Best known for directing two of the most celebrated films in cinematic history, both in 1939: The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind. He holds the distinction of being the only film director to have two films listed in the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s 2007 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list.
How exactly does one direct two of the most popular and beloved and critically acclaimed films of all time — in the same year — and still work it so that nobody knows your name? Consider the case of Victor Fleming.
He’d probably tell you that when you’re working for producer David O. Selznick, it’s a Selznick picture — particularly when it’s “Gone with the Wind“. Besides, Fleming was brought in as a replacement director because his pal Clark Gable wouldn’t even speak with the director George Cukor.
Ironically, too, he was Cukor’s replacement on “Wizard of Oz“, but didn’t finish that film because he was needed on GWTW. Fleming, though, is the only credited director on either film, and the one who walked away with the Oscar in 1939, when The Wind blew away at least a dozen of the finest films ever made and totaled up ten Academy Awards.
In 1939, directors were not above the title. Victor Fleming was an MGM contract director, a regular Joe, a professional craftsman, the go-to guy when you’re in a fix. A family man (he agreed to take on the troubled production of “Oz” for his kids), Fleming seems to have escaped the volumes of lore still swirling around the two epics he helped bring to the screen.
A professional race-car driver and mechanic, he started in the film business as a stunt driver. He became an assistant for D.W. Griffith and started his directing career with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. on “When the Clouds Roll By” in 1919. Born in Pasadena in 1889, Fleming was a real Westerner. His first big hit was “The Virginian” in 1929, which was also Gary Cooper’s first big hit. During the ’30s, Victor succeeded with several Westerns and Adventures, such as “Red Dust”, (1932) and “Treasure Island” (1934), and got a reputation as a man’s man and a man’s director. (This was a guy who gave Gable and Gary Cooper macho lessons.)
But, Victor Fleming was also a ladies man and a ladies director. The “It Girl”, Clara Bow, was in love with him, as was Norma Shearer and Ingrid Bergman. Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett is still one of the most mesmerizing characters in film. And though her accent is preposterous in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Bergman is stunningly emotive.
Fleming died in 1949, only ten years after his triumphant Year of the Classics. “Dr. Jekyll” was his only success in his last decade. Though other earlier films are appreciated by cinephiles, they would, of course, pale in comparison to the two “ghost-directed” ones.
He worked for a studio that maintained that its only star was “Leo the Lion”. Victor was a frequent companion of, a lover of, and admired by stars whose immortality would far eclipse his own. Fleming probably realized it at the time, but just shrugged his big shoulders, and got down to the business at hand.
— Nate Lee
“Don’t get excited. Obstacles make a better picture.”
“[To David O. Selznick after being offered a percentage of the profits rather than a salary for directing Gone with the Wind (1939)] Don’t be a damn fool, David. This picture is going to be one of the biggest white elephants of all time.”
“He leadeth me.”
He directed 9 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Emil Jannings, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Frank Morgan, José Ferrer and Ingrid Bergman. Jannings, Tracy, Leigh and McDaniel all won Oscars for their performances in one of Fleming’s movies.
The only director to have two films listed in the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 greatest American films, Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
When making Gone with the Wind (1939), he wanted Scarlett, for at least once in the film, to look like his hunting buddy Clark Gable’s type of woman. So, when wearing the stunning low-cut burgundy velvet dress with rhinestones that Scarlett wears to Ashley Wilkes’ birthday party in the second half of the film, to achieve the desired cleavage for Fleming, Walter Plunkett had to tape Vivien Leigh’s breasts together.
Did not live to see The Wizard of Oz (1939), which he directed, become a sensation on television and an all-time classic through its annual telecasts.
He was working as a chauffeur for a wealthy family when he met director Allan Dwan in 1913. When the director began talking to him about repairing his own car, he discovered Fleming was knowledgeable about cameras and offered him a job as assistant cinematographer.
Mervyn LeRoy, producer of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and a major director in his own right, said of Fleming, “Vic was one of the best directors that ever lived. The funny thing is, nobody mentions him anymore. He was a great director and a great man”.
He served in the Signal Corps as a cameraman during World War I.
Victor Fleming’s directing credits include…
|1919||When the Clouds Roll by|
|1922||The Lane That Had No Turning|
|1922||Red Hot Romance|
|1923||Law of the Lawless|
|1923||To the Last Man|
|1923||The Call of the Canyon|
|1924||Code of the Sea|
|1925||The Devil’s Cargo|
|1925||A Son of His Father|
|1926||The Blind Goddess|
|1927||The Way of All Flesh|
|1927||The Rough Riders|
|1928||Abie’s Irish Rose|
|1929||The Wolf Song|
|1935||The Farmer Takes a Wife|
|1939||The Wizard of Oz|
|1939||Gone with the Wind|
|1941||Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde|
|1943||A Guy Named Joe|
|1948||Joan of Arc|