Classic Film Club



The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


The Thin Man

  • Oscar iconDirecting
The Thin Man
  • The Thin Man
  • 1934

San Francisco

  • Oscar iconDirecting
San Francisco
  • San Francisco
  • 1936


W.S. Van Dyke




W.S. Van Dyke was born Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke in San Diego, California, in 1889.   His father, a lawyer, died when he was an infant and his mother began acting in repertory theatre.   Both mother and son performed in vaudeville.

Van Dyke worked odd jobs including gold mining, forestry and railroad work until he was hired as a writer by director D.W. Griffith in 1914, at the age of 25.   Griffith was immersed in making the epic The Birth of a Nation (1915) and, with an “all hands on deck” attitude, seconded him as an assistant director.

He still authored 15 stories which were produced between 1915 and 1928, but by 1917 he was directing more films than anything else while working for Essanay Film Manufacturing.

Between 1918 and 1925 Van Dyke worked a director for hire before joining Fox Film to direct Buck Jones westerns.

In 1926, he decamped to MGM to direct Tim McCoy westerns and remained there for the rest of his career.

Van Dyke became known for his quick filming pace, ease with ad libbing by actors and ability to finish projects within budget.

He received two Directing Academy Award nominations for The Thin Man (1934) and San Francisco (1936).

Van Dyke directed 90 feature films through 1942.

He married Zina Ashford in 1909 and the couple divorced in 1935.   A month after his divorce became final, he married Ruth Mannix and the couple raised three children.

An ardent Christian Scientist, he refused medical treatment when diagnosed with cancer.   Rather than face the pain of the progressing disease, Van Dyke committed suicide in 1943 at the age of 53.



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