George Cukor (1899-1983)

George Cukor
George Cukor

George Cukor was one of Hollywood's top film directors whose confident, stylish professionalism enabled him to thrive in the Hollywood studio system for 50 years. He became renowned as a perfectionist and subtle innovator who helped define the look and style of witty and elegant Hollywood classics such as 'Camille', 'The Philadelphia Story', 'Adam's Rib', 'A Star is Born' and 'My Fair Lady'.

Throughout his long career, he was known as the consummate actor's director who elicited dazzling performances from his cast. He twice directed Marilyn Monroe, had a 47-year working relationship with Katharine Hepburn, and worked with most of the other important stars of the day including Joan Crawford, James Stewart and Spencer Tracy and he directed twenty-one performers in Oscar nominated roles.

Cukor was also frequently described as a "women's director," and he directed many high quality films with some of the top female stars in Hollywood. He worked with Katharine Hepburn on ten films, including 'The Philadelphia Story' in 1940, Joan Crawford on 'The Women in 1939, Ingrid Bergman on 'Gaslight' in 1944, Judy Garland on 'A Star is Born' in 1957 and Audrey Hepburn on 'My Fair Lady' in 1964.

He himself was nominated for Best Director Academy Awards a total of five times and won once, for 'My Fair Lady' in 1964.


He was born George Dewey Cukor on July 7, 1899 in New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Hungary and his father worked for a firm of lawyers. Cukor showed an early interest in the theater and started acting in local productions as a teenager, whilst attending the DeWitt Clinton High School.

After graduation he began studying law at the City College of New York but the lure of the stage was too strong and he left formal education. After a period undergoing military training with the Student Army Training Corps in 1918, he became a stage manager first for a stock company in Chicago, then, on his return to New York in 1919 for a company called the Knickerbocker Players, before leaving to become general manager of a new summer stock company, the Lyceum Players.

He remained there, garnering invaluable experience and knowledge of the theatre for the next 5 years. In 1925 he formed the C.F. and Z. Production Company with colleagues, Walter Folmer and John Zwicki, which gave him his first opportunity to direct.

Within a year he made his Broadway directorial debut with 'Antonia' by Hungarian playwright Melchior Lengyel which established his reputation as an up and coming young director. In 1926 he had his first great Broadway success with 'The Great Gatsby' which ran for over 100 performances and during the late 1920's he directed six more Broadway productions, continuing to embellish his reputation as a successful stage director, and working with such top actresses as Jeanne Eagels and Ethel Barrymore. It was only a matter of time before the movie business noticed this bright young talent and in 1928 Cukor signed a contract with Paramount Pictures.

Early Hollywood Career

He arrived in Hollywood at an opportune time in early 1929, just as the movie business was making the change from Silents to Talkies. His first screen credit was as dialogue coach on 'River of Romance' in 1929 and he continued working and learning his new business with several uncredited crew roles on such films as 'All Quiet On The Western Front' in 1930.

After gaining experience as a co-director of 3 films for Paramount, he fulfilled his first solo assignment as director in 1931 with 'The Tarnished Lady', followed by 'Girls About Town' in the same year.

In 1932 Cukor moved to RKO studios to join the rising star, David O Selznick, and, in the same year, he started a long association and friendship with Katharine Hepburn when he directed her in her debut film,' A Bill of Divorcement'. They then made 'Little Women' together in 1933 which was a box-office and critical success. Cukor had made his mark in a big way and he won his first Academy Award nomination for his direction.

MGM 1934

Still restless, Cukor followed Selznick to MGM Studios where their first collaboration was 'Dinner at Eight', in 1934, starring Jean Harlow. He received another Oscar nomination for this and then in the same year he directed a magnificent adaptation of 'David Copperfield' which was described by The New York Times in glowing terms as "the most profoundly satisfying screen manipulation of a great novel that the camera has ever given us."

Cukor's next Academy Award nomination was in 1936 for 'Romeo and Juliet' and in 1937 he directed the Hollywood legend, actress Greta Garbo, in 'Camille'. He was now one of Hollywood's top directors and was beginning to get a reputation for coaxing brilliant performances from his actors and in particular, his actresses. Around this time he became known as the 'woman's director', a label which he always refuted, pointing out that he actually had more Oscar successes with male actors than actresses. It is certainly true, however, that he achieved consistently great performances from potentially difficult actresses such as Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, both of whom expressed a preference for working with him.

'Gone with the Wind'

Selznick hired Cukor in 1936 to direct his new blockbuster project, 'Gone with the Wind'. Cukor spent the next two years actively involved with pre-production duties, and he spent much time with Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, the two principal female stars of the film. Even after he was fired due to disagreements with Selznick after less than three weeks of shooting, at their request, he continued to coach Leigh and De Havilland off the set.

The reasons for his sacking are unclear. Clark Gable is alleged to have said "I won't be directed by a fairy" or it may have been Gable's fear that his own brief homosexuality as a young man might be made public knowledge. It did not harm Cukor's career for as soon as he became available he was snapped up by Hunt Stromberg, producer of 'The Women', which was scheduled to begin filming within a month of Cukor's dismissal. Cukor took up the challenge and made a successful and popular film with the strong, all female cast.


Cukor served for a brief period in the Army Signal Corps during WWII, and during the 1940's, made several blockbuster movies. After 'The Philadelphia Story' in 1940 which brought together the top class talents of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart at their peak, he directed Ingrid Bergman's Oscar-winning performance in "Gaslight" in 1944 and the Tracy-Hepburn classic comedy 'Adam's Rib' in 1949.

Later Career

After the 1940's Cukor's output slowed but the quality of his work remained impressive. In 1954, he made his first film in color, Judy Garland's come-back movie, 'A Star Is Born'. In 1964, he won an Academy Award himself, for Best Director, for' My Fair Lady', for which Rex Harrison won a Best Actor Oscar also.

In the 1970's he made the television films 'Love Among the Ruins' and 'The Corn Is Green', both with his old friend, Katharine Hepburn.

He directed his last film, 'Rich and Famous' with Candice Bergman in 1981.

Personal Life

Cukor was a very charming and witty man and loved hosting parties. During the 1930's and 1940's, he became well known in the gay circles of Hollywood for his flamboyant Sunday afternoon pool parties which, after a while, became almost legendary in the community.

In addition his home became the venue for regular parties for the Hollywood great and good and his guests knew that they would always find the best of everything - company, food, and a beautiful atmosphere when they visited.

George Cukor died from natural causes at the age of 83 in 1983. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

George Cukor Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Director ... My Fair Lady (1964)
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Director ... Little Women (1933)
Best Picture ... The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Best Director ... A Double Life (1947)
Best Picture ... Born Yesterday (1950)

George Cukor Filmography as Director

The Virtuous Sin
The Royal Family of Broadway
Tarnished Lady
Girls About Town
One Hour With You
Une heure prés de toi
What Price Hollywood?
A Bill of Divorcement
The Animal Kingdom
Our Betters
Dinner At Eight
Little Women
Manhattan Melodrama
David Copperfield
No More Ladies
Sylvia Scarlett
Romeo and Juliet
I Met My Love Again
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Susan and God
The Philadelphia Story
A Woman's Face
Two-Faced Woman
Her Cardboard Lover
Keeper of the Flame
Resistance and Ohm's Law
Winged Victory
I'll Be Seeing You
Desire Me
A Double Life
Edward, My Son
Adam's Rib