Robert Edward Stevenson (31 March 1905 – 30 April 1986) was an English film screenwriter, director and actor.
Robert Edward Stevenson
31 March 1905
|Died||30 April 1986 (aged 81)|
|Occupation||Director, screenwriter and actor|
Cecilie L Leslie
(m. 1929; div. 1934)
(m. 1934; div. 1944)
Frances Holyoke Howard
(m. 1944; div. 19??)
|Children||3, including Venetia|
After directing a number of British films, including King Solomon's Mines (1937), he was contracted by David O. Selznick and moved to Hollywood, but was loaned to other studios, directing Jane Eyre (1943). He directed 19 films for The Walt Disney Company in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Stevenson is best remembered for directing the Julie Andrews musical Mary Poppins (1964), for which Andrews won the Academy Award for Best Actress and Stevenson was nominated for Best Director. His other Disney films include the first two Herbie films, The Love Bug (1968) and Herbie Rides Again (1974), as well as Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Three of his films featured English actor David Tomlinson.
Having attended Shrewsbury School, Stevenson won a scholarship to study at St John's College, Cambridge. There he won the John Bernard Seely Prize for Aeronautics, and in 1927 graduated with a first-class MA (Cantab) degree in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos (engineering). He was also president of the university's Liberal Club, editor of the student Granta magazine, and while conducting postgraduate research in psychology he was elected president of the prestigious Cambridge Union Society. On leaving Cambridge, his parents gave him six weeks to find a job, and he gained employment as the assistant of Michael Balcon.
Stevenson started to write scripts, providing the story of Balaclava (1928). He also worked on the scripts for Greek Street (1930), The Ringer (1931), Night in Montmartre (1931), The Calendar (1931), Michael and Mary (1931) with Edna Best and Herbert Marshall and Sunshine Susie (1931) with Jack Hulbert, Lord Babs (1932), The Faithful Heart (1932) with Best and Marshall, and Love on Wheels (1932) with Hulbert.
Stevenson's debut feature film as director was a Jack Hulbert–Cicely Courtneidge musical, Happy Ever After (1932), a co-production shot in Germany and produced by Eric Pommer. He also wrote the British-German co productions F.P.1 (1933) and Early to Bed (1933).
Stevenson went on to write and direct Falling for You (1933) with Hulbert and Courtneidge, and did some uncredited direction on The Camels Are Coming (1934) with Hulbert. On that film he met Anna Lee, who became his wife in 1935. He was a producer on Little Friend (1934).
Stevenson received acclaim for Tudor Rose (1936), a film of the Lady Jane Grey story which Stevenson wrote and directed. He directed The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) with Boris Karloff and Anna Lee, then another with Hulbert, Jack of All Trades (1936).
Stevenson went to Gainbsorough to do Owd Bob (1938) with Will Fyffe, The Ware Case (1938) with Clive Brook, Young Man's Fancy (1939) with Lee, and Return to Yesterday (1940) with Brook and Lee. He worked on the script for most of the latter films.
Stevenson received an offer to go to Hollywood to work for David O. Selznick along with Alfred Hitchcock. Selznick only made films intermittently, but he regularly signed talent to long-term contracts and loan them out to other studios. He loaned Stevenson to RKO he directed Tom Brown's School Days (1940). He went to Universal to direct a new version of Back Street (1941) with Charles Boyer then went back to RKO for Joan of Paris (1942) with Michèle Morgan, a big hit.
He returned to RKO, now under the control of Howard Hughes, to make The Woman on Pier 13 (originally, I Married a Communist, 1949). He followed it with Walk Softly, Stranger (1950) with Joseph Cotten, My Forbidden Past (1951) with Robert Mitchum and Ava Gardner, and The Las Vegas Story (1952) with Jane Russell and Victor Mature. He also did some uncredited directing on Macao (1952).
Stevenson went into directing television and directed 6 episodes of the first season of Gunsmoke during which it first went to the top of the TV ratings. He directed over 100 TV episodes in five years including: The Ford Television Theatre, Your Jeweler's Showcase, Footlights Theater, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre, Cavalcade of America, Schlitz Playhouse, The Star and the Story, Star Stage, The 20th Century-Fox Hour, The Joseph Cotten Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Christophers.
Stevenson worked for the Disney Company in 1956 for six weeks and ending up making 19 films in 20 years. His early credits were Johnny Tremain (1957), a story set in the American Revolution, and Old Yeller (1957), a boy and his dog tale. In 2019, Old Yeller was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Stevenson did episodes of Disney's Zorro, then directed a film about Ireland, Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), and an adaptation of Kidnapped (1960). He had a commercial success with the comedy The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and the adventure film In Search of the Castaways (1962). Son of Flubber (1963) was a popular sequel to The Absent-Minded Professor, and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), a teen comedy, was an unexpected hit, leading to a sequel, The Monkey's Uncle (1965).
Also among Stevenson's Disney films was the Hayley Mills comedy That Darn Cat! (1965). Stevenson and Disney focused on comedies: The Gnome-Mobile (1967) with Walter Brennan, Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) with Peter Ustinov and Dean Jones, and The Love Bug (1968) with Jones, which was another hit.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) was an attempt to repeat the success of Mary Poppins. Stevenson directed Herbie Rides Again (1974) with Ken Berry and Helen Hayes, and the adventure story The Island at the Top of the World (1974). One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975), with Hayes and Ustinov, was a comedy. Stevenson's last feature was The Shaggy D.A. (1976) with Dean Jones.
In July 1977, Variety reported that his track record at Disney made him "the most commercially successful director in the history of films." At the end of 1976, he had 16 films on Variety's list of all-time domestic rental films, more than any other director at the time, with the second most successful having only 12. The Shaggy D.A. was to become his 17th, all being Disney films. The total US and Canadian rentals for these 17 pictures was $188,000,000, which Variety said translated into roughly $250 million in world rentals or an estimated world box office gross of $750 million.
Stevenson divorced his first wife Cecilie and married English actress Anna Lee in 1934. They lived on London's Bankside for five years, moving to Hollywood in 1939, where he remained for many years. They had two daughters, Venetia and Caroline, before divorcing in March 1944.
He married Frances Holyoke Howard on 8 October 1944; they later divorced. They had one son, Hugh Howard Stevenson. In 1963 he married Ursula Henderson, and they remained married until Stevenson's death in 1986. Robert Stevenson's widow, Ursula Henderson, appeared as herself in the documentary Locked in the Tower: The Men behind Jane Eyre in 2007.
|Night in Montmartre||Screenwriter|
|Michael and Mary||Screenwriter|
|The Faithful Heart||Screenwriter|
|Love on Wheels||Screenwriter|
|Happy Ever After||Directorial debut for Stevenson.|
The only German film he directed.
|1933||Falling For You||His directorial debut in the United Kingdom|
|Early to Bed||Screenwriter only|
|The Only Girl||Screenwriter only|
|1934||The Camels Are Coming||Producer, Uncredited co-director|
|Little Friend||Producer only|
|The Battle||Screenwriter only|
|The Man Who Changed His Mind|
|Jack of All Trades|
|Windbag the Sailor||Screenwriter only|
|1937||King Solomon's Mines|
|Non-Stop New York|
|Paradise for Two||Screenwriter only|
|The Ware Case|
|1939||Young Man's Fancy|
|1940||Return to Yesterday||Stevenson's last United Kingdom film.|
|Tom Brown's School Days||Stevenson's USA directorial debut.|
|1941||Back Street||Remake of the 1932 Universal Pictures film.|
Stevenson's only film for Universal Pictures.
|1942||Joan of Paris||Nominated for the Academy Award for original music score.|
Stevenson's first film for RKO Radio Pictures
|1943||Forever and a Day||RKO film with a record breaking|
22 directors, writers, and producers.
|Jane Eyre||The only feature film he directed for 20th Century Fox|
|1944||Know Your Ally: Britain||Documentary Short (uncredited).|
Produced for the United States War Department
and the United States Signal Corps.
|1947||Dishonored Lady||Stevenson's only film for United Artists.|
|1948||To the Ends of the Earth||Stevenson's only film for Columbia Pictures.|
|1949||The Woman on Pier 13||Stevenson's first film for RKO since 1943.|
Also known as I Married a Communist
|1950||Walk Softly, Stranger||Filming completed in 1948,|
but not released until 1950.
|1951||My Forbidden Past|
|1952||The Las Vegas Story|
|Macao||(uncredited), Stevenson's final film for RKO.|
|The Ford Television Theatre||TV series (3 episodes: 1952–1953).|
Stevenson's Television Directorial debut,
sponsored by Ford.
|1953||Cavalcade of America||TV series (8 episodes: 1953–1955)|
|General Electric Theater||TV series (2 episodes: 1953–1956).|
Sponsored by General Electric.
|1955||Atomic Energy as a Force for Good||(short)|
|The Star and the Story||TV series (3 episodes: 1955–1956)|
|The 20th Century Fox Hour||TV series (2 episodes: 1955–1956)|
|Alfred Hitchcock Presents||TV series (7 episodes: 1955–1959)|
|Gunsmoke||TV series (6 episodes)|
|1957||The Christophers||TV series (1 episode: "Sentence Deferred")|
|Johnny Tremain||Stevenson's first film as director|
since 1952 and his first with Disney
(continued until 1976).
Based on the 1944 novel by Esther Forbes
|Old Yeller||One of Stevenson's most successful films;|
sequel: Savage Sam (1963).
Based on the book by Fred Gipson.
|Disneyland||TV series (26 episodes: 1957–1982)|
|Zorro||TV series (3 episodes); his final TV series he directed.|
|1959||Darby O'Gill and the Little People|
|1960||Kidnapped||Screenwriter and director|
|1961||The Absent-Minded Professor||Nominated – DGA Award –|
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.
Was remade as a 1988 television series and a 1997 remake, Flubber.
|1962||In Search of the Castaways|
|1963||Son of Flubber||Sequel of The Absent-Minded Professor.|
|1964||The Misadventures of Merlin Jones||Followed by the 1965 sequel, The Monkey's Uncle|
|Mary Poppins||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Director|
Blue Ribbon Award – Best Foreign Film
Nominated – DGA Award – Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
|1965||The Monkey's Uncle||Sequel to 1964's The Misadventures of Merlin Jones|
|That Darn Cat!||Led to a 1997 remake, That Darn Cat|
|1968||Blackbeard's Ghost||Was released in Japan in 1976 and Australia in 1980.|
|The Love Bug||One of two Herbie franchise films directed by Stevenson.|
|1971||Bedknobs and Broomsticks||Sant Jordi Award for Best Children's Film|
|1974||Herbie Rides Again||Sequel to The Love Bug.|
|The Island at the Top of the World|
|1975||One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing|
|1976||The Shaggy D.A.||Sequel to 1959's The Shaggy Dog.|
Was Stevenson's final film for Disney, and his final original film.
|1985||The Walt Disney Comedy and Magic Revue||(video short) (archive footage)|
- Ryall, Tom, "Stevenson, Robert Edward (1905–1986)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, online edition, May 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2018. (subscription required)
- John Wakeman, World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890–1945. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, (1987), pp1057-1063.
- "STEVENSON, Robert". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2018 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
- "English Star Marries Producer". The News. XXIV (3, 610). Adelaide. 14 February 1935. p. 12. Retrieved 4 December 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "ARE THEY WISE?". The Telegraph (SECOND ed.). Brisbane. 14 August 1937. p. 22. Retrieved 4 December 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Studio Notes". The West Australian. 55 (16, 624). 13 October 1939. p. 2. Retrieved 4 December 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". Daily Variety. 25 October 1977. p. 31.
- Chow, Andrew R. (11 December 2019). "See the 25 New Additions to the National Film Registry, From Purple Rain to Clerks". Time. New York, NY. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
- "All-Time Top Film Rentals". Archived from the original on 7 October 1999.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) Variety. 1998. Accessed October 7, 1999
- "Stevenson preps his 20th Disney film in 21 years" Daily Variety. 14 July 1977 p.1
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