Dore Schary (1905-1980)

Dore Schary
Dore Schary

Dore Schary was a respected film director, writer, producer, and playwright who had a long and varied Hollywood career but who is best known for being the man who replaced MGM's legendary head, Louis B. Mayer.

Be began his entertainment career as an actor, then became a playwright based in New York and then turned to screenwriting in the early 1930s with great success, sharing an Oscar for 'Boys Town' in 1938. He worked with various Hollywood studios before becoming president of MGM Studios in the early 1950s. He later wrote the award-winning play 'Sunrise at Campobello' and subsequently adapted it for film.

Later in his career, he continued to work with great distinction in both the theater and movies as a writer, director, and producer, and he held public office as Commissioner of cultural affairs for New York City.

During the McCarthy Era, Schary was one of the few who openly resisted the anti-communist blacklisting by outspokenly denouncing the House Un-American Activities Committee and by chairing the Anti-Defamation League. Subsequent generations have a lot to thank him for.


He was born Isadore Schary on August 31, 1905 in Newark, New Jersey into a Russian Jewish family. His father ran a kosher delicatessen in Newark.

He proved to be an excellent student at Central High School in Newark and graduated in 1923, after leaving the school for a year which he spent selling haberdashery and china.

After graduation he briefly worked as a journalist and was an assistant drama coach at the Young Men's Hebrew Association in Newark where he met and worked under future playwright and theater director, Moss Hart. Schary worked with Hart in 1927, at a summer resort in the Catskill Mountains, where they wrote and put on short plays.

Schary soon returned to high school to finish the requirements for a diploma and then embarked on a career in acting and playwriting. He performed in stock companies and small Broadway roles and wrote plays. In 1932 Schary’s plays came to the attention of executives at Columbia Pictures, who hired him as a screenwriter.Encouraged by Hart, he decided to pursue a career in the theater, but life and Hollywood had other ideas.


Schary had written several plays for local community theater groups which found their way to the desk of one of the story editors at Columbia Studios. In 1932, Columbia, then one of the "Poverty Row" studios, took him on as a screenwriter. It was the beginning of a roller-coaster ride for Schary as he learned his new trade and also learned how to manoeuver amongst the politics, the riches and the treachery of the movie industry.

Schary's first few years in Hollywood were educational and productive. He moved from studio to studio contributing scripts for such films as 'Fury of the Jungle' and 'Fog' for Columbia in 1933, 'Let's Talk It Over' and 'Young and Beautiful for Universal in 1934, 'Murder in the Clouds' for Warners in 1934 and 'Red Hot Tires' also for Warners the following year. He continued with 'Racing Luck' for Republic in 1935 and in the same year moved to Fox for 'Silk Hat Kid'', 'Your Uncle Dudley' and, in 1936 'Song and Dance Man'. Later in 1936 Schary wrote 'Timothy's Quest', 'Mind Your Own Business' and 'Her Master's Voice' for Paramount and, for the same studio he did 'The Girl from Scotland Yard' in 1937 and in the same year he wrote 'Ladies in Distress' for Republic.

He did not completely neglect the stage and a play he wrote, 'Too Many Heroes', ran on Broadway for 16 performances in 1937.

MGM 1938-42

After a brief period under contract at MGM in 1936, Schary began working in earnest for the studio in 1937 when he wrote 'Big City' , a Spencer Tracy vehicle and then in 1938 he hit the big time with 'Boys Town'. Schary earned an unsuccessful Oscar nomination on the latter for Best Screenplay and won the Award for Best Story for the same film. Schary was now a writer in demand and he went on to write 'Broadway Melody of 1940', 'Young Tom Edison' and 'Edison, the Man' in 1940 and 'Married Bachelor' in 1941.

Schary's networking and hard work paid off and in 1942 he was promoted from the ranks of writers to be a producer of MGM's "B" pictures unit.

He began with two profitable movies, 'Joe Smith, American' and 'Kid Glove Killer', both in 1942. Other successes at this time included 'Journey for Margaret' in 1942 which made a star of Margaret O'Brien, and 'Bataan' and 'Lassie Come Home' in 1943, both of which were commercial successes. Under Schary's guidance the B picture unit began to make more money than the A picture unit.

Despite this, Schary and the MGM management did not always see eye to eye and arguments were common. Schary and L. B. Mayer had fundamental disagreements about the nature of the movies which MGM should be making. A proposed project with Nobel prize winner Sinclair Lewis called "Storm of the West" failed to win Mayer's final approval and Schary quit in protest.

Selznick 1943-47

By this time Schary was well known in the upper echelons of Hollywood and he had no shortage of offers of employment. He accepted an offer from David O. Selznick to become head of production at Selznick's Vanguard Films. His run of successes continued with profitable productions such as 'I'll Be Seeing You (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1946), Till the End of Time (1946), The Farmer's Daughter (1947) with Loretta Young, and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.

RKO 1947-48

Vanguard Studios distributed their films through RKO and in early 1947 Scary was offered and accepted the position of head of production at the RKO studios. His tenure proved to be short but busy. He began with two more big hits with 'Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House' and 'Crossfire' both in 1948 and he continued with a mixture of successes, such as 'Every Girl Should Be Married' in 1948 and money losers such as 'They Live by Night' and 'The Boy with Green Hair' both also in 1948 and 'Adventure in Baltimore' which was released in 1949.

Although his contract with RKO was for five years, Schary left after just one year and a half. RKO was taken over by Howard Hughes, a man used to having his own way and not known for mollycoddling his staff. Schary quickly found his situation impossible, particularly after disagreements with Hughes about a new movie about the Battle of the Bulge, to be called 'Battleground'.

MGM revisited 1948

Schary resigned from RKO in July 1948 and quickly made his peace with Louis B. Mayer. He rejoined MGM in 1948 as vice president in charge of production, at a time when the company was finding the post war movie environment very challenging. In fact in 1947 they had posted their first ever yearly loss.

Schary soon found himself in dispute with Louis B. Mayer again over the nature of the movies which MGM should make. Mayer was a traditionalist, slow to absorb change and he favored the rather old-fashioned, wholesome "Andy Hardy" type of movie. Schary was more modern, bolder wanting to make pictures which informed as well as entertained.

In 1949, despite Mayer's misgivings, Schary produced 'Battleground' which duly became MGM's most profitable picture of the year.

The differences between the two men came to a head in 1951 when they clashed over the production of 'The Red Badge of Courage'. The head of MGM, Nick Schenk, supported Schary's view of filmmaking and Mayer eventually resigned. In July 1951 Schary took over complete control of production at MGM. He was 46. He had made it to the top.

MGM Head of Production 1951-56

Schary initially was praised for movies which he had personally produced, such as 'The Next Voice You Hear' in 1950 and 'Westward the Women' in 1951 but MGM was beginning to feel the effects, not just of Mayer's Victorian outlook on filmmaking, but of the inroads of television. Schary's reaction to the threat of television was to initiate severe cutbacks in production costs, including cutting down MGM's talented acting pool and he backed the MGM board's decision not to license it's enormous film library for television use.

In 1954, when Schenk was replaced as President of MGM's parent company, Loew's, by Joseph Vogel, Schary was regarded as a useful scapegoat for the downturn in the company fortunes. Schary refused to resign and he was eventually fired in 1956 with a $100,000 cash settlement and a further $900,000 in a deferred salary arrangement.

Later Life

Disillusioned with the political nature of corporate life, Schary reverted to what he did best: writing and producing. In 1958 he produced his own work, 'Sunrise at Campobello' on Broadway and the play earned five Tony Awards. He also produced and directed two further stage successes, ' A Majority of One' in 1960 and 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' in 1961.

Schary's last movie was 'Act One' in 1963. It was not a success and he retired from moviemaking.


Schary married once, in 1932 to Miriam Svet, a musician and artist. The couple had three children.

Schary was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic party and during the brutal HUAC hearings he did all he could to protect accused members of the Hollywood community, to the extent that he, himself was briefly suspected of being a Communist.

In 1950 he co-wrote a book called 'Case History of a Movie' which describes in detail how a movie is conceived, planned and made, using as an example his 1951 film 'The Next Voice You Hear'. In 1981 he wrote a well received autobiography entitled "Heyday" which outlined his rise through the Hollywood ranks.

Dore Schary died on July 7, 1980 in New York City, aged 74. He was interred in the Hebrew Cemetery, West Long Branch, New Jersey.

Dore Schary Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Story ... Boys Town (1938)

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Screenplay ... Boys Town (1938)

Dore Schary Filmography (as Producer)

Highway to Freedom (uncredited)
Kid Glove Killer (executive producer - uncredited)
Journey for Margaret (executive producer - uncredited)
Bataan (executive producer - uncredited)
Lassie Come Home (uncredited)
I'll Be Seeing You (producer)
The Spiral Staircase (uncredited)
Till the End of Time
The Farmer's Daughter
Bachelor Knight
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (executive producer - uncredited)
They Live by Night (executive producer - uncredited)
Station West (executive producer - uncredited)
The Boy with Green Hair (executive producer - uncredited)
Every Girl Should Be Married (executive producer - uncredited)
(executive producer - uncredited)
The Set-Up (executive producer - uncredited)
Bachelor Bait (executive producer - uncredited)
The Window (uncredited)
The Next Voice You Hear...
Walk Softly, Stranger (executive producer - uncredited)
Go for Broke!
The Red Badge of Courage (executive producer - uncredited)
It's a Big Country: An American Anthology (producer - uncredited)
Westward the Women
Target for Scandal
Plymouth Adventure
The Hoaxters (Short documentary)
Dream Wife
Arena (uncredited)
Take the High Ground!