Charles Vidor (1900-1959)

Charles Vidor
Charles Vidor

Charles Vidor was an Hungarian born film director who began his Hollywood career at the end of the silent movie era and who directed movies in a variety of genres for three decades from the very start of Hollywoods Golden Age.

NB He is often confused with King Vidor, also a major early film director, but the two were not related.

Vidor's best known success was 'Gilda' in 1946, starring Rita Hayworth, an atmospheric and cleverly worked film noir. Although he, himself was never nominated for an Academy Award, he directed three actors to Oscar nominations: Cornel Wilde (Best Actor, in 'A Song to Remember' in 1945), James Cagney (Best Actor in 'Love Me or Leave Me' in 1955), and Vittorio De Sica (Best Supporting Actor in 'A Farewell to Arms' in 1957).

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He was born Károly Vidor in Budapest, Hungary, on July 27, 1900 into a well off Jewish family. During the First World War he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian infantry and finished the war as a lieutenant. After attending the University of Budapest he moved to Berlin to pursue his love of the theater and cinema. In the early 1920's he joined the UFA studios in Berlin, then technically the most advanced in the world. He began as assistant cutter and then became assistant director, gaining invaluable experience. In 1924 he emigrated to America, determined to make a living in the performing arts.

Settling first in New York and Anglicizing his name to Charles, he began a career as a singer, performing in choruses on Broadway and joining the English Grand Opera Company. He did not forget his movie training and after a short time he relocated to Hollywood working as assistant to the Hungarian-born British film producer and director, Alexander Korda. He continued his movie education over the next few years working as assistant director, editor and scriptwriter. By the late 1920's he had succeeded in accumulating enough money to pursue his ambition to direct his own movies.

To this end Vidor self-financed his first movie, a silent short called 'The Bridge', in 1929. It attracted a lot of interest and he was signed up by MGM and directed his first full movie 'The Mask of Fu Manchu' in 1932, with co-director Charles Brabin. His first solo feature came the following year when he directed 'Sensation Hunters'. He continued working for a variety of studios, making low cost 'B' movies such as ' His Family Tree' in 1935 and 'She's No Lady' in 1937, until 1939 when he joined Harry Cohn's Columbia.

Hollywood Success

The next decade was Vidor's most successful and he directed a number of highly regarded films ind a variety of genres, ranging from thrillers such as 'Ladies in Retirement' in 1941, comedies such as 'The Tuttles of Tahiti' in 1942, a Randolph Scott Western, 'The Desperadoes' in 1943 and a fictional biopic of Fredric Chopin, 'A Song to Remember' in 1945.

In addition Vidor directed three movies starring Rita Hayworth which helped establish her as a major star. In 'Cover Girl' in 1944 her dancing was at its brilliant best and Vidor was sensible enough to allow Gene Kelly almost complete freedom over the film's choreography. By far the best known of the Hayworth films is 'Gilda' in 1946 which was the crowning achievement of both Vidor and Rita Hayworth herself. An intriguing film noir and also an erotic sensation, the film was a massive commercial success and a financial triumph for Columbia. In 1948 Rita Hayworth again starred in a Vidor movie, 'The Loves of Carmen' which did not fare well at the box office.

When Vidor married, for the fourth time, to Doris Warner, who was the daughter of Harry Warner, president of Warner Brothers, he began to seek ways of getting out of his Columbia contract in order to work for the bigger studio. He took Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, to court, alleging exploitation and verbal abuse. The dispute was eventually settled out of court and in 1949 Vidor left Columbia and joined MGM.

The 1950's

Vidor continued directing movies through the 1950's but with a decidedly inconsistent output. The first movie after leaving Columbia was 'It's a Big Country' in 1951, an episodic anthology of different aspects of American life, which he co-directed with six other directors. The following year he made ' Hans Christian Andersen', starring Danny Kaye, another fictional biopic, which received international acclaim and was nominated for six Academy Awards, without winning any.

In 1954 Vidor directed Elizabeth Taylor in the undistinguished 'Rhapsody', and then another wonderful biopic, this time of jazz singer, Ruth Etting, 'Love Me or Leave Me' which displayed magnificent performances from Doris Day and James Cagney. Vidor was also able to coax a superb performance from another well-established star, Frank Sinatra, in 'The Joker Is Wild' in 1957 when he portrayed entertainer Joe E. Lewis.

Less successful movies from this period were the slow and predictable 'The Swan' with Grace Kelly, in 1955 and 'A Farewell to Arms' in 1957.


Charles Vidor was married four times, firstly in 1927 to Frances Varone, divorcing five years later. His second wife was actress Karen Morley whom he married in 1932 and divorced in 1943. The couple had a son, Michael. Vidor then had a brief marriage to actress Evelyn Keyes from 1944 to 1945.

In 1945 Vidor married Doris Warner LeRoy, daughter of Harry Warner and formerly married to film director, Mervyn LeRoy. They had two sons, Quentin and Brian, and remained together until Vidor's death.

After serving as a jurist at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, Vidor travelled to Vienna to film another of his speciality biopics, this time of Franz Liszt, 'Song Without End' (originally called 'Magic Flame'). He suffered a heart attack and died on June 4, 1959, aged 58 years. The picture was finished, uncredited, by George Cukor.

Charles Vidor was interred in the Warner Family Mausoleum in Los Angeles.

Charles Vidor Academy Awards

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Charles Vidor Filmography

The Bridge (short)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (uncredited)
Sensation Hunters
Double Door
Strangers All
The Arizonian
His Family Tree
Sinister House
A Doctor's Diary
The Great Gambini
She's No Lady
Romance of the Redwoods
Blind Alley
The Gates of Alcatraz
The Lady in Question
My Son, My Son!
They Dare Not Love (co-director - uncredited)
Ladies in Retirement
New York Town
The Tuttles of Tahiti
The Desperadoes
Cover Girl
Together Again