February 23, 1883
Pasadena, California, United States
January 6, 1949
Cottonwood, Arizona, United States
Director, Director of photography, Producer, Assistant cameraman, Cameraman, Racecar driver, Chauffeur
Clara Bow, Lucille Rosson
Were director Victor Fleming's legacy limited to his two best-known films - "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939) - he would have one of the most successful track records of any figure in Hollywood history. But the prolific filmmaker also oversaw a number of other popular and critically acclaimed films during his three-decade long career behind the camera, from "The Virginian" (1929) and "Red Heat" (1932) to "Treasure Island" (1934), "Captains Courageous" (1937) and "Joan of Arc" (1948). Furthermore, he was the guiding hand for some of the industry's most legendary figures in their most acclaimed roles, from Spencer Tracy's Oscar-winning turn in "Captains Courageous" to Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind." A tough, unsentimental director, Fleming enjoyed a career that, while rarely spoken of in the same reverent tones as many of his peers, had more highlights than most of the canonized figures in critical and historical circles.Born Victor Lonzo Fleming on Feb. 23, 1889, he was the son of William Alonzo Fleming and his wife, Elizabeth Evaleen. His parents moved to Southern California shortly before his birth in La Canada; at the time, nearby Pasadena and its neighboring towns were so underdeveloped that Fleming's father participated in building the area's public water supply. For a period, the Flemings operated an orange orchard, where William Fleming died of a heart attack when his son was only four years old. The event had a profound effect on the young man, who would later write that he had little use for sentiment or softer emotions. Fleming dropped out of school in his mid-teens to pursue a fascination for speed and mechanics. He worked in a wide variety of jobs peripheral to these interests, including taxi driver, bicycle and auto mechanic - even briefly, a racecar driver.While in his twenties, Fleming met director Allan Dwan, for whom he acted as chauffeur before joining the ranks at Dwan's Flying A Studios as a cameraman. There, he learned his craft, which he later applied to the "Ham and Bud" comedies at The Kalem Company before reuniting with Dwan at the Triangle Film Corporation, a studio that served as home base for three of the industry's most powerful producer-directors: D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett. There, he made the acquaintance of silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, with whom he shared a love of reckless athleticism. After serving as cameraman on several major Triangle productions, including Griffith's epic "Intolerance" (1916), Fleming became Fairbanks' chief cameraman. His tenure was briefly interrupted by service with the Signal Corps during World War I, which included duty as President Woodrow Wilson's personal cameraman at the signing of the Versailles Peace Conference. After the war, Fleming reunited with Fairbanks at the newly formed United Artists, where he made his directorial debut with "When the Clouds Roll By" (1919), a romantic comedy that poked fun at the then-novel field of psychiatry that starred Fairbanks and featured the newbie director in a cameo as himself.Fleming soon developed a reputation as an efficient, no-nonsense filmmaker with a particular knack for drawing exceptional performances from his stars with a minimum of direction. This talent allowed him to work with some of the biggest stars of the 1920s and 1930s, including Constance Talmadge in "Mama's Affair" (1921); Richard Dix in "The Call of the Canyon" (1923); Wallace Beery in Fleming's first hit, "Lord Jim" (1925); and Gary Cooper, who honed his stoic screen persona in "The Wolf Song" (1929) and "The Virginian" (1929). Though Fleming's rough-and-tumble nature - which included off-camera barnstorming with Howard Hawks and big game safaris in Africa - pegged him as a director of "men's pictures," he oversaw some of the most popular and acclaimed features by such female stars as Clara Bow, who later became his lover, in "Mantrap" (1926) and "Hula" (1927), Myrna Loy in "Renegades"