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Walter Wanger
Born Walter Feuchtwanger
July 11, 1894(1894-07-11)
San Francisco, California
Died November 18, 1968 (aged 74)
New York City, New York
Spouse(s) Justine Johnstone (1919-1938)
Joan Bennett (1940-1965)

Walter Wanger (July 11, 1894 – November 18, 1968) was an American film producer. An intellectual and a socially conscious movie executive who produced provocative message movies and glittering romantic melodramas, Wanger's career began at Paramount Pictures in the 1920s and led him to work at virtually every major studio as either a contract producer or an independent. Wanger served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1939 to October 1941 and from December 1941 to 1945.

Wanger was born Walter Feuchtwanger in San Francisco, California, and pronounced "Wanger" to rhyme with "danger". He served with the United States Army during World War I. He attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

In 1929 he was a producer on The Cocoanuts, directed by Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, starring the Marx Brothers in their first talkie. His many productions include The Sheik (1921), Tarnished Lady (1931), Gabriel Over the White House (1933), Queen Christina (1933), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), History Is Made At Night (1937), Stagecoach (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Scarlet Street (1945), Joan of Arc (1948), The Reckless Moment (1949), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Want to Live! (1958), and Cleopatra (1963).

Wanger married silent film actress Justine Johnstone in 1919. They divorced in 1938 and in 1940 he married Joan Bennett with whom he remained married until their divorce in 1965. They had two daughters, Stephanie (born 1943) and Shelley Antonia (born 1948), and Wanger adopted Bennett's daughter, Diana, by her marriage to Gene Markey. In 1950, Bennett signed with MCA agent Jennings Lang. In 1951, Wanger shot Lang after believing him to be having an affair with Bennett. Wanger's attorney, Jerry Giesler, mounted a "temporary insanity" defense and Wanger served a four-month sentence at the Castaic Honor Farm two hours' drive north of Los Angeles. The experience profoundly affected him and in 1954 he made the prison film Riot in Cell Block 11.

Wanger was given an Honorary Academy Award in 1946 for his service as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He refused another honorary Oscar in 1949 for Joan of Arc, out of anger over the fact that the film, which he felt was one of his best, had not been nominated for Best Picture.

His 1958 production of I Want to Live! starred Susan Hayward in an anti-capital punishment film that is one of the most highly regarded films on the subject. Hayward won her only Oscar for her role in the film.

In May 1966, Wanger received the Commendation of the Order of Merit, Italy's third-highest honor, from Consul General Alvaro v. Bettrani, "for your friendship and cooperation with the Italian government in all phases of the motion picture industry."

Walter Wanger died of a heart attack, aged 74, in New York City. He was interred in the Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma, California.

Further reading

  • Matthew Bernstein Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, University Of Minnesota Press, 2000
  • Thomas Schatz The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era, Simon & Schuster, 1989

External links

Preceded by
Bob Hope
12th Academy Awards
Oscars host
13th Academy Awards
Succeeded by
Bob Hope
14th Academy Awards
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