He worked with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando: how a Russian-speaking immigrant conquered Hollywood
Film historian Harlow Robinson wrote a book about director Lewis Milestone. All of Hollywood called him Millie. He himself, when his Russian-speaking colleagues officially addressed him, “Mr. Lewis Milestone”, said with a laugh: “Yes, what I am Lewis, I am Leva Milstein!”, Writes "Voice of America".
The story of the rise to world fame of an immigrant from Chisinau, who became one of the most eminent directors of the golden era of Hollywood, can be considered a classic example of the "American dream".
About the biography of Lewis Milestone in his new book told the American film historian Harlow Robinson. The monograph published by the University Press of Kentucky is called Lewis Milestone: Life and Films.
The Harriman Institute at Columbia University in New York hosted the presentation of this book. It was hosted by Feruza Aripova, a visiting scholar at the institute who has been working with Harlow Robinson since 2012 at North Eastern University in Boston, where he is an emeritus professor of history, cinema and media at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and she is preparing her doctoral dissertation.
Principles and Messages
Introducing Professor Robinson's new book, Feruza Aripova emphasized that this is the first detailed monograph on Lewis Milestone. “Many movie buffs know and love his films,” she said. “But few associate their names with his name.”
Harlow Robinson is one of the most famous experts in Russian culture, music and cinema in the USA. He is the author of the books “Sergei Prokofiev: Biography”, “The Last Impresario: Life, Time and Heritage of Sol Yurok” and “Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood Russians: A Biography of the Image”. He also translated part of the epistolary archive of Sergei Prokofiev. His articles, essays, and reviews have been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
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A comprehensive new book details the biography of Lewis Milestone (1895-1980). For most viewers, he is known for the films “On the Western Front, Without Changes”, “About Mice and People,” according to the original version of “11 Ocean Friends” and the historical drama “The Rebellion on the Bounty”.
“He was a serious artist who believed in the ability of cinema not only to entertain, but also to send important messages to the viewer,” said Professor Robinson. “In the entertainment field, he was considered a man of principles.”
“New York is a very good place to talk about Milestone,” said Robinson. - In 1913, he, an 18-year-old immigrant from Moldova, came to the United States, settled on the Upper West Side and even took English lessons at Columbia University. He was born into a Jewish family in Odessa. When he was 5 years old, the family moved to Chisinau. He was shocked by the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Then, saving the children, the parents locked them in a house where they had not left for four to five days. During the Second World War, the Holocaust hit hard on his family, his sister and brother died in Nazi camps. ”
The early years in the States were difficult, he undertook hard, low-paying work, only his aunt helped him out of his family. The guy even slept for several nights in Central Park. He never received a higher education, and studied the basics of cinema in practice while serving in the army during the First World War, where he ended up in a special unit shooting newsreels. In 1920-21, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started as an assistant at film studios, an assistant editor and director.
Robinson singled out as the “absolute masterpiece” the military drama “On the Western Front without Change” (1930), the film adaptation of the novel by Erich Maria Remarque. For this picture, Milestone received an Academy Award for Best Director. He was his second Oscar, and the first he received in 1929 for the silent military comedy Two Arab Knights at the first Oscar ceremony in history.
As Robinson’s book emphasizes, Milestone can be considered one of the pillars of Hollywood, and his biography in general repeats the stories “from rags to riches” of several magnates of American show business, Jews from Eastern Europe - Lewis Selznik, Samuel Goldwin, Louis Mayer and others . He spoke fluent Russian and a little Yiddish and Moldavian. He was friends with Ilya Erenburg and in the 30s was going to make a film based on one of his early books. But not a single American studio decided to support this project.
He admired the films of Sergei Eisenstein, whose influence is noticeable in some of his paintings, especially of the early period. He was called "the most Eisenstein director in America."
Milestone worked in the film industry from the early 20s to the mid 60s. He left a noticeable mark in silent cinema, having shot several films, and easily adapted to the standards of sound cinema. He greatly appreciated good music and opened for the movie composer Aaron Copland, whom he asked to write music for the adaptation of John Steinbeck's book On Mice and People (1939).
The monograph details the story of the creation and distribution of Milestone's most famous film, “On the Western Front, Without Change”. It was actually the first Hollywood blockbuster to conquer the whole world.
A tough, harsh, realistic and, at the same time, touching saga about several friends, young Germans who fell into the terrible millstones of the first world massacre. The Nazis, having come to power in Germany, banned the "Jewish film" (producer Karl Lemmle was also a Jew), who was accused of "defeatism." Milestone also worked with Remark later on a 1948 painting based on the novel Arc de Triomphe with Ingrid Bergman in the title role.
“Its main theme is war,” said Professor Robinson. “He was a staunch pacifist, never romanticized war, but showed it as a tragedy, an evil that inflicts untold suffering on people.”
Change of marks
During the Second World War, in fact, by order of the government, Milestone made several propaganda films that sympathetically showed the struggle of the Soviet Union against Nazi aggression and Japanese militarism. In one of them, “The Northern Star” (scripted by Lilian Hellman), the heroic confrontation between Ukrainian partisans and German aggressors is shown.
These films painfully “rang” the director immediately after the war, when the Cold War quickly replaced alliance.
“Milestone has never been a member of the Communist Party,” said Professor Robinson, “but, of course, he was a leftist, liberal, and immediately came under suspicion as a“ red “when the Commission began to investigate anti-American activities. He had to leave for Europe, where until the mid-50s he lived with his wife in Paris, worked on various film projects, we note, without much success, and then, when the anti-communist hysteria subsided, he returned to the United States. "
The biggest stars were filmed in his films. In their memoirs, they describe a friendly, patient director who liked to rehearse a lot, which for the Hollywood mainstream, in general, is uncharacteristic.
In the film “The General Died at Dawn,” Gary Cooper played an American tough guy coming to China. In the film Noir Martha Ivers' Strange Love, which was clearly underestimated at the time, she made her film debut in Kirk Douglas and played one of her best roles, Barbara Stanwick. In one of his last films, the crime comedy "Ocean's 11 Friends", the entire "rat flock" is occupied - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr. Joan Crawford played in Rain, Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill, a drama about the Korean War.
In 1962, Milestone shot his latest feature film, The Rebellion on the Bounty, an expensive historical film shot using new widescreen technology. This is a picture of the conflict between the brutal captain of a British ship and his rebellious first mate. It is curious that director Carol Reid began filming, but he did not work out with Marlon Brando, who played the first assistant, and the studio replaced him with Milestone. According to Robinson, Brando spoiled a lot of blood and Milestone, changed the script and dialogues and dictated to the director of his conditions.
“I am very grateful to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts (AMPAS) for providing me with a targeted grant in 2010,” said Professor Robinson. “Thanks to him, I was able to work in the wonderful library of the academy, which contains Milestone’s unpublished autobiography and his personal and studio documents, so I could write this book.”
According to Robinson, the director, who was married to Kendall Lee, a relative of the artist Rockwell Kent (she died in 1978), had no children. Of Milestone’s relatives in the United States, only his grand-niece is now alive, she works as a doctor in South Dakota.
When did Professor Robinson arouse interest in Russian culture and cinema?
“As a teenager, when I lived in Connecticut, I first saw the movie Doctor Zhivago,” he replied. - It was a turning point. I began to read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, enrolled in the Russian choir. The strongest incentive was the film "Cranes are Flying." As a student, I went to summer practice in Leningrad, where I studied Russian. Since then I have traveled to the Soviet Union and Russia about thirty times. ”
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