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Life on Stage and Screen

David Luhrssen

Publication Year: 2012

An Armenian national raised in Russia, Rouben Mamoulian (1897--1987) studied in the influential Stanislavski studio, renowned as the source of the "method" acting technique. Shortly after immigrating to New York in 1926, he created a sensation with an all-black production of Porgy (1927). He then went on to direct the debut Broadway productions of three of the most popular shows in the history of American musical theater: Porgy and Bess (1935), Oklahoma! (1943), and Carousel (1945). Mamoulian began working in film just as the sound revolution was dramatically changing the technical capabilities of the medium, and he quickly established himself as an innovator. Not only did many of his unusual camera techniques become standard, but he also invented a device that eliminated the background noises created by cameras and dollies. Seen as a rebel earlier in his career, Mamoulian gradually gained respect in Hollywood, and the Directors Guild of America awarded him the prestigious D. W. Griffith Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1983.

In this meticulously researched biography, David Luhrssen paints the influential director as a socially conscious artist who sought to successfully combine art and commercial entertainment. Luhrssen not only reveals the fascinating personal story of an important yet neglected figure, but he also offers a tantalizing glimpse into the extraordinarily vibrant American film and theater industries during the twenties, thirties, and forties.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Screen Classics

Front Cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Introduction: Forgotten Innovator

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pp. 1-6

Rouben Mamoulian is one of the twentieth century’s most important overlooked cultural figures. His bicoastal life as a director in Hollywood and on Broadway was highly unusual...

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Chapter 1. Caucasian Youth

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pp. 7-16

Rouben Mamoulian was born at the edge of the earth, in the heart of Eurasia at the seam where continents meet. His birthplace, Tiflis, was a cosmopolitan outpost on the lawless...

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Chapter 2. From West End to Rochester

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pp. 17-28

With the Russian civil war and the Bolshevik victory, many Russian subjects, including intellectuals and artists of all sorts, found themselves in exile from their homeland...

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Chapter 3. Young Lion of Broadway

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pp. 29-42

The Armory Show of 1913 had an incalculable effect on all the arts in the United States, but nowhere more than in New York City. The first significant American exhibition of postimpressionist...

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Chapter 4. The Sound of Applause

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pp. 43-50

By the time Mamoulian immigrated to the West, movies were no longer the flickering, largely stage-bound productions of cinema’s earliest years. The grammar of filmmaking was largely...

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Chapter 5. Hollywood: The Breakthrough Years

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pp. 51-66

Mamoulian could have continued working without interruption on Broadway for many years if he had so chosen. No less an authority than the New York Times dubbed...

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Chapter 6. Queen Garbo

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pp. 67-80

Mamoulian’s work with Marlene Dietrich in Song of Songs led to his next assignment, directing Greta Garbo in Queen Christina. Dietrich and Garbo were probably among the most whispered...

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Chapter 7. I Loves You, Porgy

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pp. 81-90

Rouben Mamoulian was not everyone’s first choice to direct the Theatre Guild’s premiere of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. Despite the success of...

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Chapter 8. Golden Boy

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pp. 91-104

On the night of December 23, 1935, director King Vidor summoned a handful of prominent colleagues to his Beverly Hills home to discuss their concerns. Probably the rumor of a pay...

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Chapter 9. Lost in the Stars

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pp. 105-122

Mamoulian refused all requests to work for the Theatre Guild during his busy Hollywood years of the late 1930s and early 1940s.1 Lacking an interesting movie project after...

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Chapter 10. Summer Holiday

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pp. 123-154

In between Oklahoma! and Carousel, in the midst of his greatest commercial successes on Broadway, Mamoulian returned to 20th Century Fox in the spring of 1944 to direct a movie...

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pp. 155-156

This book grew out of conversation with film historian Patrick McGilligan, to whom I am indebted. I am grateful to film historian Joseph McBride of San Francisco...


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pp. 157-180


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pp. 181-191

Series Page

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p. 192-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780813141190
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136769

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Screen Classics

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Subject Headings

  • Mamoulian, Rouben.
  • Motion picture producers and directors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Theatrical producers and directors -- United States -- Biography.
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