Rouben Mamoulian

Rouben Zachary Mamoulian (/rˈbɛn mɑːmlˈjɑːn/ roo-BEN mah-mool-YAHN, in Armenian: Ռուբէն Մամուլեան)[1] (October 8, 1897 December 4, 1987) was an Armenian-American film and theatre director.

Rouben Mamoulian
Rouben Zachary Mamoulian

(1897-10-08)October 8, 1897
Tiflis, Russian Empire
(modern-day Tbilisi, Georgia)
DiedDecember 4, 1987(1987-12-04) (aged 90)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
OccupationFilm director, theatre director
Years active1929–1963
Spouse(s)Azadia Newman (1945–1987; his death) (1902-1999)

Early life

Mamoulian was born in Tbilisi, Georgia (ruled at that time by imperial Russia), to an Armenian family. His mother Virginia (née Kalantarian) was a director of the Armenian theater, and his father, Zachary Mamoulian, was a bank president.[2] Mamoulian relocated to England and started directing plays in London in 1922. He was brought to America the next year by Vladimir Rosing to teach at the Eastman School of Music and was involved in directing opera and theatre.

In 1925, Mamoulian was head of the School of Drama, where Martha Graham was also working at the time. Among other performances, together they produced a short two-color film called The Flute of Krishna, featuring Eastman students. Mamoulian left Eastman shortly after and Graham chose to leave also, even though she was asked to stay on. In 1930, Mamoulian became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Child star Jackie Cooper stated in his autobiography that Rouben Mamoulian was his uncle, and this fact helped establish Cooper's early movie career.

Stage career

Mamoulian began his Broadway director career with a production of DuBose Heyward's Porgy, which opened on October 10, 1927. He directed Wings Over Europe from late 1928 to 1929. He directed the revival of Porgy in 1929 along with George Gershwin's operatic treatment, Porgy and Bess, which opened on October 10, 1935. Mamoulian was also the first to stage such notable Broadway works as Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945) and Lost in the Stars (1949).

Film career

He directed his first feature film in 1929, Applause, which was one of the earliest talkies. It was a landmark film owing to Mamoulian's innovative use of camera movement and sound, and these qualities were carried through to his other films released in the 1930s. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) benefits from having been made before the Production Code came into full force, and is regularly considered the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale. Queen Christina (1933) was the last film Greta Garbo made with John Gilbert, and also benefits from being made before the Production Code came into full force. The musical film Love Me Tonight was released in 1932.

He directed the first three-strip Technicolor film, Becky Sharp (1935), based on Thackeray's Vanity Fair, as well as the 1937 musical High, Wide, and Handsome. His next two films earned him wide admiration, The Mark of Zorro (1940) and Blood and Sand (1941), both remakes of silent films. Blood and Sand, on bullfighting, was filmed in Technicolor, and used color schemes based on the work of Spanish artists such as Diego Velázquez and El Greco. His foray into screwball comedy genre in 1942 was a success with Rings on Her Fingers starring Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney.

Mamoulian's last completed musical film was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1957 film version of the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings. This had been one of Porter's less successful stage musicals and was based on the 1939 Greta Garbo classic Ninotchka. The film Silk Stockings starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, with Janis Paige and Peter Lorre in support.

Mamoulian's film directing career came to an end when he was fired from two consecutive films, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He had previously been fired as director of Laura (1944). After directing the highly successful original stage productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel, he worked on only a few other theatrical productions, such as St. Louis Woman, which introduced Pearl Bailey to Broadway audiences.

He was personally recruited by Directors Guild of America (DGA) co-founder King Vidor in 1936 to help unionize fellow movie directors. Mamoulian's lifelong allegiance to the DGA, and more so his general unwillingness to compromise, contributed to his being targeted in Hollywood blacklisting of the 1950s.[3]

He died on December 4, 1987 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital of natural causes at the age of 90 in Woodland Hills, California.[4]

The critical appraisal Rouben Mamoulian, by Tom Milne, was published as Cinema One Series no. 13 by Thames & Hudson, 1969.

The biography Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, by David Luhrssen, was published in 2013 (University of Kentucky Press).[3]


In the interview compilation book Directing the Film (Acrobat Books), Mamoulian declared a strong preference for a stylized look to his scenes, stating that he was more interested in creating a poetic look to his films than in showing ordinary realism. Parts of Becky Sharp, and almost the whole of Blood and Sand, with their heightened and artificial use of Technicolor, demonstrate what Mamoulian meant by this. He also wrote a book called Applause.

Awards and honors

On February 8, 1960, for his contribution to the motion picture industry, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1709 Vine Street.[5][6]

He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.[7]

In 1982 Mamoulian received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America.

In 2019, Mamoulian’s film Becky Sharp was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[8]


YearTitleProduction Co.CastNotes
1929ApplauseParamountHelen Morgan
1931City StreetsParamountGary Cooper / Sylvia Sidney
1931Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeParamountFredric March / Miriam Hopkins
1932Love Me TonightParamountMaurice Chevalier / Jeanette MacDonald
1933The Song of SongsParamountMarlene Dietrich / Brian Aherne
1933Queen ChristinaMGMGreta Garbo / John Gilbert
1934We Live AgainSamuel Goldwyn Co.Fredric March / Anna Sten
1935Becky SharpPioneer PicturesMiriam Hopkins / Cedric HardwickeFirst three-strip Technicolor film
1936The Gay DesperadoPickford-LaskyNino Martini / Ida Lupino / Leo Carrillo
1937High, Wide, and HandsomeParamountIrene Dunne / Randolph Scott / Charles Bickford
1939Golden BoyColumbiaBarbara Stanwyck / William Holden
1940The Mark of Zorro20th Century FoxTyrone Power / Linda Darnell
1941Blood and Sand20th Century FoxTyrone Power / Linda Darnell / Rita HayworthTechnicolor film
1942Rings on Her Fingers20th Century FoxGene Tierney / Henry Fonda
1948Summer HolidayMGMMickey Rooney / Gloria de Haven / Walter Huston / Agnes Moorehead / Frank Morgan / Marilyn MaxwellTechnicolor film
1957Silk StockingsMGMFred Astaire / Cyd CharisseMetrocolor film

Other work

YearTitleProduction Co.CastNotes
1944Laura20th Century FoxGene Tierney / Clifton Webb / Dana AndrewsFired, footage unused
1952The Wild HeartDavid O. SelznickJennifer JonesShot extra scenes for US version of Gone to Earth (GB 1950) / Technicolor film
1959Porgy and BessSamuel Goldwyn Co.Sidney Poitier / Dorothy DandridgeFired, one scene used / Technicolor film
1963Cleopatra20th Century FoxElizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton / Rex HarrisonResigned, footage unused / Color film


The Sydney Film Festival has an award named after him: the Rouben Mamoulian Award for the Best Director of an Australian Short Film.

Studies and biographies

  • Rouben Mamoulian, Tom Milne, Cinema One Series no. 13, Thames & Hudson 1969
  • Luhrssen, David (2013). Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813136769.


  1. Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.
  2. Peter B. Flint, "Rouben Mamoulian, Broadway Director, Is Dead", The New York Times, December 6, 1987.
  3. Johnson, Carley (Winter 2013). "Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen". DGA Quarterly: 71–72. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  4. Flint, Peter B. (1987-12-06). "Rouben Mamoulian, Broadway Director, Is Dead". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-14.
  5. "Rouben Mamoulian | Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved 2016-07-14.
  6. "Rouben Mamoulian". Retrieved 2016-07-14.
  7. "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame." The New York Times, March 3, 1981.
  8. Chow, Andrew R. (December 11, 2019). "See the 25 New Additions to the National Film Registry, From Purple Rain to Clerks". Time. New York, NY. Retrieved December 11, 2019.

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