NOTE: Author Matthew Kennedy has written a mini-biography of Edmund Goulding exclusively for "Silents Are Golden" to give us a taste of what his superb biography has in store for the reader. Kennedy teaches anthropology at City College of San Francisco and film history at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Born in London at the end of the Victorian era, Edmund Goulding was one of the most extraordinarily creative men of Golden Age Hollywood. He began his career as an actor on London's West End, served in World War I, and, after emigrating to America, began a highly productive career as a screenwriter. But Goulding was much more, a man of multiple talents, unconventional sexual desires, and drug and alcohol addictions that brought him up against the law more than once.
In the 1920s, he wrote scripts for such stars as Dorothy Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Elsie Janis, Norma Talmadge, George Arliss, Colleen Moore, Mae Murray, Mary Astor, William Powell, Blanche Sweet, and Joan Crawford, among many others. He began directing in 1925 while under contract to MGM, and logged in such hits as Sally, Irene and Mary with Crawford and Love with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Moving to Paramount, he wrote and directed The Devil's Holiday, a hit for Nancy Carroll, and wrote, directed, and composed music for The Trespasser, Gloria Swanson's sound debut. He wrote the original story of The Broadway Melody, MGM's Academy Award-winning musical and then directed Grand Hotel, 1932 Best Picture winner and arguably the greatest exemplar of classic movie storytelling and star glamour.
Goulding was embroiled in a sex scandal in the mid-1930s, he had a penchant for bisexual orgies and voyeurism, and was exiled to Europe. Upon his return, he wrote and directed two minor pictures at MGM (Riptide and The Flame Within) before being fired by Louis B. Mayer, who disliked Goulding's unapologetic attitude toward sex. He was also briefly married, to the dancer Marjorie Moss, who died in 1935 from tuberculosis. After MGM, he moved to Warner Bros., where he directed several financial and/or artistic successes, including The Dawn Patrol with Errol Flynn and David Niven, We Are Not Alone with Paul Muni, and The Constant Nymph with Joan Fontaine and Charles Boyer. It is also at Warner Bros. that he directed Bette Davis in three enduring melodramas: Dark Victory, The Old Maid, and The Great Lie.
Goulding was lured by Darryl F. Zanuck to Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943, where he directed Claudia, Dorothy McGuire's heralded film debut, and two contrasting vehicles for Tyrone Power: the big budget literary adaptation of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and the peverse but indelible film noir Nightmare Alley. At Fox he dabbled in pleasing comedies, including We're Not Married, Everybody Does It, and Mister 880. His last film, the inconsequential musical Mardi Gras, was released in 1958, one year before his death by heart failure on Christmas Eve.
Goulding was never satisfied to be just a director - he wrote songs, plays (including the 1924 Broadway hit Dancing Mothers), novels, poems, and mentored young Hollywood aspirants. As a director, his attention to pacing, mood, and emotional clarity enriched his every film. He was justly celebrated as a great woman's director, second only to George Cukor, and he wrote and/or director ten performances that won or were nominated for Academy Awards. In addition to Davis, Crawford, and Garbo, he guided some of the best work of Miriam Hopkins, Mary Astor, Anne Baxter, Eleanor Parker, Ann Harding, Joan Blondell, and Gene Tierney. He also saw the working conditions of more studios than just about anyone. His life and career offer glimpses of the machinations of the great old studios, the stars, and the men who ruled them. Goulding has been neglected in film history, and his first-ever biography Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004) attempts to place him among the most important film talents of his time.
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