An Inventory of His Collection in the Film Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
King Wallis Vidor was born February 8, 1894, in Galveston, Texas, to Charles Shelton and Katie Lee (Wallis) Vidor. The son of a prosperous lumber merchant, Vidor saw his first movie, A Trip to the Moon, at age fifteen, and later worked a summer job as a ticket taker and relief projectionist at Galveston’s first movie theatre.
After leaving high school, Vidor made newsreel footage and short films around Galveston and Houston. While in Houston he made several films with fellow Texan Edward Sedgwick, who later gained prominence as a comedy director. In 1915, Vidor married aspiring actress Florence Arto and the two soon moved to California.
Arriving in Hollywood, Vidor found minor jobs at movie studios, eventually working as a freelance scenarist and short film director for Universal. In 1919, Vidor directed his first feature film, The Turn in the Road, backed by the small independent Brentwood Film Corporation. He made several more films for Brentwood before directing his first major studio production for Metro Pictures, Peg o' My Heart (1922). The movie's success brought Vidor steady work at Metro, which soon became known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
Over the next thirty-five years, Vidor directed more than forty movies for MGM, Paramount Pictures, Selznick Pictures, and Warner Brothers. Notable among his films are The Big Parade (1925), which became the highest grossing silent movie ever released, and Hallelujah (1929), Vidor's first sound film and the first major Hollywood production featuring an all-black cast. He directed (uncredited) the Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and was nominated for Best Director Academy Awards for The Crowd (1928), Hallelujah (1929), The Champ (1931), The Citadel (1938), and War and Peace (1956). He received an honorary Academy Award in 1979 for his "incomparable achievements as a cinematic creator and innovator." He also served as president of the Screen Directors Guild from 1936 to 1938.
After retiring from directing in 1959, Vidor taught at film schools at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. He died in Paso Robles, California, on November 1, 1982.
The King Vidor collection consists of photographs, scripts, props, publicity materials, production reports, studio memos, and other production materials primarily from the 1941 film H. M. Pulham, Esquire. Vidor donated the Pulham materials to The University of Texas Drama Department in conjunction with his guest lecture on movie making at the university on December 3, 1941. The materials were intended to form the nucleus of a program for the study of the production and direction of motion pictures, organized by Drama Department Chairman James Parke, Interstate Theatres President Karl Hoblitzelle, and Paramount Pictures Executive Vice President Y. Frank Freeman. Also in the collection are a typescript of Vidor's 1936 film The Texas Rangers and an accompanying photo of Vidor, and four additional photographs of Vidor dating from around 1924. The materials are arranged by volume, with H. M. Pulham, Esquire constituting almost the entire collection. The two Texas Rangers items and the four circa 1924 photographs are housed at the end of the collection.
The H. M. Pulham, Esquire materials are arranged roughly in order of their creation or use in the film-making process. Besides directing the film, Vidor also acted as producer and adapted the screenplay with his third wife, Elizabeth Hill, from the novel of the same name by John P. Marquand. Marquand, a Pulitzer Prize winner, helped Vidor and Hill work on the screenplay and is pictured with Vidor in one of the movie's research photos.
Included in the materials are the book review that inspired Vidor to make the film, Vidor's working copy of the book with numerous handwritten notations, and a transcription of a letter from Marquand to Vidor about the screenplay. Also present are several drafts of the screenplay, including retakes, the script clerk's copy, and the prop man's copy.
Photographs constitute the bulk of the materials and include costume, makeup, set, production, and film stills. The film's stars, Hedy Lamarr, Robert Young, Ruth Hussey, Charles Coburn, Van Heflin, Fay Holden, and Bonita Granville, are depicted in many of the photos. Publicity photos of actors and actresses considered for casting but not selected are also present.
Scenes and settings are documented with twenty production design sketches, and with architectural drawings and models for six of the movie's sets. Costume sketches include twenty-two original women's gowns by Robert Kalloch and thirty-three men's wardrobe sketches by Gile Steele, a six-time nominee and two-time winner of Academy Awards for costume design.
The tools of film making are represented by various props, a production board with shooting schedules, a scene slate, and a small brass periscope. Various daily reports and breakdowns for production, footage, and wardrobe track the financial and business aspects of the film.
Comment cards from members of a preview audience accompany editing notes from the preview. The original musical score by Branislaw Kaper is documented with one folder of sheet music, memos, editing notes, and photographs of the orchestral recording.
Several items located with publicity materials may actually have been used for Vidor’s lectures at The University of Texas. Other publicity materials include box office analyses, advertising plans, clippings, and promotional images.
All of the H. M. Pulham, Esquire materials date from 1941, except for a 1932 photograph from the MGM location department. A prop photograph depicting the lead character's World War I army unit is a photo of an actual army unit, identified in writing on the image as "137th Engineers USA 1918," but the date of the print is unknown.
The Texas Rangers script and accompanying photograph, signed by Vidor to the University of Texas, were presented to the university on the occasion of Vidor's August 28, 1936, visit to Dallas, Texas, for the world premiere of The Texas Rangers at the Majestic Theatre. Inspired by Walter Prescott Webb's book, Vidor wrote the screenplay, again in collaboration with his wife Elizabeth Hill, and premiered the movie in cooperation with the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration.
Four matted photographs of Vidor dating from around 1924 include handwritten captions indicating their use in magazine or newspaper stories. Their provenance is undetermined.
Open for research
Gifts, 1936, 1941
Luke Borders, Stephen Mielke, 2005