Festival will honor "West Side Story" director

September 24, 2001

Jennifer K Mahal

Robert Wise's study holds four Oscars, the Irving Thalberg award and

honors from the Directors Guild of America. On Friday, another laurel

will be heaped upon the famed film director's head -- the second-ever

Newport Beach Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

Wise said he doesn't have any particular connection to Newport Beach,

but is "very pleased" to be honored by the festival, which is held in the



The award will be presented in conjunction with the 50th anniversary

screening of what Wise calls his "third best-known film," "The Day the

Earth Stood Still." Proceeds from the event will be donated to the

American Red Cross National Disaster Relief Fund.

"I think film is a universal language," Wise said. "Films abroad show

people from foreign countries how much more alike we are than unalike.

It's a means of bringing us closer together."

Now 87, Wise has directed more than 30 films -- including "West Side

Story," "The Sound of Music," "The Sand Pebbles" and the 1963 horror

classic "The Haunting."

"Everyone's heard of at least one of the films that Robert Wise has

directed," said Gregg Schwenk, executive director of the film festival.

"This gives people the chance to be able to meet the person who crafted

these legendary films."

Born in Indiana, Wise began his film career in 1938 when he followed

his older brother out to Los Angeles to get a job -- he didn't care what


His brother, who worked in the accounting department of RKO Studios,

set up a number of appointments for him with the heads of various studio

departments. The property department couldn't use him, Wise said, but the

head of film editing needed someone with a strong back who could carry

the film reels back and forth.

After six months, the head sound effects editor, T.K. Wood, asked if

Wise could work with him. He learned how to edit sound, but soon realized

he wanted more. So Wise asked if he could be placed in the picture

department and became an assistant film editor working under William


"He was a marvelous editor," Wise recalls. "He brought me along very

very fast."

Hamilton allowed Wise to do first cuts of several films and shared

screen credit with him. Both their names appear on the 1939 version of

the "Hunchback of Notre Dame," starring Charles Laughton. On his own,

Wise edited several Fred Astaire-Ginger Roger films and "Citizen Kane."

However, Wise wanted to direct. He was editing "Curse of the Cat

People" when he got his chance. The film, directed by first-timer Gunther

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