William Cameron Menzies

William Cameron Menzies (July 29, 1896 – March 5, 1957) was an American film production designer (a job title he invented)[1] and art director as well as a film director and producer during a career spanning five decades. He earned acclaim for his work in silent film, and later pioneered the use of color in film for dramatic effect.

William Cameron Menzies
Born(1896-07-29)July 29, 1896
DiedMarch 5, 1957(1957-03-05) (aged 60)
EducationYale University, University of Edinburgh
OccupationProduction designer, film director
Years active1924–1956
AwardsBest Art Direction
1928 The Dove ; Tempest
Academy Honorary Award
1939 Gone with the Wind

Early years

Menzies was born in New Haven, Connecticut to Scots immigrant parents, Charles A. and Helen originally from Aberfeldy, Scotland. He studied at Yale and the University of Edinburgh, and after serving in the United States Army during World War I he attended the Art Students League of New York.


Menzies joined Famous Players-Lasky, later to evolve into Paramount Pictures, working in special effects and design. He quickly established himself in Hollywood with his elaborate settings for Robin Hood (1922), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Bat (1926), The Dove (1927), Sadie Thompson (1928), and Tempest (1928). In 1929, Menzies formed a partnership with producer Joseph M. Schenck to create a series of early sound short films visualizing great works of music, including a 10-minute version of Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and created the production design and special effects for Schenck's feature film The Lottery Bride (1930).

Menzies's work on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) prompted David O. Selznick to hire him for Gone with the Wind (1939).[2] Selznick's faith in Menzies was so great that he sent a memorandum to everyone at Selznick International Pictures who was involved in the production reminding them that "Menzies is the final word" on everything related to Technicolor, scenic design, set decoration, and the overall look of the production.[3]

"Production designer" (which is sometimes used interchangeably with "art director") was coined specifically for Menzies, to refer to his being the final word on the overall look of the production; it was intended to describe his ability to translate Selznick's ideas to drawings and paintings from which he and his fellow directors worked.

Menzies was the director of the burning of Atlanta sequence in Gone with the Wind. He also re-shot the Salvador Dalí dream sequence of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).[4]

In addition, Menzies directed dramas and fantasy films. He made two science-fiction films: Things to Come (1936), based on H.G. Wells' work for producer Alexander Korda which predicted war and technical advancement; and Invaders from Mars (1953), which mirrored many fears about aliens and outside threats to humanity in the 1950s.


Shortly after completing his work as an associate producer on Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Menzies died of cancer. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


At the first Academy Awards, held on May 16, 1929, Menzies won for Best Art Direction for The Dove and Tempest. The following year he was nominated in the same categories for his work on Bulldog Drummond, Alibi, and The Awakening, but lost to Cedric Gibbons.

At the 12th Academy Awards held on February 29, 1940, Menzies won an Academy Honorary Award "for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood" in the production of Gone With the Wind.

In 2005, Menzies was in the first group of art directors and production designers inducted into the Art Directors Guild Hall of Fame.[5]


Additional art direction credits

Additional production design credits

Selected directing credits

DVD release

In October 2009, Alpha Video released the public domain collection The Fantastic World of William Cameron Menzies on DVD,[6] which included four early experimental films created by Menzies and Joseph M. Schenck, shorts that visualize great works of classical music:

According to Dave Kehr, The Wizard's Apprentice "clearly influenced Disney's version in Fantasia.[6]

See also


  1. Cairns, David (March–April 2011). "The Dreams of a Creative Begetter". The Believer. Retrieved March 31, 2011. Menzies was an art director, production designer (a title he invented himself), producer, and director, the man who created the look of Gone with the Wind, unifying the work of a posse of directors.
  2. Memo from David O. Selznick, selected and edited by Rudy Behlmer, Viking Press, 1972, p.156.
  3. Memo from David O. Selznick, p.196.
  4. Dalí, Surrealism and cinema by Elliott H. King, Kamera Books, 2007, p. 85–86.
  5. "Ninth Annual Art Directors Guild Awards for Excellence in Production Design, Saturday, February 12, Beverly Hilton Hotel". Press release. Business Wire via FindArticles. February 11, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  6. "Another Trippy Rabbit Hole". The New York Times. February 26, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  7. "The Fantastic World Of William Cameron Menzies with Rediscovered Shorts of the 1930s DVD info, Oldies.com". Retrieved October 23, 2009.

Further reading

  • Curtis, James. (2015). William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come, Pantheon Books, ISBN 978-0-375-42472-4
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