William Berke

William A. Berke (born October 3, 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – died February 15, 1958 in Los Angeles, California) was an American film director, producer, actor and screenwriter.[1] He wrote, directed, and/or produced some 200 films over a three-decade career.

William Berke
Betrayal from the East (1945) 1.jpg
Nancy Kelly and William Berke on the set of Betrayal from the East - publicity still, 1945
Born(1903-10-03)October 3, 1903
Milwaukee, United States
DiedFebruary 15, 1958(1958-02-15) (aged 54)
Los Angeles, United States
OccupationFilm director, film producer, actor, screenwriter
Years active1922–1958


Berke broke into motion pictures in 1922 as a writer for silent westerns. For these assignments he used the pseudonym "William Lester." In the early 1930s he formed a partnership with independent producer Bernard B. Ray to make feature films at Ray's Reliable Pictures studio, next door to the Columbia Pictures studio. Berke, now using his own name for screen credits, was equally capable making comedies, mysteries, action adventures, and westerns. In 1942 he joined Columbia, at first directing that studio's Charles Starrett and Russell Hayden westerns, and then branching out into more mainstream fare. In 1944 he moved to RKO Radio Pictures, handling equally diverse pictures including detective fiction (Dick Tracy, The Falcon), musical comedies, and Zane Grey westerns.

His RKO colleague Richard Fleischer later recalled that William Berke "was known as King of the B's. For years and years he had made nothing but pictures with ten- or twelve-day shooting schedules, minuscule budgets of about $100,000, and no stars. Without bothering with editing or any postproduction chores and with short shooting schedules, he was able to squeeze in eight or ten pictures a year. And he was going nuts."[2] According to Fleischer, Berke eventually pestered RKO executives enough to be assigned an A picture with a long shooting schedule and stars, and he still shot it in twelve days.[2]

William Berke also worked independently for the Pine-Thomas unit at Paramount, and then for producer Robert L. Lippert. Like many seasoned directors, Berke moved into television in the 1950s. He directed the 1954 comedy series Life with Elizabeth, starring Betty White.

Berke died in harness, suffering a heart attack on the set of his last project, The Lost Missile (1958); the film was completed by his son, Lester Wm. Berke.

Partial filmographyEdit


  1. ^ "William Berke". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2015. Archived from the original on September 29, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Fleischer, Richard (1993). Just Tell Me When to Cry: A Memoir. Carroll and Graf. p. 47. ISBN 9780881849448.

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