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Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges.gif
Born
Edmund Preston Biden

(1898-08-29)August 29, 1898
Died August 6, 1959(1959-08-06) (aged 60)
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, film director
Years active 1928–1956
Spouse(s) Estelle de Wolf Mudge (1923–1928; divorced)
Eleanor Close Hutton (1930–1932; annulled)
Louise Sargent Tevis (1938–1947; divorced)
Anne Margaret "Sandy" Nagle (1951–1959; his death)

Preston Sturges (/ˈstɜːrɪs/; born Edmund Preston Biden; August 29, 1898 – August 6, 1959) was an American playwright, screenwriter, and film director. In 1941, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film The Great McGinty, his first of three nominations in the category.

Sturges took the screwball comedy format of the 1930s to another level, writing dialogue that, heard today, is often surprisingly naturalistic, mature, and ahead of its time, despite the farcical situations. It is not uncommon for a Sturges character to deliver an exquisitely turned phrase and take an elaborate pratfall within the same scene. A tender love scene between Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve was enlivened by a horse, which repeatedly poked its nose into Fonda's head.

Prior to Sturges, other figures in Hollywood (such as Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Frank Capra) had directed films from their own scripts, however, Sturges is often regarded as the first Hollywood figure to establish success as a screenwriter and then move into directing his own scripts, at a time when those roles were separate. Sturges famously sold the story for The Great McGinty to Paramount Pictures for $1, in return for being allowed to direct the film; the sum was quietly raised to $10 by the studio for legal reasons.

Early life

Sturges was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Mary Estelle Dempsey (later known as Mary Desti or Mary D'Este) and travelling salesman Edmund C. Biden. His maternal grandparents, Catherine Campbell Smyth and Dominick d'Este Dempsey, were immigrants from Ireland, and his father was of English descent.

When Sturges was three years old, his eccentric mother left America to pursue a singing career in Paris, where she annulled her marriage with Preston's father. Returning to America, Dempsey met her third husband, the wealthy stockbroker Solomon Sturges, who adopted Preston in 1902. According to biographers, Solomon Sturges was "diametrically opposite to Mary and her bohemianism". This included her close friendship with Isadora Duncan, as the young Sturges would sometimes travel from country to country with Duncan's dance company. Mary also carried on a romantic affair with Aleister Crowley and collaborated with him on his magnum opus Magick. As a young man, Sturges bounced back and forth between Europe and the United States. As Sturges spent much of his childhood and youth in France, he ended up fluent in French and a Francophile who always considered France his "second home".

In 1916, he worked as a runner for New York stock brokers, a position he obtained through Solomon Sturges. The next year, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Service, and graduated as a lieutenant from Camp Dick in Texas without seeing action. While at camp, Sturges wrote an essay, "Three Hundred Words of Humor", which was printed in the camp newspaper, becoming his first published work. Returning from camp, Sturges picked up a managing position at the Desti Emporium in New York, a store owned by his mother's fourth husband. He spent eight years (1919–1927) there, until he married the first of his four wives, Estelle De Wolfe.

Personal life

Sturges married four times and had three sons:

  • Estelle deWolfe Mudge – married in December 1923, separated in 1927, divorced in 1928
  • Eleanor Close Hutton (a daughter of Marjorie Merriweather (Post) Close Hutton Davies May) – eloped on April 12, 1930, marriage annulled on April 12, 1932
  • Louise Sargent Tevis – married on November 7, 1938 in Reno, Nevada, separated in April 1946, divorced in November 1947
    • son Solomon Sturges IV (b. June 25, 1941) – actor
  • Anne Margaret "Sandy" Nagle (a lawyer and former actress) – married on April 15, 1951, marriage ended in 1959 with Sturges' death, mother of his two younger sons
    • Preston Sturges Jr. (b. February 22, 1953) – screenwriter
    • Thomas Preston Sturges (b. June 22, 1956) – music executive

Death

Sturges died of a heart attack at the Algonquin Hotel while writing his autobiography (which, ironically, he'd intended to title The Events Leading Up to My Death), and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. His book, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges: His Life in His Words, was published in 1990 by Simon & Schuster. In 1975, he became the first writer to be given the Screen Writers Guild's Laurel Award posthumously. He has a star dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1601 Vine Street.

Filmography

  • The Big Pond (1930; dialogue)
  • Fast and Loose (1930; additional dialogue)
  • The Invisible Man (1933; contributing writer)
  • The Power and the Glory (1933; screenplay, dialogue director)
  • Imitation of Life (1934; contributing writer)
  • We Live Again (1934; co-screen adaptation)
  • Thirty Day Princess (1934; co-screenplay)
  • The Good Fairy (1935; screenplay)
  • Diamond Jim (1935; screenplay)
  • Love Before Breakfast (1936; contributor to treatment)
  • Next Time We Love (1936; contributor to screenplay construction)
  • Easy Living (1937; screenplay)
  • Hotel Haywire (1937; original story, screenplay)
  • If I Were King (1938; screenplay)
  • Port of Seven Seas (1938; screenplay)
  • College Swing (1938; contributing writer)
  • Never Say Die (1939; co-screenplay)
  • Remember the Night (1940; screenplay)
  • The Great McGinty (1940; director, writer)
  • Christmas in July (1940; director, writer)
  • The Lady Eve (1941; director, writer)
  • Sullivan's Travels (1941; director, writer)
  • The Palm Beach Story (1942; director, writer)
  • I Married a Witch (1942; producer)
  • The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (filmed 1942, released 1944; director, writer)
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944; producer, director, writer)
  • The Great Moment (filmed 1942, released 1944; director, writer)
  • The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (Mad Wednesday) (1947/1950; director, writer)
  • Unfaithfully Yours (1948; producer, director, writer)
  • The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949; producer, director, writer))
  • Vendetta (1950; uncredited director)
  • The French, They Are a Funny Race (Les carnets du Major Thompson) (French, 1955; director, writer)
  • The Birds and the Bees (1956, co-screenplay)
  • Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958; based on a story by)
  • Source (except where noted):

Adaptations

  • Three of Sturges' films, Christmas in July, The Great McGinty and Remember the Night, were restaged for NBC's Lux Video Theater.
  • The 1956 George Gobel movie The Birds and the Bees was a remake of The Lady Eve. Paul Jones produced both movies.
  • The 1958 Jerry Lewis vehicle Rock-A-Bye Baby was loosely based on Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.
  • The 1984 Dudley Moore feature Unfaithfully Yours was a remake of Sturges' 1948 original.

Published screenplays

  • Five Screenplays (ISBN 0-520-05564-0) collects The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, and Hail the Conquering Hero
  • Four More Screenplays (ISBN 0-520-20365-8) collects The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Palm Beach Story, Unfaithfully Yours, and The Great Moment
  • Three More Screenplays (ISBN 0-520-21004-2) collects The Power and the Glory, Remember the Night, and Easy Living

Images for kids


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