Jack Conway (1887-1952)

Jack Conway
Jack Conway

Jack Conway was a film director who worked successfully under contract to MGM for 23 years from 1925 to 1948. During this time he dutifully followed the studio's budgetary and creative guidelines, but still managed to create some of MGM's best films including 'A Tale of Two Cities' in 1935, 'Boom Town' in 1940 and 'The Hucksters' in 1947.


He was born Hugh Ryan Conway on July 27th, 1887 in Graceville, Minnesota. Never outstanding educationally, he dropped out of high school early and began work as a railroad labourer. He quickly decided this was not for him and determined to make a career in the theater. He joined a repertory theater group and acted professionally for several years. He became fascinated with the new, booming movie industry and in 1908, aged 21, he appeared in 'The Scarlet Letter', the first of eighty short films he would make in his film acting career. In 1911 he joined D.W. Griffith's stock company, appearing primarily in westerns such as 'The Undoing of Slim Bill' in 1912 and 'The Trail of the Lonesome Mine' in 1913.

He later acted in several feature-length films, including 'Macbeth' in 1916, 'The Little Orphan' the following year and 'Restless Souls' in 1919, and he continued to perform on screen as an actor until 1921. During this time, Conway directed a number of the movies in which he appeared and he became more interested in directing movies rather than acting in them. His first directorial assignment was the short film 'Her Indian Hero' in 1912 and he directed his first feature-length film, 'The Old Armchair' in 1913. He was a fast learner and an efficient worker and by 1917 he was making as many as eight movies a year. He continued gaining experience as a director until he was noticed and signed up by Universal in 1916 and he continued to work as a director for Universal and a number of other studios before joining MGM in 1925. He would stay at MGM for the bulk of his career, staying with them until 1948.

MGM 1925-1948

After some well received features such as 'Brown of Harvard' in 1926 and 'While the City Sleeps' in 1928, Conway directed MGM's first Talkie, 'Alias Jimmy Valentine'. In 1929 he directed 'Our Modern Maidens', Joan Crawford’s last silent film, and then 'Untamed' in the same year, her first sound picture.

He adapted to the sound era without problems and continued to direct some of MGM's top stars of the time such as Lon Chaney, Constance Bennett and Robert Montgomery. During the 1930s Conway hit on his most creative period beginning with the romantic comedy 'Just a Gigolo' in 1931, 'Arsène Lupin', with Lionel and John Barrymore, in 1932 and the hit comedy 'Red-Headed Woman', also in (1932), which established Jean Harlow as a star.

He again worked successfully with Harlow in 'The Girl from Missouri' in 1934 and in the same year had a major success directing Wallace Beery as the legendary revolutionary Pancho Villa in 'Viva Villa!' which was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture.

Conway was building for himself a reputation for reliability and competence and a track record of commercial success. He was content to follow the MGM party line and was able to bring most of his projects in under budget. He was proving himself to be a thoroughly efficient company man. He would also direct some of the studio's most successful movies.

Creative Heyday

In 1935 he directed the spectacular 'A Tale of Two Cities' in which he used 17,000 extras for the Parisian Mob scenes and which became his best known movie. The following year he had another hit with 'Libeled Lady' which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

After more successes with 'A Yank at Oxford' and 'Too Hot to Handle' in 1938, Conway had another memorable hit in 1940 with 'Boom Town' starring Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr and Claudette Colbert.

During the 1940s he continued directing top stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Van Johnson and June Allyson and in 1947 he had another major hit with 'The Hucksters', starring Gable with Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner and Adolphe Menjou. After the well received 'Julia Misbehaves' in 1948 Conway retired from the movie industry.


Conway married twice, firstly in 1911 to actress Viola Barry. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1918. His second wife was Virginia Bushman, daughter of silent screen star Francis X. Bushman. They also had two children, including the actor Pat Conway, the marriage ending with Conway's death. Jack Conway died on October 11, 1952 from pulmonary disease, at his home in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, aged 66. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles.

Conway exemplified the MGM contract director. He was competent, efficient and content to restrict his own creativity in favor of working within the guidelines set forth by MGM production supremo, Irving Thalberg.

Jack Conway Academy Awards

No Nominations:

Jack Conway Filmography

Her Indian Hero (Short)
His Only Son (Short)
The House of Pride (Short)
In the Long Run (Short)
When Sherman Marched to the Sea (Short)
The Struggle (Short)
An Indian's Honor (Short)
The Long Portage (Short)
The Old Armchair
The Wrong Prescription (Short)
The Old High Chair (Short)
The Mystic Jewel (Short)
The Way of a Mother (Short)
The Penitentes
Bitter Sweet (Short)
The Silent Battle
The Beckoning Trail
The Social Buccaneer
The Torment (Short)
The Doctor's Decision (Short)
The Measure of a Man
The Mainspring
Judgment of the Guilty
Her Soul's Inspiration
Polly Redhead
A Jewel in Pawn
The Smashing Stroke (Short)
Come Through
The Little Orphan
The Charmer
Bond of Fear
Because of a Woman
Little Red Decides
Her Decision
You Can't Believe Everything
Desert Law
A Diplomatic Mission
Lombardi, Ltd.
Riders of the Dawn
The Dwelling Place of Light
The Money Changers
The U.P. Trail
The Killer
The Spenders
The Servant in the House
The Lure of the Orient
The Kiss
The Rage of Paris
The Millionaire
A Daughter of the Law
Across the Deadline
Step on It!
Don't Shoot
The Long Chance
Another Man's Shoes
The Prisoner
Trimmed in Scarlet
What Wives Want
Lucretia Lombard
The Trouble Shooter
The Heart Buster
Thorns of Passion
The Hunted Woman
The Only Thing
Soul Mates
Brown of Harvard
The Understanding Heart
Twelve Miles Out
The Smart Set
Bringing Up Father
While the City Sleeps
Alias Jimmy Valentine
Our Modern Maidens