Obituary: Gordon Douglas

Gordon Douglas, film director: born New York 15 December 1907; married three times (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 29 September 1993.

AS a film director, Gordon Douglas was anything but a specialist. Name a genre and one of his movies is represented: gangster pictures, war pictures, comedies, biopics, musicals, westerns, swashbucklers, creepies, weepies - he made them all.

He started in movies when he was three; his next-door neighbour in New York was Maurice Costello, one of the first stage stars to appear in films. Impressed by little Gordon's personality, Costello used him in several of the movies he made at the local Vitagraph Studios. When he reached school age, his parents made him abandon acting, but after graduation he appeared in Glorifying the American Girl (1929), which Florenz Ziegfeld produced at the Astoria studio in New York.

Douglas came to Hollywood in the early 1930s, and was soon playing small parts at the Hal Roach studio in Laurel and Hardy shorts and features and the Boy Friends and Our Gang series. After working for Roach as casting director, prop man, gag man, screenwriter, assistant editor and assistant director, he finally became a director. One of his first assignments was the Our Gang comedy Bored of Education (1936), which won an Academy Award as the year's Best One-Reel Short Subject. 'I figured if at 27 I could get an Oscar,' Douglas said later, 'I had this town made.' Douglas directed 19 Our Gangs and four features for Roach, including Laurel and Hardy's Saps at Sea (1940) and The Devil with Hitler (1942), a bizarrely funny farce in which the Board of Directors of Hell tell Satan he's going to be replaced by the Fuhrer. The Devil sets out to trick Hitler into doing a good deed and thereby becoming ineligible for the job.

In 1942 Douglas moved to RKO, where he directed nearly a dozen 'B' pictures, including First Yank into Tokyo (1945), the daft story of an American soldier, his features changed by plastic surgery to appear Japanese, who is smuggled into Japan to effect the escape of an American scientist. Originally, the scientist was the inventor of a new gun, but after Hiroshima and Nagasaki Douglas shot new scenes, changing the gun to the atomic bomb. The first movie to deal, however trivially, with this subject, Yank was rushed into cinemas and cleaned up at the box office.

Douglas made more than two dozen films at Warner Bros, the worst of which were the 1955 Liberace vehicle Sincerely Yours (a remake of George Arliss's The Man Who Played God, 1932), and I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), the ads for which showed its star Frank Lovejoy under the caption: 'I had to sell out my own girl . . . so would you] . . . I learned every dirty trick in the book and had to use them - because I was a Communist - but - I Was a Communist for the FBI]' Unbelievably, this orgy of hysterical red-baiting and coarse acting received an Oscar nomination as the year's Best Documentary Feature.

Douglas's Warner Bros high points include Come Fill the Cup (1951), a drama about alcoholism with memorable performances by James Cagney, Gig Young and James Gleason, Them] (1955), a truly frightening sci-fi tale, and Young at Heart (1954), the Doris Day / Frank Sinatra remake of Four Daughters, the 1938 film that made John Garfield a star in the role of a suicidal musician. Although Sinatra now played that role, he refused to die. He also refused to sing one song less than Doris or go before the cameras until the cinematographer had been replaced. Douglas yielded to these ultimatums, and consequently, was used again on Sinatra's Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968) and Lady in Cement (1968).

Gordon Douglas also directed such stars as Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Alan Ladd and Gregory Peck. His last movies were They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970), a sequel to Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night (1967), Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973), a sequel to Jack Starrett's Slaughter (1972), and Viva Knievel] (1978). He never won a second Oscar, but his film career did span five busy decades.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine