Cecil B. DeMille was a larger-than-life filmmaker throughout the first half of the last century as well as God’s public relations director. Born in 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he went on to enter the world of theater as an actor, director and playwright. He helped to establish Paramount Pictures and co-directed his first film, The Squaw Man, the first of over 70 films, in 1914. Through the years, he burnished his reputation with lavish biblical epics such as The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.
DeMille created the first movie to have a budget of more than $1 million, paving the way for his future epics “with a cast of thousands.” Although he was adept at directing thousands of extras, he had a bit of a problem with individual actors, becoming a tad tyrannical on the set. When making 1927′s King of Kings, DeMille demanded that in order to preserve the film’s spiritual integrity, the actors all had to enter into contracts promising that they would not do anything “unbiblical” for five years — that included going to baseball games, frequenting nightclubs and driving sexy cars.
He saw no reason his actors shouldn’t risk their lives for the good of the film. Although Victor Mature was a superhero in Samson and Delilah, DeMille said he was “100% yellow” because he refused to wrestle a lion. Paulette Goddard lost future roles with the director by refusing to play with fire in Unconquered.
And he loved spectacle – the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.
Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille in a movie he didn’t direct, Sunset Boulevard, with the frequently repeated line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”