THE MAESTRO: Charles Vidor


Charles (Károly) Vidor was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 27, 1900 into a prosperous Jewish family. During the First World War he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian infantry and finished the war as a lieutenant. After attending the University of Budapest he moved to Berlin to pursue his love of the theater and cinema. In the early 1920's he joined the UFA studios in Berlin, then technically the most advanced in the world. In 1924 he emigrated to America.

Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Vidor worked as assistant to the Hungarian-born film producer and director, Alexander Korda. By the late 1920's he had succeeded in accumulating enough money to pursue his ambition to direct his own movies.

Vidor self-financed his first movie, a silent short called The Bridge (1929), which led to his first full-length MGM feature The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), with co-director Charles Brabin. His first solo film came the following year when he directed Sensation Hunters. He continued working for a variety of studios, making low budget 'B' movies until 1939 when he joined Harry Cohn's Columbia.

The next decade was Vidor's most successful and he directed a number of highly regarded films ind a variety of genres.


He directed three movies starring Rita Hayworth which helped establish her as a major star. In Cover Girl (1944) her dancing was at its brilliant best and Vidor allowed Gene Kelly complete freedom over the film's choreography. Gilda (1946), an intriguing film noir and erotic sensation, was a massive commercial success and a financial triumph for Columbia. In 1948 Rita Hayworth again starred in a Vidor movie, The Loves of Carmen which did not fare well at the box office.

When Vidor married, for the fourth time, to Doris Warner, who was the daughter of Harry Warner, president of Warner Brothers, he began to seek ways of getting out of his Columbia contract in order to work for the bigger studio. He took Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, to court, alleging exploitation and verbal abuse. The dispute was eventually settled out of court and in 1949 Vidor left Columbia and joined MGM.


Vidor continued directing movies through the 1950's but with a decidedly inconsistent output. In 1951, he made Hans Christian Andersen starring Danny Kaye. The film received international acclaim and was nominated for six Academy Awards.

In 1954 Vidor directed Elizabeth Taylor in the undistinguished Rhapsody, and then another wonderful biopic (of jazz singer, Ruth Etting) Love Me or Leave Me which featured magnificent performances from Doris Day and James Cagney. Vidor was also able to coax a superb performance from another well-established star, Frank Sinatra, in The Joker Is Wild in 1957.

After serving as a jurist at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, Vidor travelled to Vienna to film another of his speciality biopics, this time of Franz Liszt, Song Without End. He suffered a heart attack and died on June 4, 1959. The picture was finished, uncredited, by George Cukor.

SOURCE: Hollywood’s Golden Age