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Vincent Sherman Dead at 99: Directed Bette Davis, Joan Crawford

Bette Davis Mr. Skeffington Vincent ShermanVincent Sherman dead at 99: Director guided Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino (image: Bette Davis in 'Mr. Skeffington')

Vincent ShermanVincent Sherman, the director of glossy Warner Bros. star vehicles of the '40s and early '50s for the likes of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, and Ann Sheridan, died of “natural causes” Sunday night, June 18, 2006, at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills. Sherman (born Abraham Orovitz in Vienna, Georgia) would have turned 100 on July 16. (Photo right: Vincent Sherman.)

Vincent Sherman movies

Vincent Sherman began his directing career at Warner Bros. in the late '30s. His first movie was the B murder mystery thriller The Return of Dr. X (1939), featuring a pre-stardom Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, and Wayne Morris. Sherman would direct Bogart again in the 1941 crime comedy All Through the Night, but his career really took off once he started handling Warner Bros.' glossy “women's pictures”: romantic and/or family melodramas centered on the studio's top female stars.

The first of the batch was The Hard Way (1943), with New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress winner Ida Lupino playing the role of “stage sister” to the deceptively demure Joan Leslie, who delivers what may well be the best performance of her career. That was followed by, among others, Old Acquaintance (1943), pitting real-life archenemies Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as literary rivals; the classy Mr. Skeffington (1944), with Bette Davis as the personification of vanity and Claude Rains as her devoted husband; The Unfaithful (1947), a poorly received remake of The Letter, with Ann Sheridan in the old Bette Davis / Jeanne Eagels role; and The Damned Don't Cry (1950) with a determined (and ever glamorous) Joan Crawford getting herself entangled with gangsters.

Old Acquaintance, I should add, would be both unofficially and officially remade. Unofficially as Herbert Ross' Best Picture Academy Award nominee The Turning Point (1977), with Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft, and officially as George Cukor's Rich and Famous (1981), with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen.

Also worth noting, Sherman directed a tired-looking Errol Flynn in the sumptuous but lifeless The Adventures of Don Juan (1948). According to the director, Flynn was frequently inebriated during filming. Sherman had better luck with the British-made, Warner Bros.-distributed The Hasty Heart (1949), with Richard Todd outstanding as a doomed Scottish soldier, opposite Patricia Neal and Ronald Reagan.

In the 1950s, Vincent Sherman's film career was severely curtailed by the Red Scare. Even so, he kept busy early on, directing Joan Crawford in Harriet Craig (1950) at Columbia and Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) at Warners; Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in Lone Star (1952) at MGM; and Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford in the Gilda-ish Affair in Trinidad (1952) at Columbia.

Sherman would briefly return to directing features later in the decade, but his career was never to recover its former momentum. His best known movies during that period are the melodramas The Young Philadelphians (1959), with Paul Newman and Barbara Rush, and A Fever in the Blood (1961), with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Angie Dickinson.

Four performers directed by Vincent Sherman were nominated for Academy Awards: Bette Davis and Claude Rains (supporting) for Mr. Skeffington; Richard Todd for The Hasty Heart; and Robert Vaughn (supporting) for The Young Philadelphians.

Vincent Sherman television work

From the mid-'60s on, Vincent Sherman became almost exclusively a television director. His TV credits include several episodes of the series The Long, Hot Summer; The Waltons; Baretta; and Medical Center, in addition to the TV movies The Last Hurrah (1977), with Carroll O'Connor in the old Spencer Tracy role (in John Ford's 1958 movie); Lady of the House (1978), sharing directing credit with Ralph Nelson in this drama starring Dyan Cannon as a brothel madam-turned mayor; and Women at West Point (1979), with Linda Purl as one of the women in question.

Additionally, Sherman directed Bogie, a 1980 TV movie about the life of Humphrey Bogart. Kevin O'Connor played Bogart to Kathryn Harrold's Lauren Bacall and Ann Wedgeworth's Mayo Methot (Bogart's first wife).

Vincent Sherman's last credit as a director was a 1983 episode from the TV series Trapper John, M.D., “Mother Load.”

Vincent Sherman autobiography: Affairs with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth

Vincent Sherman, who from 1931 to 1984 was married to a woman named Hedda Comorau, boasted of having had affairs with leading ladies Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Rita Hayworth. Sherman's romantic / sexual claims are found in his 1996 autobiography, Studio Affairs: My Life as a Film Director.

Bette Davis Mr. Skeffington photo: Warner Bros.


         
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