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Chicago, Illinois
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Chicago, Illinois

Robert Z. Leonard was an American cinema director, actor, producer, and screenwriter who was best known for the films “Dancing Lady” and “The Great Ziegfeld,” the latter of which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. He was best renowned for his rich, costly musicals, but he made a rare step into the genre of cinema noir with ‘The Bribe,’ a sensual melodrama that bombed at the box office. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and got into movies nearly by accident. As a young man, he intended to be a lawyer and studied law at the University of Colorado. It didn’t take him long to understand, however, that being a lawyer was not his calling. He discovered that the rapidly expanding film industry offered many exciting options when his family moved to Hollywood, and he began a career as an actor. He established himself as an actor within a few years and began looking for new challenges. Before achieving substantial success as a director, he turned to directing and oversaw the production of a series of comedic shorts. He was one of Metro-Goldwyn-top Mayer’s filmmakers throughout the course of a three-decade career.

Childhood and Adolescence

Robert Zigler Leonard was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 7, 1889. He opted to study law as a young man and enrolled at the University of Colorado. He quickly understood that the legal profession was not for him, and he began looking into other options.

Career of Robert Z. Leonard

In 1907, his family relocated to Hollywood, where the budding film business was just getting started. He ventured into filmdom and began his acting career, excited by the opportunities afforded by the expanding business.
‘The Courtship of Miles Standish’ (1910), ‘The Sea Urchin’ (1913), and ‘Shon the Piper’ were among his early features (1913).

By this time, he had developed an interest in directing and made his directorial debut in 1913 with the drama ‘A Woman’s Folly.’ He also starred in a series of comedic shorts in 1914, including ‘The Boob’s Honeymoon,’ ‘The Sherlock Boob,’ and ‘The Boob’s Nemesis.’ ‘Secret Love’ (1916), ‘The Bride’s Awakening’ (1918), ‘Danger, Go Slow’ (1918), and ‘The Miracle of Love’ (1919) were among the films he directed in the late 1910s (1919).

In 1921, he co-founded Tiffany Productions, a film production company, with his then-wife Mae Murray and Maurice H. Hoffman, as a result of his growing reputation as a director. Following the dissolution of Leonard and Murray’s marriage in 1925, the firm released eight pictures before sliding south.

Leonard’s long-term work with Metro Pictures (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer [MGM]) began in 1921 with the production and direction of ‘Peacock Alley,’ which was released in 1922. He established himself as a popular director over the years, earning a reputation for his sumptuous musicals with lavish sets and fashionable costumes. The musical ‘Dancing Lady’ (1933), the lavish musical biographical ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ (1936), and the stylish ‘Pride and Prejudice’ were among his most successful MGM classics (1940).

He directed ‘Ziegfeld Girl,’ a musical starring James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, and Lana Turner, in 1941. The film is set in the 1920s and follows three young performers as they try to make it big in the Ziegfeld Follies, a famous Broadway musical. The film was a great box office success.

Following the popularity of ‘Ziegfeld Girl,’ his career reached a snag. He continued to direct, but none of his subsequent pictures, such as ‘Duchess of Idaho’ (1950), ‘Her Twelve Men’ (1954), ‘Beautiful But Dangerous’ (1955), and ‘Kelly and Me’ (1957), were able to match the charm of his earlier works.

Major Projects of Robert Z. Leonard

Robert Z. Leonard gained critical acclaim for directing the Norma Shearer starring ‘The Divorcee,’ which was based on Ursula Parrott’s novel ‘Ex-Wife.’ The film was a critical and economic success because it showed the female lead as a sexually independent woman.

He directed the musical ‘The Great Ziegfeld,’ which starred William Powell as the theatrical impresario Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. He is most known for his complex musicals. The film was hailed as the finest musical biography ever made in Hollywood, with lavish costumes, dances, and sets, and it is still considered a classic in musical filmmaking.

Achievements & Awards

For ‘The Divorcee’ and ‘The Great Ziegfeld,’ Robert Z. Leonard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6368 Hollywood Blvd. for his contributions to the motion film business.

Personal History and Legacy

Mae Murray, an actress, dancer, film producer, and playwright, was his first wife in 1918. Murray was notorious for her erratic behavior, and the couple divorced in 1925. In 1926, he married actress Gertrude Olmstead, with whom he remained until his death. At the age of 78, Robert Z. Leonard passed away on August 27, 1968.

Estimated Net Worth

Robert is one of the wealthiest directors and one of the most popular. Robert Z. Leonard’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.