Oscar contender, Minnelli was given six months to complete the film for its winter 1958 release. During filming in Madison, Indiana, Sinatra and Martin grew tired of Minnelli's meticulous shooting and walked off the film. Siegel however brought them back to finish the film.[181]

Critical response was mostly positive, though a review in Time magazine gave the film a mixed critique. The review praised the first half but felt after that it shows "occasional flickers of brilliant overacting by Shirley MacLaine, the chance to watch Frank Sinatra play Frank Sinatra, and the spectacle of Director Vincente Minnelli's talents dissolving in the general mess of the story, like sunlight in a slag heap."[182] Competing against Gigi (1958) at the Academy Awards, Some Came Running garnered Best Supporting nominations for MacLaine, Hyer, and Arthur Kennedy.[183]

1959–1963: Last years at MGM

Home from the Hill

The dual success of Gigi and Some Came Running solidified Minnelli's tenureship as director for MGM.[184] On February 8, 1960, Minnelli received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry.[185][186] Overseas, his films had been acclaimed by French critics, some of whom published for the Cahiers du Cinéma film magazine. French critic Jacques Doniol-Valcroze wrote a lengthy critique for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), as did Jean Douchet for Lust for Life (1956). Douchet and Jean Domarchi had written assessment essays on Minnelli's filmography and jointly interviewed him in 1962.[187]

Home from the Hill (1960) was an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same title by William Humphrey. It tells the story of a Texas family headed by patriarch Captain Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum), who is married to Hannah (Eleanor Parker), an embittered and sexually withdrawn wife, and the father to Theron (George Hamilton) and an illegitimate son Rafe (George Peppard).[188] The film was shot on location in Oxford, Mississippi, followed by a month of filming on the MGM backlot, and then shot in Paris, Texas.[189] A review in Variety called the film a "powerful and absorbing story, and its production has the added interest of creating a vital and promising young star, George Peppard."[190]

Bells Are Ringing

In 1958, Arthur Freed purchased the film rights to the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing, with its book and lyrics written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Jule Styne.[191] Comden and Green were hired to adapt the musical into a screenplay with instructions that the script be no longer than 110 pages and delivered by December 31, 1958.[192] Comden and Green met the deadline but delivered a 159-paged script, which Minnelli felt was too long. Filming was delayed twice until the script was ready. Judy Holliday reprised her Broadway role as Ella Peterson, a switchboard operator who listens in on the lives of private clients. She involves herself with playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), and falls in love with him.[193] Filming began on October 7, 1959 and lasted until December 24.[194] Throughout filming, Holliday disliked the script and Minnelli's cinematic approach to the film.[195]

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

While promoting Home from the Hill (1960), Minnelli was informed he was to direct a remake of the 1921 silent film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.[196] For the 1962 remake, the script was to occur during World War II although it retained the events cultiminating to World War I. Minnelli disagreed with this change; while John Gay was hired for rewrites, the revised script retained the updated setting. For the lead role, Minnelli had wanted French actor Alain Delon but Sol Siegel disagreed. Glenn Ford was cast instead after he had signed a new multi-picture contract with MGM.[197] As typical with Minnelli's films, the film was shot in Paris with interior scenes filmed in California. Shot from October 1960 to March 1961, it was scheduled for released by winter 1961; however, there were reshoots done during the summer.[198]

Postponed for release in February 1962, the film received criticism for its script and production values.[199][200][201] It earned $2 million in distributor rentals,[202] against its $7 million production budget. Overseas, the film was appreciated by European critics and said to have influenced Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) and Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970).[203]

Two Weeks in Another Town

In 1960, MGM purchased the film rights to Irwin Shaw's novel Two Weeks in Another Town for $55,000.[204] John Houseman was appointed producer and approached Minnelli to direct.[203] Minnelli recognized the novel's similarities to The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and hired the film's screenwriter Charles Schnee and composer David Raksin.[205] The story tells of Jack Andrus, a washed-up actor, who arrives in Rome to help his old mentor Maurice Kruger and supervise the dubbing of his latest film. Minnelli offered the lead role to Kirk Douglas, while Edward G. Robinson and Cyd Charisse portrayed Kruger and Carlotta, Jack's ex-wife, respectively.[206] Filming began in October 1961 in Rome with a scheduled nineteen-day on-location shoot. However, Minnelli did not finish until a month later. Filming resumed on the MGM backlot for eleven weeks, starting on November 9.[207]

Minnelli had also shot an orgy sequence, which infuriated Siegel. In spring 1962, the film received poor test responses during sneak previews. Siegel was replaced by Robert Weitman as production head, while Joseph Vogel appointed studio editor Margaret Booth to drastically re-edit the film.[207][208] The orgy sequence was condensed while Charisse's ending monologue was also removed. Minnelli and Houseman were not consulted during most of the film's post-production. The film was released without fanfare and was another box office failure.[209]

By 1962, MGM was in financial turmoil due to severe commercial flops, including Cimarron (1960), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Minnelli's own Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962). This, along with the re-editing of Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), fractured Minnelli's relationship with MGM.[210] His contract with the studio was up for renewal, in which Minnelli formed his own production company Venice Productions to leverage greater bargaining power. He negotiated to earn 25 percent of any net box office profits, in addition to his salary as director, as well as retain final cut privilege through the second previews. In April 1962, MGM and Venice Productions agreed to a co-production deal to produce six films over four years.[211]

The Courtship of Eddie's Father

Under his new contract, Minnelli directed The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), having read the 1961 novel about a young son wanting his widowed father to remarry to be "warm and winning."[212] Joe Pasternak was the film's producer who cast Glenn Ford and Ron Howard as the father and son respectively. Released in June 1963, critics found the film sentimental and mildly engaging.[213] It earned $2 million in domestic box office rentals.[214] Minnelli's next project was meant to be My Fair Lady (1964), but Warner Bros. had outbidded MGM for the film rights at $5.5 million. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe pleaded with Jack Warner to hire Minnelli as director, but negotiations broke down due to salary disagreements; Warner instead hired George Cukor.[215]

1964–1976: Later years

For most of 1963, Minnelli was without a film project. MGM allowed Minnelli to accept outside directing jobs, in which he selected Twentieth Century Fox's offer to direct Goodbye Charlie (1964) starring Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. This was his first film produced outside of MGM.[216] Adapted from George Axelrod's 1959 play, the story involves Charlie Sorrel, a womanizer who is shot by a jealous husband and returns to Earth reincarnated as a beautiful blonde. As a woman, Charlie meets with his friend George Tracy (Curtis) to consult about her new identity.[217] Pre-production and filming lasted from January to July 1964 on Fox's studio backlot with location shoots in Malibu, California.[218] Released in November 1964, it received mixed reviews from film critics, with Bosley Crowther negatively stating "Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis [are] so sadly cast in distasteful roles that it causes even a hardened moviegoer to turn away from it in pain and shame."[219] By January 1966, the film had earned $3.7 million in distributor rentals from the United States and Canada.[220]

Richard Burton (left) in conversation with Minnelli (with cigarette) during filming

Minnelli returned to MGM to direct The Sandpiper (1965) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Intended as a vehicle for the star couple, Martin Ransohoff devised an original story of a love affair between a married Episcopalian minister and a free-spirited single mother. The couple first turned to William Wyler, but he declined the offer. Taylor and Burton then asked Minnelli, who had previously directed Taylor in Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951). Needing a box office success, Minnelli accepted the offer.[221] The film was shot on location in Big Sur, California before filming in Paris.[222] The film was released in 1965 and was a box office success earning $6.4 million in distributor rentals.[220] This was the last film produced under the MGM–Venice Productions deal. While the films were moderately successful, they failed to generate enough profit.[223]

Minnelli then developed a musical film titled Say It With Music, a biographical film of Irving Berlin he had been contemplating for several years. Frank Sinatra and Julie Andrews were considered for the lead roles, but MGM president James Aubrey shut down development by 1969 due to the declining commercial success of musical films. The Freed Unit was closed, and MGM and Minnelli agreed to part ways.[224][225]

In 1964, producer Arthur P. Jacobs asked Minnelli to direct a musical adaptation of the novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips with Rex Harrison in mind for the title role. Minnelli however declined the offer.[226] According to film historian Mark Harris, he agreed to direct Doctor Dolittle (1967), which would have reunited him with Harrison and Alan Jay Lerner.[227] The film was tentatively scheduled for a Christmas 1966 release, but Minnelli left the project and was replaced by Richard Fleischer.[228]

Lerner's then-latest Broadway musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever was optioned for a film adaptation by Paramount Pictures, with Barbra Streisand considered for the lead role. After failing to get Minnelli hired for My Fair Lady (1964), Lerner successfully campaigned to have Minnelli direct the adaptation. Filming began on January 6, 1969 for an intended 82-day shoot.[229] The film was originally scheduled for a fall 1970 roadshow release, but after 1969's Hello, Dolly! (which also starred Streisand) had disappointed at the box office, the film's release was pushed up to the summer. Fifteen minutes were removed from the film's run time.[230] Released in June 1970, the film received decent reviews from film critics.[231] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote the film "is just about as good as it could be. It is bright, it is romantic, it is solidly produced, it centers on an expertly comedic performance by Barbra Streisand and a charming if remarkably unpersuasive turn by Yves Montand as a psychiatrist, it is inventive, it is innocent."[232] By January 1971, the film had earned $4.75 million in box office rentals in the United States and Canada.[233]

Minnelli then turned to a film project, which would star his daughter Liza Minnelli, who had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for The Sterile Cuckoo (1969). They brainstormed a biographical film of Zelda Fitzgerald, but it failed to proceed after discussions with Paramount Pictures president Frank Yablans. He concurrently began developing a biographical film of Bessie Smith with Tina Turner in mind, but it fell through.[234]

Liza Minnelli and Ingrid Bergman in A Matter of Time (1976)

In 1974, Minnelli became interested in adapting Maurice Druon's 1954 novel The Film of Memory (La Volupté d'être). Retitled A Matter of Time (1976), it tells of a financially distressed contessa who tutors a young chambermaid. He turned to veteran collaborators, including screenwriter John Gay and producer Edmund Grainger. After several major studios declined, American International Pictures (AIP) agreed to finance the film with a $5 million production budget. Ingrid Bergman, who had won her third Academy Award for Murder on the Orient Express (1974), was cast as the Contessa.[235]

Filming began in August 1975 in Rome and Venice for a 14-week shoot. However, filming lasted 20 weeks due to harsh winter conditions, labor strikes, and mandated shorter production hours. Minnelli's first assembly cut was over three hours.[236][237] AIP president Samuel Z. Arkoff subsequently wrestled control of the film away from Minnelli, deleting several flashbacks and restructuring the film entirely. Alarmed by the news, Martin Scorsese had a petition signed by several prominent Hollywood directors, protesting Arkoff's treatment of Minnelli. Flattered by the support, Minnelli nevertheless disowned the film. The film premiered at the Radio City Music Hall on October 7, 1976 but was a financial disappointment.[238]

Personal life


Minnelli first met Judy Garland during the filming for Strike Up the Band (1940).[60] They married on June 15, 1945 inside Garland's mother's house in Wilshire, Los Angeles.[80] They had one child, Liza May Minnelli (born 1946).[239] The marriage fractured during the filming for The Pirate (1948). In 1949, Minnelli and Garland temporarily separated.[240] On June 16, 1950, MGM suspended Garland; three days later, Garland attempted suicide by slashing her throat with a shattered piece of glass. On December 7, they announced their legal separation and intent to divorce. The divorce was finalized on March 29, 1951 with Garland retaining parental custody of Liza.[241]

On February 16, 1954, Minnelli married Georgette Magnani, the sister of Miss Universe 1953 Christiane Martel. After winning for Miss Universe, Christiane was offered an acting contract with Universal Pictures, to which her parents had Georgette chaperone her. At a Hollywood party, Vernon Duke introduced Minnelli to Georgette.[242] Smitten by her appearance, Minnelli offered Georgette a screen test, which she turned down.[243][140] The couple had one child, Christiane Nina Minnelli (born 1955).[244] During post-production on Gigi (1958), Magnani filed for divorce.[245]

During his 1960 vacation in Italy, Minnelli met Danica ("Denise") Radosavljević Gay Giulianelli de Gigante, a Yugoslavian-born divorceé.[246] She accompanied him during the filming of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), and were married in January 1962.[247][198] Minnelli and Gigante co-founded their production company Venice Productions, partnering with MGM on a new contract to produce six films over four years.[248][211] By 1970, Minnelli had heard rumors Denise was having adulterous affairs with other men, which she denied. They divorced in August 1971.[249]

Minnelli met his fourth wife, Margaretta Lee Anderson, through his third wife who befriended her during the 1960s. After her divorce, Gigante encouraged Anderson to move in with Minnelli.[250] After three failed marriages, Minnelli vowed never to marry again though they continued to be domestic partners.[249] Minnelli married her in 1980 until his death in 1986.[251]

Sexual orientation

For years, there was speculation in the entertainment community that Minnelli was gay or bisexual.[252][253][254] Minnelli biographer Emanuel Levy claimed existing evidence that Minnelli did, in fact, live as an openly gay man in New York prior to his arrival in Hollywood, where the town that made him a film legend also pressured him back into the closet. According to Levy: "He was openly gay in New York – we were able to document names of companions and stories from Dorothy Parker. But when he came to Hollywood, I think he made the decision to repress that part of himself or to become bisexual."[255][256] Lester Gaba, a retail display designer who knew Minnelli in New York, was reported to have frequently claimed having an affair with Minnelli, although the same person who related Gaba's claim also admitted that Gaba "was known to embellish quite a bit."[257]


He had a pacemaker fitted at Christmas 1982.[258]

On July 25, 1986, Minnelli died in his Beverly Hills home, aged 83, from emphysema and pneumonia, which had caused him to be repeatedly hospitalized in his final year.[259][260] He is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[261]

Minnelli left an estate valued at slightly over US$1.1 million, the bulk of which was left to his daughter, Liza. He bequeathed US$100,000 to his widow. While his home in Beverly Hills was left to his daughter Liza, Minnelli requested in his will that his widow continue to live there.[262]


Despite his varied filmography of musicals, comedies and melodramas, Minnelli has been criticized as being a decorative artist than an auteur filmmaker, elevating artistic imagery while distracting audiences from the narrative and dialogue with elaborate camera angles.[263] In his 1968 book The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris called Minnelli a "pure stylist" who "believes more in beauty than in art." Sarris further wrote: "Minnelli has always required relatively luxurious projects upon which to lavish his taste. If he has a fatal flaw as an artist, it is his naϊve belief that style can invariably transcend substance and that our way of looking at the world is important than the world itself."[264] In 1975, Richard Schickel wrote Minnelli is "not by nature a storyteller. He does not have a very good eye—or memory—for revealing anecdotes. Nor does he have an analytical turn of mind. He seems mainly to feel his way toward the solution of creative problems, clued more by visual ideas (and of course, musical ones) than by any of the signs one might term 'literary.'"[265]

Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951). Minnelli's films often centered around creative individuals, exploring their innate talents as well as their moral and professional fears.[266]

Emmanuel Levy sharply disagreed, writing Minnelli was "an auteur in thematic, stylistic, and ideological terms. His films demonstrate vividly that concepts of art and artificiality run throughout his work."[267] In 1959, Albert Johnson, in an article for Film Quarterly, called Minnelli "a master of the decorative image", to which he belongs "neither to the old school nor to the new, but remains in a special position of accomplishment, one which permits all spheres of the visual and decorative arts to embellish his films."[268] In a foreword for Minnelli's memoir I Remember It Well, Alan Jay Lerner (of Lerner and Loewe) called Minnelli "the greatest director of motion picture musicals the screen has ever seen."[269] Film historian Jeanine Basinger called Minnelli "a visual artist. His films have wit and charm and beauty, but they also have cinematic style. His ability just to decorate, make everything in the frame look right, look beautiful, look appropriate and complementary to other things inside it, was unparalleled. He was one of the few directors who could develop his own personal vision in musicals, a difficult genre for a director because there is no more collaborative genre, none more dependent on the talents of so many others to succeed."[270]

Stanley Donen, a contemporary of Minnelli's and fellow director of musical films, once criticized Minnelli's musicals for their "sloppy" stories, and adopted a more bold, no-nonsense, and realistic style compared to Minnelli's impressionist visual style.[271] Stephen M. Silverman also distinguished both filmmakers' camerawork, observing Minnelli tends to track forward or backwards while Donen frequently uses horizontal tracking and crane shots to support the story and choreography. On the contrary, Minnelli did not mind interrupting the stories for a grand and visual performance.[271][272] Michael Kidd, a choreographer for MGM's most noted musicals, stated he preferred collaborating with Donen than Minnelli. He stated, "Vincente was a difficult person to communicate with. He was not very articulate, he would leave sentences unfinished. He had a great love of the visual aspects of moviemaking—he was originally a set designer, and people used to complain all the time, 'He shoots the scenery'—but Vincente was not one to engage in collaborative work."[273]

In 2012, film historian Ronald Bergan contrastly wrote: "What distinguished Minnelli from most of the other directors on the MGM roster was his mise-en-scène – his elegant compositions within an individual frame – the relation of objects and people, the interplay of light and dark, the pattern of colour."[274] Joseph Andrew Casper noted Minnelli's metteur en scène as "essentially expressionistic" by which he uses decor to create "a spatial-temporal continuum, albeit researched and dramatically related, filtered through the director's spirit. As such, one gets the distillation or the essence of a place and period imbibing attitudes and feelings ... Minnelli holds no mirror up to nature but places a lamp next to it. His is the recreative rather than the mimetic tradition of art."[275] Basinger agreed: "His filmed universe was one of fantasy and reality mixed, of dreams and deceptions, and of a decor that is always carefully researched, designed, and executed with the purpose not only of being rewarding in and of itself, but also of defining character and setting."[276]

Throughout his career, Minnelli directed seven different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Spencer Tracy, Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley MacLaine, and Martha Hyer. Grahame and Quinn were the two to win. Despite this, Minnelli is often perceived as not emphasizing enough of the actors' performances in his films.[277] During filming for Some Came Running (1959), Minnelli spent hours setting up a single shot because he wanted a Ferris wheel in the background, or a vase to hold the right kind of flowers. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin both grew frustrated with multiple takes for a brief scene, and stormed off the set.[181] George Peppard, an alumnus of the Actors Studio, clashed with Minnelli during filming for Home from the Hill (1960). During one take of the last scene, Minnelli told Peppard: "George, you might be a seething volcano inside. But I've got news for you. Nothing's happening. You'll have to do it my way."[278] Shirley Jones, who starred in 1963's The Courtship of Eddie's Father, recalled Minnelli never gave her specific directions for her character during filming. She stated, "Vincente liked to draw pretty pictures with the camera, and it was always for me to move to a certain point, put my hand here when I say this line but never any direction about character, and I missed that."[279]


Year Title Studio Genre Notes
1943 Cabin in the Sky Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Musical
I Dood It Musical-comedy Alternate title: By Hook or by Crook
1944 Meet Me in St. Louis Musical
1945 The Clock Romantic drama Alternate title: Under the Clock
Ziegfeld Follies Musical comedy Primary director
Yolanda and the Thief
1946 Undercurrent Film noir
1948 The Pirate Musical
1949 Madame Bovary Romantic drama
1950 Father of the Bride Comedy
1951 Father's Little Dividend
An American in Paris Musical
1952 The Bad and the Beautiful Melodrama
1953 The Story of Three Loves Anthology "Mademoiselle" segment
The Band Wagon Musical comedy
1954 The Long, Long Trailer Comedy
Brigadoon Musical
1955 The Cobweb Drama
Kismet Musical comedy
1956 Lust for Life Biographical
Tea and Sympathy Drama
1957 Designing Woman Romantic comedy
The Seventh Sin Drama Uncredited
1958 Gigi Musical-romance
The Reluctant Debutante Comedy
Some Came Running Drama
1960 Home from the Hill
Bells Are Ringing Romantic comedy-musical
1962 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Drama
Two Weeks in Another Town
1963 The Courtship of Eddie's Father Romantic comedy
1964 Goodbye Charlie 20th Century Fox Comedy
1965 The Sandpiper Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Drama
1970 On a Clear Day You Can See Forever Paramount Pictures Musical comedy drama
1976 A Matter of Time American International Pictures Musical fantasy Minnelli later disowned this film.[237]

Theatre credits

Title Run(s) Theatre Director Set designer Costume
Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1930 July 1, 1930 – January 3, 1931 New Amsterdam Theatre Yes
Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1931 August 27, 1931 – April 9, 1932 44th Street Theatre Yes Yes
Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1932 September 27, 1932 – December 10, 1932 Broadway Theatre (53rd Street) Yes Yes
The DuBarry November 22, 1932 – February 4, 1933 George M. Cohan's Theatre Yes Yes
At Home Abroad September 19, 1935 – March 7, 1936 Winter Garden Theatre Yes Yes
Ziegfeld Follies of 1936
  1. January 30, 1936 – May 9, 1936
  2. September 14, 1936 – December 19, 1936
Yes Yes
The Show is On
  1. December 25, 1936 – July 17, 1937
  2. September 18, 1937 – October 2, 1937
Yes Yes
Hooray for What! December 1, 1937 – May 21, 1938 Yes Yes
Very Warm for May November 17, 1939 – January 6, 1940 Alvin Theatre Yes Yes
Dance Me a Song January 20, 1950 – February 18, 1950 Royale Theatre Yes
Mata Hari November 20, 1967 – December 9, 1967[280] National Theatre (Washington, D.C.) Yes

Sources and notes


  1. ^ The films selected for the National Film Registry are Cabin in the Sky (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), An American in Paris (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), The Band Wagon (1953) and Gigi (1958).[2]


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Works cited

Biographies (chronological)


External links

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