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Cecil Blount DeMille (/dəˈmɪl/; August 12, 1881 – January 21, 1959) was an American filmmaker. Between 1914 and 1958, he made a total of 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the cinema of the United States and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. He made silent films of every genre: social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants.

Cecil B. DeMille
Demille - c1920.JPG
Cecil B. DeMille, c. 1920
Cecil Blount DeMille

(1881-08-12)August 12, 1881
DiedJanuary 21, 1959(1959-01-21) (aged 77)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Alma materPennsylvania Military College
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
OccupationProducer, director, editor, screenwriter, actor
Years active1899–1958
Political partyRepublican
ChildrenCecilia DeMille
Katherine DeMille
John DeMille
Richard de Mille
Parent(s)Henry Churchill de Mille
Matilda Beatrice deMille
RelativesWilliam C. deMille (brother)
Agnes de Mille (niece)
WebsiteOfficial website

DeMille began his career as a stage actor in 1900. He later moved to writing and directing stage productions, some with Jesse Lasky, who was then a vaudeville producer. DeMille's first film, The Squaw Man (1914), was also the first feature film shot in Hollywood. Its interracial love story made it a phenomenal hit and it first publicized Hollywood as the home of the U.S. film industry. The continued success of his productions led to the founding of Paramount Pictures with Lasky and Adolph Zukor. His first biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1923), was both a critical and financial success; it held the Paramount revenue record for twenty-five years.

In 1927, he directed The King of Kings, a biography of Jesus of Nazareth, which was acclaimed for its sensitivity and reached more than 800 million viewers. The Sign of the Cross (1932) was the first sound film to integrate all aspects of cinematic technique. Cleopatra (1934) was his first film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. After more than thirty years in film production, DeMille reached the pinnacle of his career with Samson and Delilah (1949), a biblical epic which became the highest grossing film of the time. Along with biblical and historical narratives, he also directed films oriented toward "neo-naturalism", which tried to portray the laws of man fighting the forces of nature.

He went on to receive his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director for his circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), which won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. His last and most famous film, The Ten Commandments (1956), also a Best Picture Academy Award nominee, is currently the eighth-highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation. In addition to his Best Picture Award, he received an Academy Honorary Award for his film contributions, the Palme d'Or (posthumously) for Union Pacific, a DGA Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, which was later named in his honor.


Early lifeEdit

Cecil Blount DeMille was born in a boarding house on Main Street in Ashfield, Massachusetts, where his parents had been vacationing for the summer.[1] He was named after his grandmothers Cecelia Wolff and Margarete Blount.[2] He was the second of three children of Henry Churchill de Mille (September 4, 1853 – February 10, 1893) and his wife Matilda Beatrice deMille (née Samuel; January 30, 1853 – October 8, 1923), known as Beatrice.[3] His brother, William C. DeMille, was born on July 25, 1878.[4] Henry deMille, whose ancestors were of Dutch-Belgian descent, was a North Carolina-born dramatist, actor, and lay reader in the Episcopal Church.[5] His father was also a English teacher at Columbia College (now Columbia University).[6] His mother, literary agent and scriptwriter whose parents were both of German-Jewish heritage, married Henry deMille July 1, 1876 despite her parents dissent due to their differing religions.[7] DeMille's parents met as members of a music and literary society in New York. Henry was a tall, red-headed student. Beatrice was intelligent, educated, forthright, and strong-willed. They were both born in 1853 and both loved the theater. When they married, Beatrice converted to Henry's faith.[8] Henry worked as a playwright, administrator, and faculty member during the early years of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, established in New York City in 1884.[9] Henry deMille frequently collaborated with David Belasco when playwriting.[10] Their most well known collaborations include The Wife, Lord Chumley, The Charity Ball, and Men and Women.[6] She emigrated from England with her parents in 1871 when she was 18, and they settled in Brooklyn. Beatrice grew up in a middle-class English household.[11] DeMille's mother was related to British politician Herbert Louis Samuel.[12][13] The family moved to Ashfield, Massachusetts before DeMille was born; Henry was giving private lessons in Latin, Greek, and mathematics.[2]

DeMille was a brave and confident child.[14] He gained his love of theater while watching his father and Belasco rehearse their plays and a lasting memory for DeMille was a lunch with his father and actor Edwin Booth.[15] As a child, DeMille created an alter-ego called "Champion Driver", A Robinhood-like character.[16] His father built a three-story Victorian-style house for his family in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey; they named this estate "Pamlico".[17] John Philip Sousa was a friend of the family and DeMille recalled throwing mud balls in the air so neighbor Annie Oakley could practice her shooting.[18] DeMille's sister Agnes was born on April 23, 1891; his mother nearly did not survive the birth.[19] They operated a private school in that town and attended Christ Episcopal Church. DeMille recalled that this church was the place where he visualized the story of his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.[20] Henry read to his children nightly, both from the classics and from the Bible. DeMille studied scripture his entire life and read the Bible during lunch in the studio commissary.[21][22] He was the first to admit that he did not attend church services but he did profess an unshakable belief in prayer.[23] He stated that his films were a continuation of his father's work. "My ministry," said DeMille, "has been to make religious movies and to get more people to read the Bible than anyone else ever has."[24]

On January 8, 1893, at the age of forty, Henry de Mille died suddenly from typhoid fever, leaving Beatrice with three children, a house. To provide for her family, she opened an acting workshop in her home, the Henry C. DeMille School for girls, in February 1893.[25] The aim of the school was to teach young women to properly understand and fulfill the women's duty to herself, her home, and her country.[26] Beatrice had "enthusiastically supported" her husband's theatrical aspirations. She later became the second female play broker on Broadway.[27] On Henry DeMille's deathbed, he told his wife that he did not want his sons to become playwrights due to its uncertainty and disappointment as a career; he wanted William to become an electrical engineer. In order to cultivate her son's educations and life skills, DeMille's mother sent him to Pennsylvania Military College in Chester, Pennsylvania at the age of fifteen.[28] He fled school to join the Spanish–American War, but he was turned away for being too young.[6] DeMille was a determined, neat, intelligent, and athletic adolescent.[29] Even though his grades were average, he excelled in personal conduct.[30] Both DeMille (Class of 1900) and his brother William (Class of 1901) also attended and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which they attended on scholarship. The Academy later honored DeMille with an Alumni Achievement Award.[24]


There are several variants of his surname. His family's Dutch surname, originally spelled de Mil, became de Mille when William deMille (Cecil's grandfather) added an "e" for "visual symmetry".[31] As an adult, he adopted the spelling DeMille because he believed it would look better on a marquee, but continued to use de Mille in private life.[32] The family name de Mille was used by his children Cecilia, John, Richard, and Katherine. DeMille's brother, William, and his daughters, Margaret and Agnes, as well as DeMille's granddaughter, Cecilia de Mille Presley, also used the de Mille spelling.[33]


c. 1904


Cecil B. DeMille began his career as an actor on the stage in the theatrical company of Charles Frohman in 1900. He debuted as an actor on February 21, 1900, in the play Hearts are Trumps at New York's Garden Theater.[34] His brother William was establishing himself as a playwright and sometimes invited him to collaborate.[16] DeMille and William collaborated on The Genius, The Royal Mounted, and After Five.[35] However, none of these were very successful; William deMille was most successful when he worked alone.[35] DeMille and his brother at times worked with the legendary impresario David Belasco, who had been a friend and collaborator of their father.[36] DeMille would later adapt Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West and Rose of the Rancho, and The Warrens of Virginia into films.[37] DeMille was credited with creating the premise of Belasco's The Return of Peter Grimm.[35] The Return of Peter Grimm sparked controversy; however, because Belasco had taken DeMille's unnamed screenplay, changed the characters and named it The Return of Peter Grimm, producing and presenting it as his own work. DeMille was credited in small print as "based on an idea by Cecil DeMille". The play was successful and DeMille was distraught that his childhood idol plagiarized his work.[38]

DeMille performed on stage with actors whom he would later direct in films: Charlotte Walker, Mary Pickford, and Pedro de Cordoba. DeMille also produced and directed plays.[39] He performed in Hamlet a few times and his 1905 performance in The Prince Chap as the Earl of Huntington was well received by the audience.[40] DeMille wrote a few of his own plays in between stage performances, but playwrighting was not his strong suit.[35] His first play was The Pretender-A Play in a Prologue and 4 Acts set in the seventeenth century Russia.[40] Another unperformed play he wrote was Son of the Winds, a mythological Native American story.[41] Life was difficult for DeMille and his wife as traveling actors; however, traveling allowed him to experience part of the United States he had not yet seen.[42] DeMille sometime worked with the director E.H. Sothern, who influenced DeMille's later perfectionism in his work.[42] In 1907, due to a scandal with one of Beatrice's students, Evelyn Nesbit, the Henry deMille School lost students. The school closed and Beatrice filed for bankruptcy.[43] DeMille wrote another play originally called Sergeant Devil May Care which was renamed The Royal Mounted. He also toured with the Standard Opera Company, but there are few records to indicate DeMille's singing ability.[44]

DeMille was poor and struggled to find work. Consequently, his mother hired him for her agency The DeMille Play Company and taught him how to agent and playwright. Eventually, he became manager of the agency and later, a junior partner with his mother.[45] In 1911, DeMille became acquainted with vaudeville producer Jesse Lasky when Lasky was searching for a writer for his new musical. He initially sought out William deMille. William had been a successful playwright, but DeMille was suffering from his failure plays The Royal Mounted and The Genius. However, Beatrice introduced Lasky to DeMille instead.[46] The collaboration of DeMille and Lasky produced a successful musical called California which opened in New York in January 1912.[47] Another DeMille-Lasky production that opened on January 1912 was The Antique Girl.[48] DeMille found success in the spring of 1913 producing Reckless Age by Lee Wilson, a play about a high society girl wrongly accused of manslaughter starring Frederick Burton and Sydney Shields.[49][50] However, changes in the theater rendered DeMille's melodramas obsolete before they were produced, and true theatrical success eluded him. He produced many flops.[51] DeMille was becoming disinterested in working in theatre; his passion for film was ignited when he watched the 1912 French film Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth.[52] By 1913 he was having difficulty supporting his wife and young daughter.[16]

Moving picturesEdit

Desiring a change of scene, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Sam Goldfish (later Samuel Goldwyn), and a group of East Coast businessmen created the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company in 1913 over which DeMille became director-general.[53] Lasky and DeMille were said to have sketched out the organization of the company on the back of a restaurant menu.[54] In addition to directing, DeMille was the supervisor and consultant for the first year of films made by the Lasky Feature Play Company.[55] As director-general, DeMille's job was to make the films.[54] Sometimes, he directed scenes for other directors at the Feature Play Company in order to release films on time.[55] Moreover, when he was busy directing other films, he would co-author other Lasky Company scripts that he would not direct as well as create screen adaptations that others directed.[55] The Lasky Play Company sought out Willam DeMille to join the company, but he rejected the offer because he did not believe there was any promise in a film career.[56] When William found out that DeMille had begun working in the motion picture industry, he wrote DeMille a letter, disappointed that he was willing "to throw away [his] future" when he was "born and raised in the finest traditions of the theater".[57] The Lasky Company wanted to attract high-class audiences to their films so they began producing films from literary works.[58] The Lasky Company bought the rights to the play The Squaw Man by Edwin Milton Royle and cast Dustin Farnum in the lead role.[56] They offered Farnum a choice to have a quarter stock in the company (similar to William deMille) or $250 per week as salary. Farnum chose $250 per week.[59] Already $15,000 in debt to Royle for the screenplay of The Squaw Man, Lasky's relatives bought the $5,000 stock to save the Lasky Company from bankruptcy.[60] With no knowledge of filmmaking, DeMille was introduced to observe the process at film studios. He was eventually introduced to Oscar Apfel, a stage director turned movie director.[61]

DeMille directing, 1920

On December 12, 1913, DeMille, his cast, and crew boarded a Southern Pacific train bound for Flagstaff via New Orleans. His tentative plan was to shoot a film in Arizona, but he felt that Arizona did not typify the Western look they were searching for. They also learned that other filmmakers were successfully shooting in Los Angeles, even in winter.[62] He continued to Los Angeles. Once there, he chose not to shoot in Edendale, where many studios were, but in Hollywood.[63] DeMille rented a barn to function as their film studio.[64] Filming began on December 29, 1913, and lasted three weeks.[65] Apfel filmed most of The Squaw Man due to DeMille's inexperience; however, DeMille learned quickly and was particularly adept at impromptu screenwriting as necessary.[66] He made his first film run sixty minutes, as long as a short play. The Squaw Man (1914), co-directed by Oscar Apfel, was a sensation and it established the Lasky Company. This was the first feature-length film made in Hollywood.[67] There were problems; however, with the perforation of the film stock and it was discovered the DeMille had brought a cheap British film projector. DeMille would later need to be sure to punch in sixty-five holes per foot instead of the industry standard sixty-four.[68] This was also the first American feature film; however, only by release date, as D.W. Griffith's Judith of Bethulia which was filmed earlier than The Squaw Man, but released later.[69] Additionally, this was the only film in which DeMille shared director's credit with Oscar C. Apfel.[55] The Squaw Man was a success, which led to the eventual founding of Paramount Pictures and Hollywood becoming the "film capital of the world".[70][71] The film grossed over ten times its budget after its New York premiere in February 1914.[66] DeMille's next project was to aid Oscar Apfel and directing Brewster's Millions, which was wildly successful.[72]

Silent eraEdit

Advertisement (1919)

Cecil B. DeMille's second film credited exclusively to him was The Virginian. This is earliest of DeMille's films available on in quality, color-tinted video format. However, this version is actually a 1918 re-release. The cinematography was done by Alvin Wyckoff who would film forty-three of DeMille's future films.[73] The first few years of the Lasky Company were spent in making films nonstop, literally writing the language of film. DeMille himself directed twenty films by 1915.[74] The most successful films during the beginning of the Lasky Company were Brewster's Millions (co-directed by DeMille), Rose of the Rancho, and The Ghost Breaker.[66] DeMille adapted Belasco's dramatic lighting techniques to film technology, mimicking moonlight with U.S. cinema's first attempts at "motivated lighting" in The Warrens of Virginia.[27] Additionally, because of DeMille's cordiality after the Peter Grimm incident, DeMille was able to rekindle his partnership with Belasco. He adapted several of Belasco's screenplays into film.[75] DeMille's most successful film was The Cheat; DeMille's direction in the film was acclaimed.[76] On July 19, 1916, the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company merged with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company, becoming Famous Players-Lasky. Zukor became president with Lasky as the vice president.[77] DeMille was maintained as director-general and Goldwyn became chairman of the board.[76] Goldwyn was later fired from Famous Players-Lasky due to frequent clashes with Lasky, DeMille, and finally Zukor.[76]

Beatrice deMille introduced the Famous Players-Lasky to Wilfred Buckland who became DeMille's art director. William deMille reluctantly became a story editor. William deMille would later convert from theater to Hollywood and would spend the rest of his career as a film director.[76] Throughout his career, DeMille would frequently remake his own films. In his first instance, in 1917, he remade The Squaw Man (1918), only waiting four years from the 1913 original. Despite its quick turnaround, the film was fairly successful. However, DeMille's second remake at MGM in 1931 would be a failure.[78] After five years and thirty hit films, DeMille became the American film industry's most successful director. In the silent era, he was renowned for Male and Female (1919), Manslaughter (1921), The Volga Boatman (1926), and The Godless Girl (1928). DeMille's trademark scenes included bathtubs, lion attacks, and Roman orgies.[79] A number of his films featured scenes in two-color Technicolor. In 1923, DeMille released a modern melodrama The Ten Commandments which was a significant change from his previous stint of irreligious films. The film was produced on a large budget of $600,000, the most expensive production at Paramount. This concerned the executives at Paramount; however, the film turned out to be the studio's highest-grossing film.[80] It held the Paramount record for twenty-five years until DeMille broke the record again himself.[81]

In the early 1920s, scandal surrounded Paramount. Several Paramount contractees were accused of rape, murder, and drug addiction. Outcry intensified from religious groups and the media were appalled by immorality in the film industry on and off screen. A censorship board called the Hays Code was established. DeMille's depiction of on screen immorality came under fire, likely due to the scandalous film The Affairs of Anatol. Furthermore, DeMille argued with Zukor over his extravagant and over-budget production costs.[82] Consequently, DeMille left Paramount in 1924 despite having helped establish it. Instead, he joined the Producers Distributing Corporation.[83] His first film from his new production company, DeMille Pictures Corporation, was The Road to Yesterday in 1925. He directed and produced four films on his own, working with Producers Distributing Corporation because he found front office supervision too restricting.[84] Aside from The King of Kings (which was said to be DeMille's favorite film), none of DeMille's films away from Paramount were successful.[85] The Kings of Kings established DeMille as "master of the grandiose and of biblical sagas".[86] The most successful Christian film of the silent era, the film was viewed over 800 million times around the world.[87]

The immense popularity of DeMille's silent films enabled him to branch out into other areas. The Roaring Twenties were the boom years and DeMille took full advantage, opening the Mercury Aviation Company, one of America's first commercial airlines.[88] He was also a real estate speculator,[89] an underwriter of political campaigns, and vice president of Bank of America.[90] He was additionally vice president of the Commercial National Trust and Savings Bank in Los Angeles where he approved loans for other filmmakers.[91]

Sound eraEdit

DeMille as producer of the CBS Radio Theatre, 1937

When "talking pictures" were innovated in 1928, Cecil B. DeMille made a successful transition, offering his own innovations to the painful process; he devised a microphone boom and a soundproof camera blimp.[92] He also popularized the camera crane.[93] His first three sound films were produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[94] In 1932, DeMille returned to Paramount at the request of Lasky, bringing with him his own production unit.[95] His first film back at Paramount, The Sign of the Cross, was also his first success since leaving Paramount besides The King of Kings. DeMille's return was approved by Zukor under the condition that DeMille not exceed his production budget of $650,000 for The Sign of the Cross. Produced in eight weeks without exceeding budget, the film was financially successful.[96] The Sign of the Cross was the first film to integrate all cinematic techniques. The film was considered a "masterpiece" and surpassed the quality of other sound films of the time.[97]

DeMille followed this epic uncharacteristically with two released dramas in 1933 and 1934. This Day and Age and Four Frightened People were box office disappointments, though Four Frightened People received good reviews. DeMille would stick to his large-budget spectaculars for the rest of his career.[98] In 1939, DeMille's Union Pacific was successful through DeMille's collaboration with the Union Pacific Railroad. The Union Pacific gave DeMille access to historical data, early period trains, and expert crews, adding to the authenticity of the film.[99] In 1940, DeMille first used three-strip Technicolor in North West Mounted Police. DeMille wanted to film in Canada; however, due to budget constraints, the film was instead shot in Oregon and Hollywood.[100] Critics were impressed with the visuals but found the scripts dull, calling it DeMille's "poorest Western".[100] Despite the criticism, it was Paramount's highest grossing film of the year.[100] Audiences liked its highly saturated color, so DeMille made no further black-and-white features.[101]

DeMille in the trailer for The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), the film for which he won the Academy Award for Best Picture

In 1942, DeMille released Paramount's most successful film, Reap the Wild Wind. It was produced with a large budget and contained many special effects including an electronically operated giant squid.[102] DeMille's 1947 film Unconquered had the longest running time (146 minutes), longest filming schedule (102 days) and largest budget of $5 million. The sets and effects were so realistic that 30 extras needed to be hospitalized due to a scene with fireballs and flaming arrows. It was very commercially successful.[103] DeMille's next film, Samson and Delilah in 1949, became Paramount's highest-grossing film up to that time. A Biblical epic with sex, it was a characteristically DeMille film.[104] Again, 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth became Paramount's highest-grossing film to that point. Furthermore, DeMille's film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film began production in 1949, Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey were paid $250,000 for use of the title and facilities. DeMille toured with the circus while helping write the script. Noisy and bright, it wasn't well-liked among critics, but was a favorite among audiences.[105]

The Ten CommandmentsEdit

Charleton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments

Cecil B. DeMille's final directed film was a remake of The Ten Commandments in 1956. It was the longest (3 hours, 39 minutes) and most expensive ($13 million) film in Paramount history. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, it grossed over $80 million, which surpassed the Greatest Show on Earth and every other film in history, except for Gone with the Wind.[106] A unique practice at the time, DeMille offered 10% of his profit to the crew.[107] Production of The Ten Commandments began in October 1954.[106] The Exodus scene was filmed on site in Egypt with the use of four Technicolor-VistaVision camera filming 12,000 people. They continued filming in 1955 in Paris and Hollywood on 30 different sound stages. They were even required to expand to RKO sound studios for filming.[108] Postproduction lasted a year and the film premiered in Salt Lake City.[109]

On November 7, 1954, while in Egypt filming the Exodus sequence for The Ten Commandments, DeMille (who was seventy-three) climbed a 107-foot (33 m) ladder to the top of the massive Per Rameses set and suffered a serious heart attack. Ignoring his doctor's orders, DeMille was back directing the film within a week. DeMille's longtime friends Raymond Arnold Disney and his wife Meredith A. Disney and their son Charles Elias Disney were visiting the set in Egypt when DeMille suffered his near-fatal heart attack.[110] Although DeMille completed the film, his health was diminished by several more heart attacks. His daughter Cecelia took over as director as DeMille sat behind the camera with Loyal Griggs as the cinematographer.[111] This film would be his last.[112] While the film was a huge success, DeMille regretted that he could not share the success with his wife who had developed Alzheimer's disease.[113]

Illness and deathEdit

DeMille's tomb at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Cecil B. DeMille suffered a series of heart attacks from June 1958 to January 1959.[24] On January 21, 1959, DeMille died of a heart attack.[114] After his death, notable new outlets such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian honored DeMille as "pioneer of movies", "the greatest creator and showman of our industry", and "the founder of Hollywood".[115] DeMille's funeral was held on January 23 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. He was entombed at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever).[116]

Unfulfilled projectsEdit

Because of his illness, Cecil B. DeMille asked his son-in-law, actor Anthony Quinn, to direct a remake of his 1938 film The Buccaneer. DeMille served as executive producer, overseeing producer Henry Wilcoxon.[24] Despite a cast led by Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, the 1958 film The Buccaneer was a disappointment.[117] DeMille attended the Santa Barbara premiere of The Buccaneer in December 1958.[24] DeMille was unable to attend the Los Angeles premiere of The Buccaneer.[24] In the months before his death, DeMille was researching a film biography of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement. DeMille asked David Niven to star in the film, but it was never made. DeMille also was planning a film about the space race as well as another Biblical epic about the Book of Revelation.[118]

Lux Radio TheatreEdit

From June 1, 1936, until January 22, 1945, Cecil B. DeMille hosted and directed Lux Radio Theater, a weekly digest of current feature films.[119] The Lux Radio show was one of the most popular weekly shows in the history of radio.[119] While DeMille was host, the show had forty million weekly listeners, gaining DeMille an annual salary of $100,000.[119] From 1936 to 1945, he produced, hosted, and directed all shows with the occasional exception of a guest director.[119] He resigned from the Lux Radio Show because he refused to pay a dollar to the American Federation of Radio Artists for the purpose of a fund to oppose Proposition 12 in California. DeMille voted for Proposition 12 and refused to pay the dollar because it would cancel his vote, and he did not believe that any organization had the right to "levy a compulsory assessment upon any member."[120] Consequently, he had to resign from the radio show. William Keighley was his replacement.[120] DeMille would never again work on radio.[120] Frequent actors and actresses DeMille had on the show include Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Loretta Young, Don Ameche, and Fred MacMurray.[121]

Personal lifeEdit

At the age of twenty-one Cecil B. DeMille married Constance Adams on August 16, 1902; Adams was 29 years old.[122] Their age difference proved to cause sexual incompatibility; according to DeMille, Adams was too "pure" to "feel such violent and evil passions".[123] Regardless, they had one child, Cecilia on November 5, 1908.[44] They had met in a theater in Washington D.C. while they were both acting in a play called Hearts Are Trumps.[124] The couple also adopted an orphan child, Katherine Lester, in the early 1920s; her father had been killed in World War I and her mother had died of tuberculosis.[125] Katherine became an actress at Paramount Pictures, ultimately gaining his approval. In 1936 she married actor Anthony Quinn.[126] The DeMille's adopted two sons, John and Richard, the latter of whom became a notable psychiatrist, filmmaker and writer.[127][128][129]

DeMille was a Freemason and a member of Prince of Orange Lodge #16 in New York City.[130] Cecil had an older brother William and a sister Agnes who died at age three of spinal meningitis.[131] William had a daughter Agnes de Mille, a famed dancer-choreographer.[132]


DeMille was a lifelong conservative Republican activist.[133] He supported Herbert Hoover and in 1928 made his largest campaign donation to Hoover.[134] In 1944, he was the master of ceremonies at the massive rally organized by David O. Selznick in the Los Angeles Coliseum in support of the Dewey-Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California. The gathering drew 93,000, with short speeches by Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. Among those in attendance were Ann Sothern, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper, and Walter Pidgeon. Though the rally drew a good response, most Hollywood celebrities who took a public position sided with the Roosevelt-Truman ticket.[135] In 1954, Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott asked DeMille for help in designing the cadet uniforms at the newly established United States Air Force Academy. DeMille's designs, most notably his design of the distinctive cadet parade uniform, won praise from Air Force and Academy leadership, were ultimately adopted, and are still worn by cadets.[136] In the early 1950s, DeMille was recruited by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner to serve on the board of the anti-communist National Committee for a Free Europe, the public face of the organization that oversaw the Radio Free Europe service.[137]

Style and influencesEdit

Cecil B. DeMille's distinctive style can be seen through camera and lighting effects as early as The Squaw Man with the use of daydream images; moonlight and sunset on a mountain; and side-lighting through a tent flap.[138] DeMille experimented in his early films with photographic light and shade; this created dramatic shadows instead of glare.[76] DeMille was interested in art, his favorite artist was Gustave Doré; DeMille based some of his most well-known scenes on the work of Doré.[139] DeMille's filmmaking process always began with extensive research. Next, he would work with writers to develop the story that he was envisioning. Then, he would help writers construct a script. Finally, he would leave the script with artists and allow them to create artistic depictions and renderings of each scene.[139] DeMille was the first director to connect art to filmmaking; he created the title of "art director" on the film set.[140] In order to attract a high-class audience, DeMille based many of his early films on stage melodramas, novels, and short stories.[141] In the early age of cinema, DeMille differentiated the Lasky Company from other production companies due to the use of dramatic, low-key lighting they called "Lasky lighting" and marketed as "Rembrandt lighting" to appeal to the public. DeMille achieved international recognition for his unique use of lighting and color tint in his film The Cheat.[142] Aside from his Biblical and historical epics which are concerned with how man relates to God, some of DeMille's films contained themes of "neo-naturalism" which portray the conflict between the laws of man and the laws of nature.[143] However, DeMille was no auteur. He preferred to impress the audience rather than "push the artistic and intellectual boundaries of film".[144]

Although he is known for his later "spectacular" films, his early films are held in high regard by critics and film historians. DeMille discovered the possibilities of the "bathroom" or "boudoir" in film without being "vulgar" or "cheap".[145] DeMille's films Male and Female, Why Change Your Wife?, and The Affairs of Anatol can be retrospectively described as high camp and are categorized as "early DeMille films" due to their particular style of production and costume and set design. However, his earlier films The Captive, Kindling, Carmen, and The Whispering Chorus are more serious films.[145] David Belasco's early influence on DeMille's career can be seen in DeMille's showmanship and narration in his films.[145] E.H. Sothern's early influence on DeMille's work can be seen in DeMille's perfectionism.[42] It is difficult to typify DeMille's films into one specific genre. His first three films were Westerns, and he filmed many Westerns throughout his career. However, throughout his career, he filmed comedies, periodic and contemporary romances, dramas, fantasies, propaganda, Biblical spectacles, musical comedies, suspense, and war films. At least one DeMille film can represent each film genre.[145] DeMille produced the majority of his films before the 1930s, and by the time sound films were invented, many film critics saw DeMille as antiquated, with his best filmmaking years behind him.[146] DeMille cited his mother and father as influences of his work, calling them his "earliest teachers".[147]

DeMille's setpieces include this pagan temple in Samson and Delilah (1949)

DeMille had a reputation for autocratic behavior on the set, singling out and berating extras who were not paying attention. A number of these displays were thought to be staged, however, as an exercise in discipline.[148] He despised actors who were unwilling to take physical risks, especially when he had first demonstrated that the required stunt would not harm them. This occurred with Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah. Mature refused to wrestle Jackie the Lion, even though DeMille had just tussled with the lion, proving that he was tame. DeMille told the actor that he was "one hundred percent yellow".[149] Paulette Goddard's refusal to risk personal injury in a scene involving fire in Unconquered cost her DeMille's favor and a role in The Greatest Show on Earth.[150] DeMille was adept at directing "thousands of extras",[89] and many of his pictures include spectacular setpieces: the toppling of the pagan temple in Samson and Delilah;[151] train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday[152], Union Pacific[153] and The Greatest Show on Earth;[154] the destruction of an airship in Madam Satan[155]; and the parting of the Red Sea in both versions of The Ten Commandments.[156]

DeMille made stars of unknown actors: Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, Rod La Rocque, William Boyd, Claudette Colbert, and Charlton Heston.[157][158][159] He also cast established stars such as Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, Paulette Goddard and Fredric March in multiple pictures.[160][161] DeMille displayed a loyalty to his performers, casting them repeatedly. They included Henry Wilcoxon,[162] Julia Faye, Joseph Schildkraut,[163] Ian Keith[164], Charles Bickford[165], Theodore Roberts, Akim Tamiroff[166] and William Boyd.[167][168] DeMille was credited by actor Edward G. Robinson with saving his career following his eclipse in the Hollywood blacklist.[169]

Showmanship as directorEdit

DeMille was one of the first directors to become a celebrity in his own right.[170] He cultivated the image of the omnipotent director,[171] complete with megaphone, riding crop, and jodhpurs.[172][173] DeMille was respected by his peers, yet his individual films were sometimes criticized. "Directorially, I think his pictures were the most horrible things I've ever seen in my life", said director William Wellman. "But he put on pictures that made a fortune. In that respect, he was better than any of us."[174] Producer David O. Selznick wrote: "There has appeared only one Cecil B. DeMille. He is one of the most extraordinarily able showmen of modern times. However much I may dislike some of his pictures, it would be very silly of me, as a producer of commercial motion pictures, to demean for an instant his unparalleled skill as a maker of mass entertainment."[175]

DeMille appeared as himself in numerous films, including the M-G-M comedy Free and Easy. He often appeared in his coming-attraction trailers and narrated many of his later films, even stepping onscreen to introduce The Ten Commandments. DeMille was immortalized in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard when Gloria Swanson spoke the line: "All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my closeup." DeMille plays himself in the film. In the 1940s, DeMille continued to please the public. He averaged one film a year; most of them centered on historical figures or Bible stories. His first attempt at a drama set within a semi-documentary frame was The Greatest Show on Earth, a saga of circus performers released in 1952. His experiment gained him a nomination for best director and won an Academy Award for Best Picture that year.[176]

Ethnicity and religionEdit

DeMille drew on his Christian and Jewish heritage to convey a message of tolerance.[177][178] DeMille received more than a dozen awards from Jewish religious and cultural groups, including B'nai B'rith.[179] However, DeMille was accused of anti-semitism after the release of The King of Kings.[180] Director John Ford, however, did not see DeMille's religious films in such a positive light. Ford despised DeMille for what he saw as "hollow" biblical epics meant to promote DeMille's reputation during the politically turbulent 1950s.[181] In 1952, he was seeking approval for a lavish remake of his 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments. He went before the Paramount board of directors, which was mostly Jewish-American. The members rejected his proposal, even though his last two films, Samson and Delilah and The Greatest Show on Earth, had been record-breaking hits.[182] Adolph Zukor, the chairman of the board, rebuked the members, saying:

We have just lived through a war where our people were systematically executed. Here we have a man who made a film praising the Jewish people, that tells of Samson, one of the legends of our Scripture. Now he wants to make the life of Moses. We should get down on our knees to Cecil and say "Thank you!"[183]

DeMille did not have an exact budget proposal for the project[184], and it promised to be the most costly in U.S. film history. Still, the members unanimously approved it.[185]


Known as the father of the Hollywood motion picture industry, Cecil B. DeMille made seventy films with some being box-office hits. DeMille is one of the most commercially successful film directors in history.[186] Adjusted for inflation, DeMille's remake of The Ten Commandments is the eighth highest-grossing film in the world.[187] According to Sam Goldwyn, critics did not like DeMille's films, but the audiences did and "they have the final word".[188] Similarly, scholar David Blanke, argued that DeMille had lost the respect of his colleagues and the film critics by his late film career. However, his final films maintained that DeMille was still respected by his audience.[189] Five of DeMille's film were the highest-grossing films at the year of their release, with only Spielberg topping him with six films highest-grossing films of the year. DeMille's highest-grossing films include: The Sign of the Cross (1932), Unconquered (1947), Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and The Ten Commandments (1956).[190] On January 22, 1956, DeMille received the Milestone Award from the Screen Producers Guild.[147] The Hollywood barn in which he produced the original Squaw Man, was dedicated as a California historical landmark in a ceremony on December 27, 1956; DeMille was the keynote speaker.[147] Director Ridley Scott has been called "the Cecil B. DeMille of the digital era" due to his classical and medieval epics.[191]


Cecil B. DeMille has influenced the work of several directors. Alfred Hitchcock cited DeMille's 1921 film Forbidden Fruit as an influence of his work and one of his top ten favorite films.[192] DeMille has influenced the careers of many modern directors. Martin Scorsese cited Unconquered, Samson and Delilah, and The Greatest Show on Earth as DeMille films that have imparted lasting memories on him.[193] Scorcese admitted to having viewed The Ten Commandments forty or fifty times.[194] Famed director Steven Spielberg stated that DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth was one of the films that influenced him to become a filmmaker.[67]

Posthumous honorsEdit

For his contribution to the motion picture and radio industry, DeMille has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first, for radio contributions, is located at 6240 Hollywood Blvd. The second star is located at 1725 Vine Street.[114] Two schools have been named after him: Cecil B. DeMille Middle School, in Long Beach, California, closed and demolished in 2010 to make way for a new high school;[195] and Cecil B. DeMille Elementary School in Midway City, California.[89][196] The former film building at Chapman University in Orange, California is named in honor of DeMille. The Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts now resides in Marion Knotts Studios.[197]

The Golden Globe's annual Cecil B. DeMille Award recognizes lifetime achievement in the film industry.[198] DeMille was the first recipient of the award.[199] Later recipients of the award include Kirk Douglas, Robert Redford, Lauren Bacall.[200] Jeff Bridges was the 2019 Cecil B. DeMille Award winner.[201] The moving image collection of Cecil B. DeMille is held at the Academy Film Archive and includes home movies, outtakes, and never-before-seen test footage.[202] During the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin refers to himself in one instance as "Cecil B. DeAldrin", as a humorous nod to DeMille.[203]


Cecil B. DeMille made seventy features.[183] Fifty-two of his features are silent films. The first twenty-four of his silent films were made in the first three years of his career (1913-1916).[86] Eight of his films were "epics" with five of those classified as "Biblical".[86] Seven of DeMille's films including The Arab, The Wild Goose Chase, Chimmie Fadden, The Dream Girl, The Devil-Stone, We Can't Have Everything, and The Squaw Man (1918) were destroyed due to nitrate decomposition and are considered lost.[204] Twenty of his silent films are commercially available on DVD.[204] In the 1950s, Paramount sold its entire pre-1948 film library, including those of DeMille, to EMKA.[205] The Ten Commandments is broadcast every Saturday at Passover in the United States on the ABC Television Network.[206]


Filmography obtained from Fifty Hollywood Directors.[207]:21–23

Silent films

Sound films

Directing or producing creditEdit

Films which DeMille had credited or uncredited as director, but was not the head director:


DeMille frequently made cameos as himself in other Paramount films. Additionally, he often starred in prologues and special trailers that he created for his films, having an opportunity to personally address the audience.[221]


Year Award Category Title of work Nom Reference
1939 Palme d'Or
Union Pacific Won [note 1][239]
1950 Academy Award Academy Honorary Award
Won [240]
1952 Golden Globe Award Cecil B. DeMille Award
Won [199]
1953 Academy Award Best Picture The Greatest Show on Earth Won [241]
1953 Academy Award Best Director The Greatest Show on Earth Nominated [242]
1953 Academy Award Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
Won [241]
1953 Directors Guild of America Award Lifetime Achievement Award
Won [243]
1953 Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures The Greatest Show on Earth Nominated [244]
1953 Golden Globe Award Best Director The Greatest Show on Earth Won [245]
1957 Academy Award Best Picture The Ten Commandments Nominated [246]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Union Pacific was awarded the Palme d'Or in retrospect at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.



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External linksEdit

Archival materials

DeMille's personal and business papers including correspondence, audio, and video recordings, financial ledgers, and memorabilia
Includes minutes, correspondence, and financial information relating to Cecil B. DeMille Productions as well as material related to the production of his most popular films
DeMille's personal and business correspondence, including correspondence with Beatrice DeMille, Jesse Lasky, and Samuel Goldwyn
Includes conversations with DeMille about her plays