Palm Beach Post books editor Eyman (Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer, 2005, etc.) presents the truly epic life of director Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959) in grand style, befitting the great man, who, in addition to helming some of the most iconic movies of all time, did as much as anyone to establish Hollywood as the world’s filmmaking center.
Both an autocratic, politically conservative martinet and generous, tolerant paterfamilias, DeMille bestrode early Hollywood as a colossus, employing a genius for spectacle and an instinct for headlong narrative drive to make movies that continue to beguile and amaze. The author charts DeMille’s amazing professional course with justifiable awe. The tyro apprenticed with legendary theatrical David Belasco, from whom he gleaned the mechanics of visual spectacle; began what would become the Paramount movie studio in a barn with fellow strivers Samuel Goldwyn and Jesse Lasky; mastered the art of filmmaking with stunning speed; and directed a series of mammoth productions—including The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)—that mesmerized audiences and remain touchstones in the history of film. Eyman’s copious research, including interviews with DeMille’s contemporaries and many excerpts from the director’s personal correspondence, reveals a playful, witty, restless personality, fully aware of his foreboding image and willing to poke fun at it. There is much compelling material on his complicated rivalry with older brother William, a writer and sometime collaborator, and on his relationships with his wife, children and mistresses. Better still are accounts of the productions of his key films, rife with amusing anecdotes (DeMille’s hatred of diffident actor Victor Mature is a hoot) and fascinating insights into the sheer physical and aesthetic mechanics that went into realizing his oversized visions for the screen. DeMille’s controversial political legacy—he was no friend of unions or communists—receives a balanced and informative treatment, completing a fully dimensional portrait of a protean American artist.
Engrossing and comprehensive—an essential text for readers interested in the history of movies.