Mitchell Leisen

Mitchell Leisen (October 6, 1898 – October 28, 1972) was an American director, art director, and costume designer.

Mitchell Leisen
Leisen's card from The Big Broadcast of 1938s credits
James Mitchell Leisen

(1898-10-06)October 6, 1898
DiedOctober 28, 1972(1972-10-28) (aged 74)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
OccupationDirector, Art Director, Costume Designer, Producer
Years active1920–1967
Spouse(s)Sandra Gahle

Film career

He entered the film industry in the 1920s, beginning in the art and costume departments. He directed his first film in 1933 with Cradle Song and became known for his keen sense of aesthetics in the glossy Hollywood melodramas and screwball comedies he turned out.

His best known films include the Alberto Casella adaptation Death Takes a Holiday and Murder at the Vanities, a musical mystery story (both 1934), as well as Midnight (1939) and Hold Back the Dawn (1941), both scripted by Billy Wilder. Easy Living (1937), written by Preston Sturges and starring Jean Arthur, was another hit for the director, who also directed Remember the Night (1940), the last film written by Sturges before he started directing his scripts as well. The films Lady in the Dark (1944), To Each His Own (1946), and No Man of Her Own (1950) were later successes. Also Charles Brackett's comedy The Mating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney, Miriam Hopkins and Thelma Ritter was an updated version of Leisen's earlier screwball comedies of the 1930s, and was also his last big movie success.

When his film career ended, Leisen directed episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Shirley Temple's Storybook and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. He also bought a nightclub.[1]

The Twilight Zone episode "The Sixteen Milimeter Shrine" is a variation of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Personal life

Though married, Leisen was reported to be gay or bisexual. According to Carolyn Roos, Leisen's longtime business manager's daughter, he had a very long relationship with dancer/actor/choreographer Billy Daniel until the 1950s (Daniel died in 1962).[2][3] Leisen, with Daniel and dancer/actor Mary Parker, formed Hollywood Presents Inc. as a means of promoting both Daniel and Parker off-screen.[4] Leisen died of heart disease in 1972, aged 74. His grave is located in Chapel of the Pines Crematory.[5]


He garnered his sole Academy Award nomination in 1930 for Art Direction for Cecil B. DeMille's Dynamite.[6] he directed Hold Back the Dawn (1941), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Filmography (as director)

YearTitleProduction Co.CastNotes
1933Cradle SongParamountDorothea Wieck / Evelyn Venable
1934BoleroParamountGeorge Raft / Carole LombardCo-directed with Wesley Ruggles
1934Death Takes a HolidayParamountFredric March / Evelyn VenableReleased to DVD
1934Murder at the VanitiesParamountVictor McLaglen / Jack Oakie / Carl Brisson
1934Behold My WifeParamountGene Raymond / Ann Sheridan / Sylvia Sydney
1935Four Hours to Kill!ParamountRichard Barthelmess / Ray Milland / Gertrude Michael
1935Hands Across the TableParamountCarole Lombard / Fred MacMurray
1936Thirteen Hours by AirParamountFred MacMurray / Joan Bennett / Zasu Pitts
1936The Big Broadcast of 1937ParamountJack Benny / George Burns / Gracie Allen / Ray Milland
1937Swing High, Swing LowParamountCarole Lombard / Fred MacMurray / Dorothy LamourReleased to DVD
1937Easy LivingParamountJean Arthur / Edward Arnold / Ray MillandReleased to DVD
1938The Big Broadcast of 1938ParamountW.C. Fields / Martha Raye / Bob Hope / Dorothy LamourReleased to DVD
1938Artists and Models AbroadParamountJack Benny / Joan BennettReleased to DVD
1939MidnightParamountClaudette Colbert / Don Ameche / John Barrymore / Mary AstorReleased to DVD
1940Remember the NightParamountBarbara Stanwyck / Fred MacMurrayReleased to DVD
1940Arise, My LoveParamountClaudette Colbert / Ray Milland
1941I Wanted WingsParamountRay Milland / William Holden / Wayne Morris / Veronica LakeWON Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
1941Hold Back the DawnParamountCharles Boyer / Olivia De Havilland / Paulette GoddardNominated for Academy Award for Best Picture.
Released to DVD (region 2).
1942The Lady is WillingParamountMarlene Dietrich / Fred MacMurray
1942Take a Letter, DarlingParamountRosalind Russell / Fred MacMurray
1943No Time for LoveParamountClaudette Colbert / Fred MacMurray
1944Lady in the DarkParamountGinger Rogers / Ray MillandTechnicolor film
1944Frenchman's CreekParamountJoan Fontaine / Arturo de Córdova / Basil Rathbone / Nigel BruceTechnicolor film
1944Practically YoursParamountClaudette Colbert / Fred MacMurray
1945KittyParamountPaulette Goddard / [[Ray Milland
1945Masquerade in MexicoParamountDorothy Lamour / Arturo de Córdova
1946To Each His OwnParamountOlivia de Havilland / John LundAcademy Award for Best Actress.
Released to VHS.
1947Suddenly, It's SpringParamountPaulette Goddard / Fred MacMurray
1947Golden EarringsParamountMarlene Dietrich / Ray Milland
1948Dream GirlParamountBetty Hutton / Macdonald Carey
1949Bride of VengeanceParamountPaulette Goddard / Macdonald Carey / John Lund
1949Song of SurrenderParamountClaude Rains / Wanda Hendrix / Macdonald Carey
1950No Man of Her OwnParamountBarbara Stanwyck / John Lund
1950Captain Carey, U.S.A.ParamountAlan Ladd / Wanda Hendrix
1951The Mating SeasonParamountGene Tierney / John Lund / Miriam Hopkins / Thelma RitterNominated Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Thelma Ritter
1951Darling, How Could You!ParamountJoan Fontaine / John Lund
1952Young Man with IdeasMGMGlenn Ford
1953Tonight We Sing20th Century FoxDavid Wayne / Ezio Pinza / Roberta Peters / Tamara ToumanovaTechnicolor film
1955BedevilledMGMAnne Baxter / Steve ForrestCo-directed with Richard Thorpe / Eastmancolor film
1958The Girl Most LikelyRKO Radio PicturesJane Powell / Cliff RobertsonTechnicolor film
1967SpreeTrans AmericanCo-directed with Walon Green / Documentary / Color film


  1. "Mitchell Leisen - Overview".
  2. Barrios, Richard (2005). Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood From Edison To Stonewall. Routledge. p. 157. ISBN 0-415-92328-X.
  3. Mitchell Leisen at the TCM Movie Database
  4. "Leisen's Circus". Look Magazine. August 1941.
  5. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 27393). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  6. "NY Times: Dynamite". The New York Times. Retrieved December 7, 2008.

Further reading

  • Chierichetti, David (1995). Mitchell Leisen: Hollywood Director. Photoventures. ISBN 978-0-929330-04-4. Revised version of a 1973 biography.
  • Kehr, Dave (May 13, 2008). "New DVDs: Mitchell Leisen and 'The Big Trail'". The New York Times. The very model of the crack studio director, Mitchell Leisen spent much of his career at Paramount, where he tackled projects as radically different as the archly theatrical "Death Takes a Holiday" (1934) and the frothy revue film "The Big Broadcast of 1938" with the same composure and elegance. Kehr's review of the DVD releases of Easy Living (1937) and Midnight (1939).
  • Melville, David (2006). "Mitchell Leisen". Senses of Cinema (37). Melville is one of several critics who have been reassessing Leisen's contributions to cinema; he writes, "Leisen, glimpsed in this new light, is no longer a swishy hack. He's a subtle and stylish auteur who could add heart and humanity to the brittle sophistication of Billy Wilder, lend grace and elegance to the boisterous Americana of Preston Sturges. In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson hails Leisen as "an expert at witty romantic comedies, too reliant on feeling to be screwball, too pleased with glamour to be satires – and thus less likely to attract critical attention.""
  • Rappaport, Mark (2008). "Mitchell Leisen". Rouge. This essay was written as an introduction to a retrospective series of showings of Leisen's films in 2008 at the Cinémathèque Française, which is in Paris, France. As does Melville, Rappaport speculates on how some of Billy Wilder's and Preston Sturges' scripts that Leisen directed would have fared if their writers had directed them instead.
  • Shadoian, Jack (September 1, 1998). "Exacting standards: Director Mitchell Leisen's film "To Each His Own" epitomizes the director's work". Film Comment. 34 (5): 40. Retrieved February 3, 2011. Seeing Leisen's films, though, kindles the urge to get up in arms, hoist a banner or two in the hope of securing the director his rightful share of the limelight. Segue to To Each His Own, a quintessential Leisen weepie – what one could unkindly call glittery trash created by the best minds of the motion picture industry, but that just might be wonder-full enough to do the job. Shadoian is a film scholar who wrote the monograph Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster Film (1978, 2003).
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