LOS ANGELES - Robert Wise, who won four Oscars as producer and director of the classic 1960s musicals "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," has died. He was 91.
Wise died Wednesday of heart failure after falling ill and being rushed to the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center, family friend and longtime entertainment agent Lawrence Mirisch told The Associated Press.
Mirisch said Wise had appeared in good health when he celebrated his 91st birthday Saturday.
Wise was nominated for seven Oscars, including the four he won, during a career that spanned more than 50 years. The other nominations were for editing the 1941 Orson Welles classic "Citizen Kane," directing 1958's "I Want to Live!" and producing 1966's "The Sand Pebbles," which was nominated for best picture.
More recently, he served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Directors Guild of America.
Wise directed 39 films in all, ranging from science fiction ("The Day the Earth Stood Still") to drama ("I Want to Live!") to war stories ("Run Silent Run Deep") to Westerns ("Tribute to a Bad Man").
"I'd rather do my own thing, which has been to choose projects that take me into all different kinds of genres," he once told The Associated Press. "I don't have a favorite kind of film to make. I just look for the best material I can find."
With the big-budget productions "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," he helped create two of the most critically acclaimed and popular musicals of all time.
"West Side Story" was the tale of "Romeo and Juliet" set in the New York City tenement slums of the early 1960s. Co-directed by Wise and Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein, it won 10 Academy Awards.
"The Sound of Music," which told the story of the singing von Trapp family's escape from Nazi-ruled Austria, won five Oscars. It was for many years the top-grossing film of all time.
Wise gave much of the credit for the film's success to its stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
"A big part of a director's job is done if he gets the right actors in the right roles," he once said. "That doesn't mean you don't help actors, but once we thought about Julie and Chris, we didn't seriously consider anyone else."
He also credited Orson Welles, for whom he edited "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Citizen Kane," as a major influence, adding that the actor-director-writer was "as close to a genius as anyone I have ever met."
"Citizen Kane" was "a marvelous film to work on — well-planned and well-shot," Wise once said. It has topped many polls over the years as the best film ever made.
Wise moved up from film editor to director almost by accident when he was assigned to finish "The Curse of the Cat People" after the original director fell too far behind schedule on that 1944 film.
Pleased with his work, horror film producer Val Lewton assigned Wise to direct "The Body Snatcher" the following year.
Other films Wise directed include "The Set-Up" in 1949; "Destination Gobi" in 1952; "Executive Suite" in 1954; "Two for the Seesaw" in 1962; "The Haunting" in 1963; "The Andromeda Strain" in 1971; and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" in 1979.
Born Sept. 10, 1914, in Winchester, Ind., Wise dropped out of college during the Depression after his brother, an accountant at RKO, helped get him a job at the studio.
He worked his way up to film editor or co-editor on such movies as "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster."
In addition to his four Oscars, Wise was awarded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, a special Oscar for sustained achievement, in 1966. He also received the Directors Guild of America's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988.
You read my mind, Ginger!
From Los Angeles Times Obit:
"In looking back over his career in his 1998 interview with the New York Times, Wise said, one of his favorite films was 'The Haunting.' Another was 'I Want to Live!,' for which Wise prepared by witnessing an execution at San Quentin.
Wise described the film's star, Susan Hayward, as 'a very good actress and a very private person. Most actors schmooze around canvas chairs. Not Susan. She spent all the time in her dressing room.'"
Jill, yes I think we are often on the same wavelength! Thanks for the post and it's nice that those comments about Susan Hayward were included. I have seen him comment about her I Want To Live performance in a TCM interview and he spoke very highly and respectfully about her. You know, he just seemed like a very nice man. He left behind a great legacy of work...