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George Cukor

A Double Life

Patrick McGilligan

Publication Year: 2013

One of the highest-paid studio contract directors of his time, George Cukor was nominated five times for an Academy Award as Best Director. In publicity and mystique he was dubbed the “women’s director” for guiding the most sensitive leading ladies to immortal performances, including Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland, and—in ten films, among them The Philadelphia Story and Adam’s Rib—his lifelong friend and collaborator Katharine Hepburn. But behind the “women’s director” label lurked the open secret that set Cukor apart from a generally macho fraternity of directors: he was a homosexual, a rarity among the top echelon. Patrick McGilligan’s biography reveals how Cukor persevered within a system fraught with bigotry while becoming one of Hollywood’s consummate filmmakers.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Critical Praise, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-11

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-20

George Cukor believed that his life story actually began before he was born—in genes and chromosomes, in the tangled roots of his ancestry, and in the essential traits of his immediate family. ...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 21-46

With the pretense of law school and his military obligations out of the way, the eighteen-year-old Cukor began to do what he really wanted—scouting talent agencies and stage doors, looking for his first job in show business. ...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 47-72

The 1920s were Broadway's heyday, a decade in which the glorious past and optimistic future of show business rubbed up against each other and threw off sparks. It was a decade of innovation and promise in the theater, as well as of vanishing forms and emotional last hurrahs of turn-of-the-century legends. ...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 73-110

Apart from everything else, Cukor was unusual among stage directors from the East Coast enticed to Hollywood for talkies, in that he found moviemaking—indeed California itself—immensely stimulating. ...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 111-128

In the scores of published interviews and the newspaper and magazine articles about Cukor, the first one to take stock of his "woman's director" reputation occurs just as he arrived at MGM. That was MGM's publicity thrust. But Cukor went along with it. ...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 129-154

Helen Gross Cukor succumbed after complications that arose from surgery for stomach cancer in June of 1936. Her decline was swift, and Cukor was devastated by the loss. He telephoned Stella Bloch on the day of his mother's death and asked to go over and visit with her. Cukor arrived alone and stayed for several hours, unusually subdued. ...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 155-182

Almost one month to the day after he was fired from Gone With the Wind (he always put it that way—fired!), Cukor's contract with MGM took effect, and the director reported to the set of The Women. ...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 183-216

By 1945 and the end of World War II, the "woman's director" had learned some hard lessons and was beginning to reorganize his life to be strategically, almost brilliantly, compartmentalized. The lines had to be more strictly drawn. Cukor had to exercise more caution on the one hand and more controlling initiative on the other, ...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 217-238

The sheer pace of Cukor's activity proves that, regardless of his slow reputation, he often worked as fast as the fastest—and the most important—directors. Beginning with A Double Life, Cukor had turned out ten films in seven years. That was fewer than John Ford during the same time frame, but more, for example, than Hawks or Hitchcock. ...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 239-278

The competition of television, the divestiture of theater chains by order of the Supreme Court, the blacklist of accused Communists and sympathizers from the ranks of the motion-picture industry—all these shattering events in the 1950s threatened the very existence of the once-omnipotent studios. ...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 279-314

The system had been good to Cukor, not always but often enough, and he was loyal to the system. The 1950s and the 1960s had tested everyone. Now, at the end of the Golden Age, for a few like him who had shown their good faith, there was a welcome payback. ...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 315-344

The Blue Bird was his absolute nadir, ten times worse than A Life of Her Own. At least A Life of Her Own might be pardoned as a studio junk product. The Blue Bird was a classic travestied, a financial and publicity catastrophe, and for a seventy-five-year-old director anxious to keep working, seemingly the end of the long road. ...

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pp. 345-350

Writing a biography of George Cukor has proven a tremendous challenge. I knew it would be difficult; that was half the appeal. But I couldn't have guessed how difficult it would be to probe his life story, to try to find the arc and drama of it, and to tell it within bounds. ...


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pp. 351-354


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pp. 355-372


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pp. 373-392


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pp. 393-404

Image Plates

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pp. 416-439

Publishing Acknowledgments

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pp. 440-441

E-ISBN-13: 9780816684878
E-ISBN-10: 0816684871
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816680382

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2013