Humphrey Bogart, actor
Bogart’s career started with a one line role, as a Japanese Butler (!) in the play Drifting in 1921. By 1930, he was signed to Fox Film Corporation, but it was his first romantic lead, in Casablanca (1942), that in may ways defined him as an actor. With his star power he was able to turn down roles which, at that time, was almost never, ever done by an actor — the studios “owned” them. In 1947, he successfully negotiated a new contract where he was allowed some refusal rights on films and the opportunity to create his own production company.
During the McCarthy Scare and HUAAC activities, Bogart created a Hollywood delegation that went to D.C. to fight for their fellow actors and screenwriters who were being attacked in Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt. Bogart was never afraid to speak out – whether it was a against a creative system that stifled the creatives or a politician who looked for communists under his bed, Bogart followed his conscience.
Katharine Hepburn, actress
Kate made pants fashionable in an era when a woman caught wearing pants was a scandal. She quietly lived with long time love, Spencer Tracy, when the idea of living together with a partner could easily bring on social ostracization and career death. But it wasn’t just in her life that Katherine Hepburn was a maverick — she turned down the lead in Gone With The Wind because she felt that she wouldn’t do the role justice. Not many actors would walk away from a major part but to Hepburn, the right role was more important than just being a star.
Hepburn’s second film Christopher Strong (1933) was racy for its time. She played Lady Diana, an aviatrix who has an affair with a member of Parliament. She won an Academy Award the following year for Morning Glory (1933). Then came a string of box office flops. By 1938, she was voted “box office poison” by movie exhibitors. Hepburn managed to get playwright Phillip Barry to write Philadelphia Story just for her. It was a Broadway success, Hollywood wanted it, since Hepburn owned the rights, back she came to Hollywood, got a contract with MGM and her career was re-born. How’s that for negotiating your own success?
Orson Welles, director
Orson Welles perfected the idea of nonlinear narration that directors like Quentin Tarrantino, Guy Ritchie and many others use today. His innovative use of light and camera angles, long takes and deep focus is again copied by modern filmmakers.
His first movie, Citizen Kane (1941) is perhaps his best known work. At the time, it lost money for the studio, but was recently named one of the best films ever made. Welles always took risks — he never, ever played it safe, even when it meant having his funding cut by the studios. He once said, “A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.”
Billy Wilder, director
Billy Wilder escaped Nazi Europe to become one of Hollywood’s most lauded yet infuriating directors. His acerbic world view shaped many of his films and he was noted for offending almost everyone. This at a time when most directors wouldn’t look directly at, much less bite the hand that fed them.
He satirized the studio system in Sunset Boulevard (1950), organized religion in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), the press with Ace In The Hole (1951) and politics with A Foreign Affair (1948). Despite that, or possibly because of that, Wilder is only one of five people to take home an Oscar for producer, director and writer.
Wilder was at home making comedies like Some Like It Hot (1959) and dramas like Double Indemnity (1944). In fact, his method of shooting Double Indemnity cemented the style of the film noir genre for decades to come. Wilder only became a director to protect his scripts — by doing so he became an iconic figure of film.
And, like many mavericks, he made sure to have the last word…
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