Cecil B. DeMille
Most Popular

Ashfield, Massachusetts
Birth Sign

Cecil Blount DeMille was an illustrious American director. He is regarded as one of Hollywood’s founding fathers. His signature films were Biblical and historical plays, which were known for their larger-than-life portrayals, large-scale productions, and cinematic flair. He is one of the most commercially successful director-producers in cinema history because practically all of his pictures were box office gold. Westerns, historical spectacles, social dramas, ethical plays, farcical plays, and comedy stories are among the genres he worked in. He began his performing career on stage and progressed to writing and directing theater productions. ‘The Squaw Man,’ his directorial debut, was the first feature picture shot in Hollywood. He made his debut in Biblical epics with ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1923). The film was not only a commercial and critical success, but it also set a record for Paramount Pictures in terms of revenue for 25 years. He directed the biography ‘The King of Kings,’ which became one of the most commercially successful pictures of the silent era. His other significant films include ‘Cleopatra,’ a blockbuster; ‘Samson and Delilah,’ a blockbuster; ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ a circus drama that won a ‘Oscar’ for best picture; and ‘The Ten Commandments,’ which is currently the 7th biggest grossing film of all time. He won the ‘Academy Honorary Award’ in 1950, among other honors and recognition, for his important contribution to cinema.

Childhood and Adolescence

Henry Churchill DeMille and Mathilda Beatrice Samuel DeMille had him on August 12, 1881, in Ashfield, Massachusetts. His family was involved in the performing arts. His father was a playwright and an Episcopal Church lay reader. He grew up in the town of Washington, North Carolina.

At night, his father would read classics and the Bible to the kids. He subsequently recalled visiting Christ Episcopal Church in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where the family ran a private school, and it was there that he envisioned the tale of the silent film “The Ten Commandments” (1923).

His mother created the ‘Henry C. De Mille School for Girls’, an acting school, in their house after his father died of typhoid on February 10, 1893. Beatrice later worked as a female play broker on Broadway. DeMille enrolled in ‘Pennsylvania Military College’ (now ‘Widener University’) at the age of fifteen and graduated in 1898.

Following that, he and his brother, William Churchill DeMille, got a scholarship and enrolled in New York’s ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts.’ He was later awarded an Alumni Achievement Award by the Academy.

Career of Cecil B. DeMille

In 1900, as a teenager, he made his Broadway debut with Charles Frohman’s theatrical company in the play “Hearts Are Trumps.” ‘The Prince Chap’ and ‘Lord Chumley’ were two other theatre works in which he appeared.

Despite a vast list of appearances, he never seemed to find success, and he was better recognized in the theater as the brother of William, who was gradually creating a name for himself as a playwright. William would periodically contact DeMille for collaboration, and the two would engage with David Belasco, a theatrical director-producer, promoter, and playwright who was a friend of their father. ‘Reckless Age,’ DeMille’s 1913 theatrical play, was a hit, but it was a difficult period for him, and he battled to support his family, which included his wife and a young daughter.

In July 1913, he created the ‘Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company’ with Sam Goldfish (or Samuel Goldwyn), Jesse Lasky, and a few East Coast industrialists. His first film, ‘The Squaw Man,’ a silent western drama he co-directed with Oscar Apfel, was released in the United States on February 12, 1914. Instead of using the usual locations, he chose Hollywood and filmed the film with a run time of 74 minutes, defying the 20-minute rule. The film’s stunning interracial love tale not only made it a huge smash, launching the Lasky Company, but also “placed Hollywood on the map” in the entertainment industry.

‘The Warrens of Virginia’ (1915), ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1923), ‘The King of Kings’ (1927), and ‘The Godless Girl’ were among his other notable silent pictures (1929). With back-to-back successful silent films, he gained immense popularity, leading him to venture into other fields such as launching the first commercial airline in the United States, the ‘Mercury Aviation Company’; working as an executive at ‘Bank of America,’ assisting filmmakers in loan approvals; underwriting political campaigns; and working as a real estate speculator.

His move from silent films to talkies was relatively smooth, with him not only inventing the microphone boom and the blimp (a sound-proof cover placed over a camera while shooting), but also popularizing the camera crane.
His sound films, which he created until the 1950s, remained productive, popular, and commercially successful. He worked with a number of well-known actors, such as Fredric March, Robert Preston, and Gary Cooper, as well as a number of lesser-known actors, such as Charlton Heston, Rod La Rocque, and Gloria Swanson, and turned them into stars.

He was known for his large-scale, expensive films that used tens of thousands of extras and visually stunning set pieces. ‘Union Pacific,’ a dramatic western picture from 1939, ‘Samson and Delilah,’ from 1949, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ from 1952, and ‘The Ten Commandments,’ from 1956, which is a partial remake of his silent film of the same name from 1923.

DeMille appeared in a number of films, including ‘Variety Girl’ (1947), ‘Son of Paleface’ (1952), and ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956), to name a few. With jodhpurs, riding crops, and a megaphone, he was one of the most well-known directors of his day. Throughout his life, he was a committed Republican activist. In the early 1950s, he was appointed to the board of the anti-communist National Committee for a Free Europe by Frank Wisner and Allen Dulles.

In 1954, at the request of Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott, DeMille designed cadet uniforms for the newly established ‘United States Air Force Academy.’ The drawings were used to create uniforms, which are being worn by cadets today. In 1959, DeMille’s autobiography, titled ‘The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille,’ was published. He was a Freemason who remained a member of New York City’s Prince of Orange Lodge #16.

Personal History and Legacy

On August 16, 1902, he married Constance Adams, his co-star from the film “Hearts Are Trumps.” They had four children: Cecilia, their biological daughter (born October 5, 1908), Katherine, their adopted daughter, and Richard and John, their adopted sons. Katherine went on to become an actress and eventually married Anthony Quinn, who is also an actor. Richard went on to become a well-known filmmaker and author. He also worked as a psychologist.

On January 21, 1959, in California, DeMille died of heart failure. On January 23, his burial was held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and he was laid to rest in the ‘Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.’

Estimated Net Worth

Cecil B. DeMille was an American cinema director and producer with a net worth of $50 million after inflation at the time of his death. Cecil made 70 feature films over the course of five decades, from the silent era in the mid 1910s to the sound era in the late 1950s.