Written by Sandy Sturges
Born Edmund Preston Biden on August 29, 1898 in Chicago, Illinois.
His mother, nee Mary Estelle Dempsey, was born in Quebec, Canada,
of Irish immigrant parents. His father, Edmund C. Biden, was born
in St. Louis, Missouri, of a family with longer established roots
in the American soil. By October 1901, Mary had rid herself of
Mr. Biden and married Solomon Sturges of a socially prominent
Chicago family. Mr. Sturges adopted Mary's three-year-old who
was thereafter known as Preston Sturges.
From the age of two years to about eight years, he criss-crossed
the Atlantic several times, living in his father's home in Chicago
for shorter and shorter periods. In Europe he was dragged through
museums, subjected to concerts, and often found himself parked in
one locale or another while his mother, now known as Mary Desti,
joined her best friend, Isadora Duncan, wherever fortune led them.
His first school was Dr. Coulter's Harvard School in Chicago where,
dressed in a Greek tunic to signify his mother's Duncan-inspired
devotion to the arts, he was greeted with derision by the other
boys. Not much later, Mary left Solomon to his brokerage business,
his newspapers and his cigars and enrolled Preston at his first
boarding school, the Lycee Janson in Paris. During the next few
years, he boarded at the Ecole des Roches in Normandy, at La Villa
in Lausanne, Switzerland, and had a song published in Latvia. During
these same years, his mother rejoiced in liaisons with, among others,
a notable French actor, a notorious practitioner of the black arts,
married a Turk, and opened an elegant salon on the rue de la Paix
in Paris called the Maison Desti.
For his summer vacation of 1914, Preston, then fifteen, was sent
to manage the newly opened seaside branch of the Maison Desti in
Deauville, France, that season's Mecca for the beau monde. Toward
the end of July, in response to the assassination of an obscure
grand duke, Austria declared war on Serbia, initiating hasty declarations
of war all over the place. The World War was underway. His mother
shipped Preston off to America, the native land he had not set foot
on in more than eight years. He got a few months of schooling, did
some short-lived backstage work for Isadora Duncan's New York presentation
of Oedipus Rex, and was told to handle things at the New York branch
of the Maison Desti as his mother impulsively sailed off with Isadora
and the Isadorables in early 1915. Under the management of this
sixteen-year-old, the business did not prosper.
April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and at the
end of that month Preston volunteered as a flyer in the Aviation
Section of the Signal Corps. There were some obstacles to overcome,
but finally in March 1918 he was ordered to report for duty at
Camp Dick, Dallas, Texas. Later, at Park Field, Millington, Tennessee,
for flying instruction, he agreed to do a weekly comic strip for
the camp paper. He titled it "Toot and his Loot," and
never forgot the "horrible days of anxiety" engendered
by having to come up with a zinger every week. Suddenly on the
eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice was declared
and the war was over. His squadron was sent to Carlstrom Field,
Arcadia, Florida, to finish its training. There he earned his
wings as a pursuit pilot, was commissioned Second Lieutenant of
the Aviation Section of the Signal Officers Reserve Corps of the
Army of the United States and discharged on May 1, 1919. By then,
he was twenty.
Returned to civilian life, he went back to the only business he
knew anything about: the Maison Desti. As usual, the business failed
to prosper. On January 17, 1920, federal law criminalized the manufacture,
sale, import and export of alcohol for beverage purposes. The Volstead
Act also prohibited its consumption and overnight the Prohibition
Game was on. About a month later, women got the vote. Preston invented
kiss-proof lipstick, fell in love with a young married woman, sailed
to Paris to meet his mother's latest husband and spent some months
there falling in love, or something like it, a couple of times.
Back in America, he married the young woman he'd left behind. At
the exact moment that the Maison Desti stood on the brink of actual
prosperity, he was forced to surrender the business to his newly
re-patriated mother, withdrew with his bride to a country estate
and spent his days inventing. One morning his beloved announced
that she loved him no longer.
he tried his hand at song writing, writing several a day along
the lines of Even the Skies are Crying (now that you've gone away).
Tin Pan Alley wasn't buying. Had not a successful actress taunted
him by announcing that she was dating him solely as fodder for
the play she was writing, that to her he was nothing more than
was a guinea pig to a scientist, his first produced play, The
Guinea Pig, might never have been written. It opened on Broadway
on January 7, 1929, got encouraging reviews and ran for 57 performances.
With nothing in his past to suggest such a future, he was now
a playwright. On September 19, 1929, his second play, Strictly
Dishonorable, opened to rave reviews. The stock market crashed
in October, but the play continued to pack them in. At thirty-one,
he was what he had always tried to be - a success.
It didn't last. Four months later, on January 29, l930, his third
play, Recapture, hit the boards on Broadway and skidded off
with its tail between its legs after 24 performances: the critics
could scarcely find words enough to convey their distaste and disappointment.
In April he eloped with a daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post
Hutton, built a yacht, and invested thousands of his own money to
stage his fourth play, The Well of Romance. It opened on
November 30, 1930 and closed eight days later. His fifth play, Child
of Manhattan, debuted on March 2, 1932 to scalding reviews,
the best of them suggesting that he really belonged in some other
line of business. He and the Hutton girl parted company forever
a month later. Broke and disheartened, he signed on as a hired writer
at Universal Studios and arrived in Hollywood on September 9, 1932.
because of his hit comedy, Strictly Dishonorable, he was
put to work on a screenplay of the strictly non-comedic story,
The Invisible Man. The proposed director didn't like the
results and Universal dropped his option. Off salary, he wrote
an original screenplay, The Power and The Glory, sold it
to Jesse Lasky at Fox for cash up front and a percentage of the
gross, and, still off salary, wrote another original screenplay
eventually titled The Great McGinty, which nobody wanted
to produce. Allowed on the set while they shot The Power and
The Glory, he noted the deference accorded the director, especially
as compared to the minimal respect accorded the hired help, the
writers. He decided to change his profession to "director."
No studio was interested in his services in that capacity, which
didn't prevent his bringing it up all the time. Irving Thalberg
invited him to join his team at Metro to work on the screenplay
for The Green Hat. Four weeks later he was out of a job.
He did a short stint at Columbia, another at Universal, a longer
one at Paramount working on Thirty Day Princess, then back
to Universal for a month's job on Imitation of Life. Sam
Goldwyn signed him to write We Live Again. Universal re-hired
him for The Good Fairy and Diamond Jim. Paramount
booked him to write Hotel Haywire, Easy Living,
and Never Say Die.
All this studio hopping resulted in ever increasing remuneration
for each new assignment, which was a good thing since he had ever
increasing expenditures. He started an engineering company in
Wilmington, sailed his expensively refurbished boat to Honolulu
in the Transpacific Yacht Race, opened a restaurant at 8789 Sunset
Boulevard as a watering hole for songwriters, among whom he counted
himself, bought his first (and last) home in Hollywood and another
property at 8225 Sunset Boulevard. At Paramount he wrote If
I Were King, worked on Broadway Melody of 1939 and
accepted an assignment to write the screenplay for a story called
Two Bad Hats. In September 1938, his contract with Paramount
ran out, in November he married Louise Sargent Tevis which came
as a shock to the girl he had brought to Hollywood with him. Under
a new contract with Paramount wrote Remember the Night,
sold his 1932 The Great McGinty script to the studio for
a dollar (the Legal Department upped it to ten dollars) and, relentless
perseverance finally paying off, was named its director. Shooting
began in December l939. He was forty-one and one happy guy.
Handed the directorial reins at Paramount, he took off at top speed.
In 1940 alone he wrapped The Great McGinty, wrote and directed
Christmas in July, opened his new restaurant, The Players,
at 8225 Sunset, and wrote and directed The Lady Eve. In 1941
he won an Oscar for The Great McGinty in the Best Original
Screenplay slot, wrote and directed Sullivans Travels
during which his first son, Solomon Sturges IV, was born, wrote
The Palm Beach Story and began its direction in November.
December 7, l941, Japanese air raiders sank the Pacific Fleet
at Pearl Harbor. Congress declared war on the Empire of Japan
and, while they were at it, threw in Germany and Italy. For the
second time in twenty-three years, America was at war. At Paramount,
Preston was made a producer and wrote produced and directed The
Great Moment. The big city critics hailed those pictures of
his in release (Christmas in July, The Lady Eve and Sullivans
Travels) with surprise and delight. He was sought out for
articles, interviews and photo ops, celebrated in the pages of
Life and The Saturday Evening Post, and itemed by
Louella, Hedda and the trade papers.
He wrote, produced and directed The Miracle of Morgans
Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero and then left Paramount.
Both films were nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Academy
In 1945 he and Howard Hughes formed California Pictures Corporation,
Preston to make pictures, Howard to make airplanes and supply
the money for both ventures. Preston wrote, produced and directed
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, (released as Mad Wednesday)
and wrote, produced and eventually undertook the direction of
Vendetta. Howard Hughes pulled the plug on the company,
bought RKO, and Vendetta wound up in other hands. Preston
wound up with Darryl Zanuck at Fox, wrote, produced and directed
Unfaithfully Yours and The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful
Bend and then was out of a job. He was also out of a wife:
Louise had moved out in l946, filed for divorce and, when it was
final, left for Europe with their son.
For the first time in years, he was producing no income and his
agent was not sorting through lucrative offers as he had been when
Preston left Paramount. He built a theatre at The Players to make
of the restaurant a profit producing entity instead of the needy
dependent it had been since its opening, picked up a little cash
writing the book for the Broadway musical, Make a Wish, based
on his screenplay, The Good Fairy, and some more cash when
the State of California exercised its power of eminent domain to
acquire for the Hollywood Freeway the land on which his home stood.
August 1951, he married Anne Margaret Nagle (Sandy).
In 1952, he wrote the screenplay of the musical Look, Ma, Im
Dancin (unproduced) for Paramount. In 1953, he lost
The Players, the engineering company and his boat trying to satisfy
a blanket lien imposed on his assets by the IRS, produced his
second son, Preston, and was hired to doctor and direct the play,
Carnival in Flanders, three weeks before its New York opening.
For an independent producer in New York, he wrote and was to direct
a screenplay of George Bernard Shaws The Millionairess
starring Katharine Hepburn. That got him, his wife, little Preston,
and Katharine to London where it turned out the producer couldnt
come up with the American share of the investment. In Paris, for
Gaumont, he wrote and directed Pierre Daninos Les Carnets
du Major Thompson (released in America as The French They
Are a Funny Race), produced his third son, Thomas Preston
(Tom-Tom), and played a cameo part in Bob Hopes
movie, Paris Holiday.
Toward the end of the summer of 1957, Sandy and the boys flew
to California to retrieve Matrix, a story Preston had written
a few years earlier, which a producer who seemed to have plenty
of money wanted to produce as soon as the script was in his hands.
The script arrived in Paris four days after Sandys plane
landed, but by that time there was no more sign of the rich producer
than there were feathers on a fish. More false starts and dashed
hopes punctuated the following months. At the end of December
1958, he was brought to New York to stage The Golden Fleecing.
Rehearsals began January 6, 1959. Ten days later, one of the producing
partners emerged from a self-imposed retreat in a nut house to
announce that he was taking over the direction of the play and
Preston was out of a job. He wasnt tempted to jump into
the East River though because a week earlier he had accepted an
offer from Henry Holt publishers to write his autobiography. The
work began in February 1959 at his quarters in The Algonquin Hotel
and it ended there, suddenly, the autobiography half finished,
on August 6, 1959.
His little boys turned out well. Preston is a successful writer
and lyricist, married to Gina Hall, and the father of a son, the
new little Preston (known as Mac) and a daughter, Kelly Anne.
Tom is the Executive Vice President, Creative Affairs for the
Universal Music Publishing Group, married to songwriter and record
producer Antonina Armato, and the father of two sons, Thomas and
Sam Carey. Tom's untiring dedication to his father's legacy has
spawned, among other things, retrospectives, play productions
and the publication by the University of California Press of three
volumes of his father's screenplays, including all of those he
wrote and directed, and a volume of those he wrote before he became
on Preston Sturges
Below is a complete list of books by, on, or about Preston Sturges.
To clarify, this is not a bibliography to identify the totality
of references to him in every book on film ever written, just those
in which his work or his life is central. However, if we have missed
any books or major writings, please let us know. To purchase, check
the LINKS section.
1. "Preston Sturges: An American Dreamer." by James Ursini. New
York: Curtis Books, 1973
2. "Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges." by James Curtis.
New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1982
3. "Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges." edited by Brian Henderson.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985
4. "Intrepid Laughter: Preston Sturges and the Movies." by Andrew
Dickos. Metuchen, N.J. and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1985
5. "Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges." by
James Harvey. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987
6. "Madcap: The Life of Preston Sturges." by Donald Spoto. Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1990
7. "Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges." adapted and edited by Sandy
Sturges. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990
8. "Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges." adapted and edited by Sandy
Sturges. London: Faber and Faber, 1990
9. "Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges." by
Diane Jacobs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992
10. "Four More Screenplays by Preston Sturges." edited by Brian
Henderson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995
11. "Preston Sturges's Vision of America: Critical Analyses
of Fourteen Films" by Jay Rozgonyi. McFarland & Company,
12. "Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the
finest writing from a century of film." New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, Inc., 1997
13. "Three More Screenplays by Preston Sturges." edited by Andrew
Horton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998
14. "Coleccion Lo Esencial De Preston Sturges" by Angel
Comas. Madrid: T&B Editores, 2003
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