Wyler, William

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Wyler, William

Wyler, William, 1902–1981, American film director, producer, and writer, b. Mülhausen, Germany (now Mulhouse, France) as Willi Wilder. He came to the United States (1920) at the invitation of Carl Laemmle, a distant relative and the founder of Universal Studios, where Wyler worked until 1936. A meticulous and demanding craftsman, he worked mainly from literary novels and plays. After leaving Universal, Wyler worked with Samuel Goldwyn, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and others. His best-known films include Dodsworth (1936), which won him his first Academy Award nomination; Dead End (1937); Jezebel (1938); Wuthering Heights (1939); The Little Foxes (1941), based on the Lillian Hellman play; Mrs. Miniver (1942; Academy Award, best picture and director); The Best Years of Our Lives) (1946; Academy Award, best picture and director); and The Heiress (1949), an adaptation of Henry James's Washington Square. During World War II, while serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Wyler made the documentary Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944). After the war he directed Roman Holiday (1953); Ben Hur (1959; Academy Award, best picture and director); The Children's Hour (1961), from another Hellman play; The Collector (1965), based on John Fowles's novel; and Funny Girl (1968).


See biographies by S. Kern (1984) and J. Herman (1996); B. Bowman, Master Space: Film Images of Capra, Lubitsch, Sternberg, and Wyler (1992); M. Harris, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (2014).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wyler, William


Born July 1, 1902, in Mulhouse, in German Alsace. American film director.

Wyler studied at the Higher School of Commerce in Lausanne and at the Paris Conservatory. In 1921 he began working in Hollywood, where he directed his first films in the late 1920’s. From the mid-1930’s to early 1940’s, Wyler was one of the leading representatives of the trend toward social drama manifested in American cinema at that time. His films of the period, Dead End (1937, based on the play by S. Kingsley) and The Little Foxes (1941, based on the play by L. Hellman), as well as later ones, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, based on a novel by M. Kantor) and The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970, based on the novel by J. H. Ford), are distinguished by their acute presentation of social problems. During World War II, Wyler saw action while serving in the US Army Air Force; he also made documentary war films.

A master filmmaker, Wyler combines strict classical form with tense inner drama, while making the actor the main spokesman of the author’s ideas. These traits are best seen in his finest films, Wuthering Heights (1939, based on the novel by E. Brontè) and Carrie (1952, based on T. Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie). Wyler’s talents are also evident in his amusing film comedies Roman Holiday (1953), How to Steal a Million (1966), and Funny Girl (1968).


Kolodiazhnaia, V. Uil’iam Uailer. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wyler, William

(1902–81) director; born in Mulhouse, Germany (now France). Of Swiss parentage, he studied business in Switzerland, then the violin in Paris; there he met Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Pictures, who invited him to New York in 1922 to write publicity. Moving to Hollywood in 1923, he made his directorial debut in 1925 and went on to a long and distinguished career, climaxing with such Academy Award-winning films as Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben Hur (1959). During World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and made two documentaries, Memphis Belle (1944) and Thunderball (1945). Noted for his total control—he was called "90-Take Wyler" because of his insistence on reshooting until he got each scene perfect—he was honored for the craftsmanship and high style of his pictures.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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