Hal B. Wallis (1898-1986)

Hal B. Wallis
Hal B. Wallis

Hal B. Wallis was a movie producer in Hollywood who enjoyed a long career from 1933 onwards. His early career was with Warner Brothers and parallelled the early years of Hollywood's Golden Age and he then became an independent producer in 1944, with unabated success.

He was associated with many of the most popular films of the twentieth century, in a variety of genres and styles including 'Little Caesar' in 1931, 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' in 1941, 'Casablanca' in 1942, and 'True Grit' in 1969. His movies won over 30 Academy Awards in various categories and he himself was awarded the Irving Thalberg Memorial award on two occasions, in 1938 and 1943.

He became known as the "Starmaker" and helped to further the careers of Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Dean Martin, Montgomery Clift, James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Elvis Presley amongst others.

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He was born Harold Brent Wallis on September 14, 1898, in Chicago, Illinois into a Jewish immigrant family originally named Walinski. He had 2 sisters. He became known as "Hal" whilst still at school.

When he was still a young teenager his father, burdened by debt, abandoned the family, and Hal was forced to leave school in order to work and contribute to the family budget. Aged fourteen he began work in Chicago as an office junior and later became a travelling salesman for a heating company.

When the family moved to Los Angeles in 1922 he got a job as manager of the Garrick cinema. He was successful there and he came to the attention of Warner Brothers, whom he joined in 1923 as assistant to the head of publicity. He was a bright and hard working young man and he was swiftly promoted within the company, first to studio manager and then, in 1928 to chief production manager. Hal B. Wallis had found his niche.

Warner Brothers

During Wallis's time at Warners, he was responsible for much of the high quality output of the studio. He put together the finance, the actors, the directors, and other key personnel and his time there was one of almost unbroken success. His first production, 'Little Caesar' in 1931 was a smash hit and he continued with more highly successful films in the ensuing years, such as 'I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang' in 1932, 'Gold Diggers of 1933', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Captain Blood' in 1935, 'Anthony Adverse' in 1936, 'The Life of Emile Zola' in 1937, 'Sergeant York' in 1941, and 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' in 1942.

Casablanca 1942

In 1941 he was told about an unproduced stage play called "Everybody Comes to Rick's", by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. In early 1942 he bought the movie rights for $20,000, at the time a record for an unproduced play, and changed its title to 'Casablanca'. The team he then put together, including stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and director, Michael Curtiz, created a masterpiece which has become one of the most admired, honored and enjoyed movies in Hollywood history. The famous last words of the film, "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship" were added several weeks after the end of filming and were written by the producer - Hal B. Wallis.

Independent Producer 1944

'Casablanca' was Wallis's greatest movie achievement and it caused his departure from Warner Brothers. In 1943 the movie, to many people's surprise won the Best Picture Academy Award. At the award ceremony Wallis was humiliated by Jack Warner who went onstage instead of Wallis, to receive the Oscar. Wallis was furious, and, already feeling that the Warners meddled too much in the creative side of his work, he left the studio soon afterwards.

He resigned at the same time as another Warner Bros. director, lawyer, Joseph Hazen. Wallis and Hazen became partners in Hal Wallis Productions, later Wallis-Hazen Productions, an independent producer of feature films. After being approached by several major studios they eventually signed a deal with Paramount Pictures which gave them complete autonomy without studio interference. Hazen handled the New York legal and business transactions such as securing finance, and negotiating and writing contracts with writers, actors and directors, while Wallis worked in Hollywood and London, taking care of the artistic aspects of their films.

The new partnership proved to be formidably successful and was responsible for such films as 'The Strange Love of Martha Ivers in 1946', 'Sorry Wrong Number' in 1948, and 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' in 1957. Wallis recognised the star quality of Elvis Presley and produced several of his movies including 'Loving You' in 1957, 'King Creole' the following year and 'G.I. Blues' in 1960.

Wallis also helped to develop the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis with such movies as 'My Friend Irma' in 1949, 'Jumping Jacks' in 1952 and 'Hollywood or Bust' in 1956.

Even after the Wallis-Hazen partnership was dissolved in 1953, the two continued to collaborate together and with Paramount, entering into joint-venture agreements one picture at a time for 15 more years, the association ending finally in 1968 when they co-produced 'Anne of the Thousand Days'.

Hal Wallis was responsible, in all, for bringing to the screen over 370 movies. In the last decade he produced such classics as 'The Sons of Katie Elder' in 1965, 'Barefoot in the Park' in 1967, 'True Grit' in 1969, 'Mary, Queen of Scots' in 1971 and his final film, 'Rooster Cogburn ... and the Lady' in 1975.


Wallis was well respected in the filmmaking community as a straightforward businessman who knew the movie business well and who ran his companies in a conventional way, without the flamboyance of some of his peers. He had a finely tuned sense of what audiences wanted and he sustained a highly successful career in a fiercely competitive business.

He was married twice, each time to actresses. His first wife was Louise Fazenda who had a highly successful film career as a comedienne, first in silent movies and then during the 1930's in Talkies. She made in all over 300 films. During the marriage, which lasted from 1927 until her death in 1962, Wallis became known in the studio as "The Prisoner of Fazenda". The couple had one son.

Wallis then married actress Martha Hyer in 1966 and the marriage lasted until his death in 1986.

Hal B. Wallis died on October 5, 1986 at Rancho Mirage, California, from complications from diabetes. He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California

Hal B. Wallis Filmography (as Producer)

Wallis produced almost 300 movies, some with the title "Executive Producer" and some as "Producer". The difference between the two titles is a grey area but the EP has a fundamentally broader role - seeing the movie as an investment vehicle, with less emphasis and involvement on the detail of the artistic input. In practice Wallis was very much "hands on", whatever his title and particularly after leaving Warners. He kept in close contact with every aspect of a film during production and did not hesitate to have his say on script, cast and crew.

Little Caesar
Five Star Final
Man Wanted
Two Seconds
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain
Street of Women
The Dark Horse
Miss Pinkerton
Doctor X
The Cabin in the Cotton
One Way Passage
Scarlet Dawn
They Call It Sin
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Lawyer Man
The Match King
Mystery of the Wax Museum
Grand Slam
The Mind Reader
Central Airport
Heroes for Sale
The Narrow Corner
Mary Stevens, M.D.
Ever in My Heart
Hi, Nellie!
Dark Hazard
Journal of a Crime
Jimmy the Gent
A Very Honorable Guy
The Merry Frinks
Dr. Monica
Here Comes the Navy
The Man with Two Faces
Madame Du Barry
I Sell Anything
The St. Louis Kid
Devil Dogs of the Air
A Night at the Ritz
The Florentine Dagger
Black Fury
'G' Men
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Stars Over Broadway
Miss Pacific Fleet
Captain Blood
Ceiling Zero
The Petrified Forest
The Story of Louis Pasteur
Road Gang
Boulder Dam
Brides Are Like That
Snowed Under
The Singing Kid
I Married a Doctor
Times Square Playboy
Sons o' Guns
The Golden Arrow
Bullets or Ballots
Hearts Divided
Murder by an Aristocrat
The Big Noise
Two Against the World
The Green Pastures
Earthworm Tractors
Bengal Tiger
Anthony Adverse
China Clipper
The Case of the Velvet Claws
Love Begins at Twenty
Trailin' West
Stage Struck
Give Me Your Heart
Down the Stretch
Cain and Mabel
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Here Comes Carter
The Case of the Black Cat
The Captain's Kid
California Mail
Three Men on a Horse
Fugitive in the Sky
King of Hockey
Sing Me a Love Song
Gold Diggers of 1937
Smart Blonde
Guns of the Pecos
God's Country and the Woman
Black Legion
Once a Doctor
Stolen Holiday
Green Light
The Great O'Malley
Her Husband's Secretary
Ready, Willing and Able
Marked Woman
That Man's Here Again
Call It a Day
Mountain Justice
Melody for Two
The Prince and the Pauper
The Cherokee Strip
Draegerman Courage
The Go Getter
Kid Galahad
Another Dawn
Fly Away Baby
Ever Since Eve
The Singing Marine
Public Wedding
Empty Holsters
Talent Scout
San Quentin
The Life of Emile Zola
The Devil's Saddle Legion
Dance Charlie Dance
The Footloose Heiress
Varsity Show
Wine, Women and Horses
Prairie Thunder
That Certain Woman
Back in Circulation
Love Is on the Air
It's Love I'm After
The Perfect Specimen
West of Shanghai
The Adventurous Blonde
Submarine D-1
First Lady
Sh! The Octopus
Missing Witnesses
She Loved a Fireman
Hollywood Hotel
Sergeant Murphy
The Patient in Room 18
Swing Your Lady
The Invisible Menace
White Banners
Blondes at Work
Gold Is Where You Find It
Daredevil Drivers
Penrod and His Twin Brother
A Slight Case of Murder
He Couldn't Say No
Over the Wall
Accidents Will Happen
Torchy Blane in Panama
Women Are Like That
The Beloved Brat
Crime School
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Mystery House
Gold Diggers in Paris
Men Are Such Fools
My Bill
Cowboy from Brooklyn
Racket Busters
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Penrod's Double Trouble
Four's a Crowd
Four Daughters
Boy Meets Girl
Secrets of an Actress
Garden of the Moon
Broadway Musketeers
The Sisters
Girls on Probation
Brother Rat
Hard to Get
Torchy Gets Her Man
Angels with Dirty Faces
Comet Over Broadway
Heart of the North
The Dawn Patrol
Going Places
They Made Me a Criminal
Torchy Blane in Chinatown
Wings of the Navy
Nancy Drew... Reporter
Yes, My Darling Daughter
Blackwell's Island
The Oklahoma Kid
Secret Service of the Air
The Adventures of Jane Arden
You Can't Get Away with Murder
Dodge City
The Man Who Dared
Women in the Wind
Dark Victory
Confessions of a Nazi Spy
Torchy Runs for Mayor
Sweepstakes Winner
Code of the Secret Service
Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter
Naughty But Nice
Daughters Courageous
Indianapolis Speedway
Each Dawn I Die
The Cowboy Quarterback
Torchy Blane.. Playing with Dynamite
The Old Maid
The Angels Wash Their Faces
Everybody's Hobby
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase
Dust Be My Destiny
No Place to Go
Espionage Agent
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
On Your Toes
Pride of the Blue Grass
Smashing the Money Ring
The Roaring Twenties
On Dress Parade
Kid Nightingale
The Return of Doctor X
We Are Not Alone
A Child Is Born
Private Detective
Four Wives
Invisible Stripes