Study Guide

The Sound of Music Director

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Robert Wise

You probably know Robert Wise from his 1944 film The Curse of the Cat People.

Okay, maybe not. No matter. He directed 38 other films in a career that lasted from 1944 to 1989 and included films of every genre you could think of. Star Trek: The Motion Picture? That's his, too.

Wise worked in multiple roles, including director, editor, producer, and even (in one film) actor. He even helped edit what many folks consider the best movie of all time, Citizen Kane—which was his first legit film gig (source). Weird fact: he was the last surviving crew member of that film when he died in 2005 (source).

As a director, Wise's two most famous films were undoubtedly The Sound of Music and West Side Story, both of which were written by Ernest Lehman. Guess they made a good pair. Wise won directing Oscars for both films (though he shared the Oscar for West Side Story with co-director Jerome Robbins). As producer for West Side Story, he took home another Oscar when the film won Best Picture.

And get this: Wise almost didn't get to direct The Sound of Music. He was 20th Century Fox's President Richard Zanuck's first choice (Ernest Lehman's, too), but he was already committed to another project, The Sand Pebbles. So instead, they tapped veteran director William Wyler, who hadn't been wild about the Broadway version of the musical and had mixed feelings about directing the film. Apparently, he wanted it to be more about the Nazis, and the studio was thinking music, music, music (source).

Fortunately for Fox, The Sand Pebbles was delayed and Wise became available. He focused on the music, unsweetened the story a bit, and the rest is cinema history. Wise was surprised at the audience response to The Sound of Music. He told Variety in 1965, "I knew we had a good picture but I had no idea that it would become such a staggering hit" (source).

Did anyone, really?

In honor of Wise's amazing body of work, the Academy recognized him with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. This award isn't one of those awards that the Academy gives every year. Nah, they wait until someone's lifetime of film work blows them away. In 1966, that someone was Robert Wise.

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