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Four-Time Oscar Winning-Director and Producer Robert Wise Dies at 91

Director, film editor and producer Robert Wise, whose four Academy Awards encompassed the film versions of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, has passed away at the age of 91; he died of heart failure at the UCLA Medical Center on September 14th.

Wise, whose illustrious career spanned over half a century and who directed films in a myriad of genres, won both Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for 1965's The Sound of Music and 1961's West Side Story (shared with Jerome Robbins in the latter case). His work on movie musicals dated back to the 1930s, in fact, when he performed editing and/or sound effects editing on Astaire and Rogers films such as Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee. Star!, a lavish movie musical from 1968 that starred The Sound of Music's Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence, was not successful at the box office.

Born in Winchester, Indiana in 1914, Wise was an avid movie buff from an early age. Switching focus from journalism to film, he was hired by RKO as an apprentice editor before being promoted to editing movies on his own--he did so for films such as Bachelor Mother and My Favorite Wife. Within a few years, Orson Welles selected Wise to edit 1941's Citizen Kane, one of the all-time cinematic masterpieces. Following that project (for which he received his first Oscar nomination), he was assigned to do the same for Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Wise also ended up directing some of its scenes, after Welles was called away to South America as part of the American government's Good Neighbor Policy and RKO decided that more scenes were needed.

After a few more editing jobs, Wise went on to direct such films as Curse of the Cat People (on which he came aboard after its original director was removed), Born to Kill, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Executive Suite, Somebody Up There Likes Me and Two for the Seesaw, in addition to West Side Story and The Sound of Music. The latter, which swept audiences (and over such critics as Pauline Kael), went on to become the highest-grossing film to that time. Wise also received an Oscar nod for directing 1958's drama I Want to Live!, and for producing 1966's The Sand Pebbles. He also helmed Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Following I Want to Live!, Wise became a producer at United Artists. Although he established his reputation with horror and action films, his projects as a producer and director ranged through the whole spectrum of subject matter and genres. While some critics have maintained that Wise never possessed a directorial style, he claimed that his style always fit the pictures," according to a Hollywood Reporter obituary. His other producing credits included The Andromeda Strain, Two People and two Academy Awards ceremonies.

Wise, whose last film project was the 2000 Rod Serling-scripted TV movie "A Storm in Summer," received a number of honorary awards in addition to his four Oscars as a director and producer; they include the Irving G. Thalberg Award and the Directors Guild of America's Lifetime Achievement Award. He served as president of the DGA from 1971-1975, and chaired its Special Project Committee for over a quarter of a century. From 1985 to 1988, he was the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Information is not yet available on Wise's survivors.




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