Jean Negulesco was born in 1900 in Craiova in southern Romania. In Paris, as a young man he was a friend of Constantin Brancusi and other members of the artsy crowd in Montparnasse and Montmartre. Though he was best known as a film director and screenwriter, his artistic career did not begin in cinema.
"Because once you've directed films in Hollywood all other claims to posterity become secondary, Romanian-born Jean Negulesco is best known for his work as a screenwriter, production designer & director, even though he first came to America in 1929 for an exhibition of his paintings. Before giving himself over to the business of show, he was first & foremost a painter & designer. His marker sketches bear a striking resemblance to those of Cocteau and, of course, Picasso from the same period, but like most artists who are trained as designers, he was able to astutely mimic almost any modernist style."
Though he began his career in Paris as a painter and scenic designer, taught by his fellow Romanian Brancusi and friendly with Modigliani, the Parisian market did not absorb his work. When he left for the United States to exhibit his work in New York, he was asked to prepare some drawings for the rape scene in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), based on William Faulkner's harrowing book, Sanctuary.
Negulesco found that he had to depict the scene in discreet visual terms so that it could be passed by the censor. The producer of the film, Benjamin Glazer, liked the result so much that he made Negulesco his assistant, enabling him to gain experience in almost all aspects of movie-making. His work as second-unit director at Paramount and then at Universal brought him to the attention of Gordon Illingworth, producer of short subjects at Warner Bros, who put him in charge of those with pretensions to art. The rest is history.
In 1927, he moved to the United States and began his movie career as a sketch artist for Paramount Pictures, where he designed the opening montage for the musical Tonight We Sing. In 1944, he directed his first successful movie, The Mask of Dimitrios, based on a story by Eric Ambler.
Among his successful movies were The Conspirators (1944), Three Strangers (1946), Johnny Belinda, with Jane Wyman (1948), The Mudlark (1950), How to marry a millionaire, starring Marilyn Monroe, Titanic (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Daddy Long Legs, with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron (1956).
Negulesco was famous for his directing style, represented by images taken from unusual angles and the use of shadows and silhouettes. He was the first to use the cinemascope technique in movies like How to marry a millionaire or Daddy Long Legs. He made the first movie about an aircraft accident and the first one about the tragedy of war prisoners during World War II.
In 1948, he directed Johnny Belinda, a drama about the rape of a deaf-mute girl and the scandal triggered by her resulting pregnancy. The movie was a success; Negulesco was nominated for an Academy Award for best director (he lost to John Huston), and Jane Wyman won the Oscar for best actor.
Negulesco worked with Hollywood’s biggest stars including Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Burton, Lana Turner, Irene Dunne, and Sophia Lauren.
His 1954 movie Three Coins in a Fountain won two Academy Awards for cinematography and for the title song and was nominated for an Oscar for best picture. In 1955, Negulesco received a BAFTA Award for Best Film for How to Marry a Millionaire. His 1959 movie, The Best of Everything, was on Entertainment Weekly’s “Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time” list. In 1970s, he retired from film making and moved to Spain.
In 1985, he published his autobiography entitled Things I Did and Things I Think I Did. Negulesco died in Marbella, Spain in 1993 at the age of 93 leaving behind 72 movies. He is remembered as a key contributor to the film noir genre.
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