Wesley Ruggles (1889-1972)

Wesley Ruggles
Wesley Ruggles

Wesley Ruggles was an American director who directed over 50 movies, beginning in the Silent movie era. He won acclaim for 'Cimarron' in 1931, the first Western to win a Best Picture Academy Award and which won for Ruggles a Best Director nomination.


He was born Wesley Heinsch Ruggles on June 11, 1889 in Los Angeles, the second son of salesman Charles Ruggles. His elder brother, also called Charles, became a well known character actor in movies and television and was a supporting player in the 1938 screwball comedy 'Bringing Up Baby'.

When the boys were still young their mother was murdered by an armed robber. They were then brought up in San Francisco by their mother's family.

Wesley went to San Francisco University and on graduation followed his brother Charles into the world of acting. Initially he gained experience in theater and musical comedy with various stock companies and then in 1914 he began working in the new movie industry in Hollywood. He joined Mack Sennett's Keystone Company working with Charles Chaplin's brother, Syd, and in 1915 he worked in comedy shorts such as 'The Bank' in 1915 and 'Police' in 1916, with Charles himself at Essanay Studios.

Hollywood Director 1917

His youthful promise was noticed by Vitagraph studios who signed Ruggles up in 1917, and in the same year he made his directorial debut with 'Bobby, Movie Director'. After a short break with the Army Signal Corps at the end of WWI, during which he served as a camera operator, he returned to the studio and began a period of prolific movie experimentation with a variety of early movie studios including Universal, Warner Bros.,Vitagraph and Metro Pictures as well as Paramount.

Universal Studios 1925

He joined Universal Studios in 1925 and immediately began a series of 12 short Pacemaker comedies with titles such as 'Welcome Grainger', 'Merton of the Goofies' and 'The Covered Flagon' each title being a wordplay on one of the popular feature films of the time. The films were produced by Joseph Kennedy's company, Film Booking Offices of America. Late in 1925 he directed Clara Bow, then an unknown actress, in 'The Plastic Age' which became a big hit and helped her rise to stardom. This successful film proved to be the exception to the very average movies which Ruggles directed during this time.

In 1929 he directed 'Street Girl', his first sound film, and one of RKO's first releases. He followed it in 1930 with the musical 'Honey' which featured the song “Sing You Sinners” performed by Lillian Roth.

RKO 1931

One of Ruggles' first movies after leaving Universal and joining RKO in 1931 was an adaptation of the Edna Ferber Western, 'Cimarron'. The movie was a huge success and won one of the first Best Picture Oscars. Ruggles himself received an unsuccessful nomination for Best Director. His reputation was made and much of his best work was still to come.

He followed up with a series of light comedies including 'No Man of Her Own', starring the future husband and wife team of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in their only movie pairing, 'I'm No Angel' in 1933, with Mae West and Cary Grant, and 'College Humor' with Bing Crosby, also in 1933. The following year Ruggles directed George Raft and Carole Lombard playing professional dancers in the well received 'Bolero'.

Later Career

The latter part of Ruggles' career contained few memorable movies, although most were warmly received at the box-office. After two romantic comedies with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in 1935, 'The Gilded Lily' and 'The Bride Comes Home', he directed Gladys George to an Oscar-nominated performance in 'Valiant Is the Word for Carrie' in 1936).

For the rest of his working life Ruggles made barely one movie a year, with moderate success. 'True Confession' in 1937 was a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray and MacMurray featured again in 'Sing You Sinners' in 1938, co-starring with Bing Crosby.

After the romantic comedy 'Too Many Husbands' with jean Arthur in 1940 Ruggles directed Arthur again in the critically praised Western, 'Arizona', later the same year. In 1944 he had one final success with 'See Here, Private Hargrove', a wartime comedy based on a true story. It was his final Hollywood movie.

In 1946 he was invited to Britain by the prestigious Rank Organisation to make the Technicolor musical 'London Town'. The movie fared badly and is generally regarded as the biggest flop in the history of British Cinema. After this Ruggles retired from filmmaking.


Ruggles was married three times, firstly to Virginia Caldwell from 1920, divorcing in 1924. He married his second wife, movie actress Arline Judge in 1931. The couple had one child, Wesley Ruggles Jr., and divorced in 1937. His third wife was French actress Marcelle Rogez whom he married in 1940, the marriage ending with his death.

Wesley Ruggles died on Jan. 8, 1972 in Santa Monica, California. He was aged 72 years.

Wesley Ruggles Academy Awards

No Wins:

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Director ... Cimarron (1931)

Wesley Ruggles Filmography

Bobby, Movie Director (Short)
For France (as Wesley H. Ruggles)
Bobby's Bravery (Short)
He Had to Camouflage (Short)
The Blind Adventure (as Wesley H. Ruggles)
The Winchester Woman
Piccadilly Jim
Sooner or Later
The Desperate Hero
The Leopard Woman
The Greater Claim
Uncharted Seas
Over the Wire
Wild Honey
If I Were Queen
Mr. Billings Puts Things Right
The Remittance Woman
The Heart Raider
Slippy McGee
The Age of Innocence
Welcome Granger (Short)
The Pacemakers (Short)
He Who Gets Rapped (Short)
Merton of the Goofies (Short)
The Great Decide (Short)
The Fast Male (Short)
The Covered Flagon (Short)
Madam Sans Gin (Short)
Three Bases East (Short)
The Merry Kiddo (Short)
What Price Gloria? (Short)
Barbara Snitches (Short)
Don Coo Coo (Short)
Miss Me Again (Short)
Broadway Lady
The Plastic Age
California Here We Come (Short)
Hooked at the Altar (Short)
The Kick-Off
A Man of Quality
The Collegians (Short)
The Last Lap (Short)
Around the Bases (Short)
The Relay (Short)
The Cinder Path (Short)
Flashing Oars (Short)
Breaking Records (Short)
Beware of Widows
Silk Stockings
The Collegians in Business
Finders Keepers
High Society
Port of Dreams
Street Girl
The Sea Bat (replaced during production: Lionel Barrymore, uncredited)
Are These Our Children
Roar of the Dragon
No Man of Her Own
The Monkey's Paw
College Humor
I'm No Angel
Thank Your Stars