Robert D. Webb

Robert D. Webb (January 8, 1903 – April 18, 1990) was an Academy Award–winning film director. He directed 16 films between 1945 and 1968. He won the Academy Award for Best Assistant Director for In Old Chicago, the last time that category was offered.[1]

Robert D. Webb
Born(1903-01-08)January 8, 1903
DiedApril 18, 1990(1990-04-18) (aged 87)
OccupationFilm director
Years active1936-1970
Spouse(s)Barbara McLean (1951–1990)


Webb was born in Clay City, Kentucky in 1904 and moved to San Francisco with his family when he was five.

His older brother Millard went to work in the film industry, creating the sets for Rin Tin Tin films, which sparked Webb's own interest. Webb's son Jim later said his father "worked as a gofer and did just about everything (for the studios). He did lighting, grip, was a property man, even some makeup work. He worked his way up and became second assistant director. Then he became assistant director under Henry King. That's where he really learned the directing business." [2]

Assistant directorEdit

Webb's first film as assistant director under Henry King was The Country Doctor (1936). It was made at 20th Century Fox where Webb would work for most of his career.

Webb was assistant director on Sins of Man (1936), directed by Otto Brower, then did five films in a row with King: Ramona (1936), Lloyd's of London (1936), Seventh Heaven (1937), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) and In Old Chicago (1938). These were the studio's most prestigious projects. Webb won an Oscar for Chicago.[3]

After Just Around the Corner (1938) with Irving Cummings he went back to working for King on Jesse James (1939), Stanley and Livingstone (1939), Little Old New York (1940), Maryland (1940) and Chad Hanna (1940). Because King made so many location pictures, Webb learned how to fly to help with location scouting.[4]

Webb assisted Robert Mamoulian in Blood and Sand (1941) and Henry Hathaway on Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942), and worked with King on A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941), The Black Swan (1942), and The Song of Bernadette (1943).

Early features as directorEdit

Webb wanted to direct and the studio gave him a short, No Escape (1943). It was sufficiently well received that they entrusted him with two low budget features, The Caribbean Mystery (1945) and The Spider (1945).[5]

Second unit workEdit

King asked him to work as second unit director, and so Webb did that on King's Margie (1946), Captain from Castile (1947), and Prince of Foxes (1949), the latter two being expensive epics. [6]

Webb did second unit for Fritz Lang on American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950) and Lloyd Bacon on The Frogmen (1951) before being reunited with King on David and Bathsheba (1951). While working on the latter he started dating the film's editor, Barbara Maclean, who he would marry in 1951.[7]

He worked with Henry Hathaway on The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951), Joseph M Newman on Red Skies of Montana (1952), and Jean Negulesco on Lydia Bailey (1952) and Lure of the Wilderness (1952), with location work in Georgia swamps.[8] He did some uncredited directing on Way of a Gaucho (1952).


Fox allowed Webb to return to directing with The Glory Brigade (1953), a World War Two film with Victor Mature. [9]

He then directed the treasure hunting film Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), with Robert Wagner, which became a big hit by being the third movie shot in CinemaScope.

He did White Feather (1955), a Western with Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget.[10] . This was followed by Seven Cities of Gold (1955), a historical adventure film with Richard Egan, which was produced by Webb and his wife. It was his favourite film[2].

Webb did some science fiction, On the Threshold of Space (1956), and then The Proud Ones (1956), a Western with Hunter and Robert Ryan. In June 1956 his contract with Fox was renewed and they said he would direct The Iron Butterfly. It was not made.[11]

Webb directed Elvis Presley's first film, Love Me Tender (1956), a Western where Presley was billed after Egan and Paget. It became a huge hit.

Webb directed The Way to the Gold (1957), a Western with Hunter. In 1957 he tried to get Fox to finance a musical, Crazy Boy.[12] He had another project called Meeting on a Summit which was not made.[13]

He did an episode of Rawhide then was hired by Alan Ladd to do a Western for Ladd's own company, Guns of the Timberland (1960) the first dramatic movie for singer Frankie Avalon.[14]

Webb directed a swashbuckler for Sam Katzman at Fox, Pirates of Tortuga (1961) and did a low budget woman in prison film, Seven Women from Hell (1961).

Second unit directingEdit

Webb returned to second unit directing with A Gathering of Eagles (1963) for Delbert Mann. He did Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) for David Miller then directed an episode of Temple Houston starring Hunter, before returning to second unit with The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) and Assault on a Queen (1966).

Later yearsEdit

Webb returned to directing with two films shot for Fox in South Africa, both remakes of old Fox films: The Jackals (1967) and The Cape Town Affair (1967).

Webb lived the last 21 years of his life on Balboa Island. He was survived by his wife, Barbara (d 1996) who was a top editor at Fox. He was also survived by his son, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. [2]

Selected filmographyEdit


  1. ^ Robert D. Webb; Oscar Winner as Assistant Film Director: [Home Edition] Los Angeles Times June 22, 1990: 26.
  2. ^ a b c R. Webb, Oscar-winning director Balboa Island resident won Academy Award in 1938: [EVENING Edition] Therese Lipsey:The Register. Orange County Register April 26, 1990: B09
  3. ^ 'Oscars' Appear Shy of Top Director King: Henry King Overlooked by 'Oscars' Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times October 15, 1950: D1.
  4. ^ HOLLY WOOD"S JACKS OF ALL TRADES By ED LAWRENCE HOLLYWOOD. New York Times November 17, 1940: 140.
  5. ^ THE SPIDER (20th Century--Fox). Director: Robert Webb Picture Show; London Vol. 50, Iss. 1285, (March 23, 1946): 10.
  6. ^ Interview with Henry King Badder, David. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 47, Iss. 1, (Winter 1977): 42.
  7. ^ Barbara McLean; Groundbreaking Film Editor: [Home Edition] Oliver, Myrna. Los Angeles Times April 2, 1996: 14.
  8. ^ Drama: Bogart, Huston Plan 'Beat Devil;' Cochran to Play Army Medico Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times October 31, 1951: B7.
  9. ^ DE MILLE TO FILM 'COMMANDMENTS': Picture of Life of Moses Will Use Title but Not Story of Screen Hit of 1923 By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times August 8, 1952: 9.
  10. ^ FOX TO RELEASE 'WHITE FEATHER': Last of 10 Movies Made by Panoramic Is a Western to Be Directed by Webb By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times.. June 5, 1954: 11.
  11. ^ Drama: Gandhi Film Enlivened; Kerr Likely for 'Cat'; MacMurray Deal A foot Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times July 23, 1956: 21
  12. ^ JET PILOT' TO GET TARDY LAUNCHING New York Times March 12, 1957: 39.
  13. ^ Two Notable Science Subjects Bought; Nazis Werewolf Film Slated Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 24 Apr 1957: A9.
  14. ^ ALAN LADD FILM NAMES DIRECTOR: Robert Webb Is Signed for 'Guns of Timberland' -- Columbia Adds Writers Special to The New York Times. New York Times March 24, 1959: 45.
  15. ^ "The 10th Academy Awards (1938) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  16. ^ ALAN LADD FILM NAMES DIRECTOR: Robert Webb Is Signed for 'Guns of Timberland' -- Columbia Adds Writers Special to The New York Times. New York Times March 24, 1959: 45.

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