Ask a Librarian
Home / Margaret Herrick Library / Special Collections
George Cukor (1899-1983) was born and raised in New York City and began his career in the theater as a stage manager in Chicago in 1919. He was a resident director of summer stock in Rochester, New York, and a director on Broadway in the 1920s. Cukor made the move to Hollywood in 1929 to direct talkies at Paramount. He was the dialogue director for "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) and codirector of three Paramount films released in 1930. His first solo director credit was for "Tarnished Lady" (1931).
He is best known for directing "Dinner at Eight" (1933), "Camille" (1936), "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), and "A Star Is Born" (1954), for his allegiance to the written word, and for the remarkable performances he was able to draw from his actors. Cukor directed such talent as Tallulah Bankhead, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Anna Magnani, Marilyn Monroe, Norma Shearer, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, and Spencer Tracy. His literary contacts included Zoë Akins, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Moss Hart, W. Somerset Maugham, Edith Sitwell, Hugh Walpole, and Tennessee Williams.
Throughout his career, collaboration was important to Cukor, and he tended to work with the same people. His association with David O. Selznick in the 1930s resulted in such films as "What Price Hollywood?" (1932), "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), "Rockabye" (1932), "Our Betters" (1933), "Dinner at Eight" (1933), "Little Women" (1933), and "David Copperfield" (1935), and ended abruptly when Selznick removed him as director of "Gone with the Wind" (1939).
Cukor worked with Philip Barry and Katharine Hepburn on "Holiday" (1938) and "The Philadelphia Story." His collaboration with Kanin and Gordon in the 1940s and 1950s produced such works as "A Double Life" (1947), "Adam's Rib" (1949), "Born Yesterday" (1950), "The Marrying Kind" (1952), "Pat and Mike" (1952), "The Actress" (1953), and "It Should Happen to You" (1954). Cukor enlisted as a private in the Army in the fall of 1942. During his military service he directed a Signal Corps training film titled "Resistance and Ohm's Law" (1943). His films of the 1940s include "Her Cardboard Lover" (1942), "Keeper of the Flame" (1943), "Gaslight" (1944), "Winged Victory" (1944), and "Edward, My Son" (1949).
Over a ten-year period Cukor directed four musicals, "A Star Is Born" (1954), "Les Girls" (1957), "Let's Make Love" (1960), and "My Fair Lady" (1964). In 1963 Cukor formed his own production company, G-D-C Productions (which did business as G-D-C Enterprises, Inc.). Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s the company never managed to bring a single project to fruition. Studio-backed films of this period include "Justine" (1969), "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), and his final feature, "The Blue Bird" (1976), a U.S.-U.S.S.R. coproduction that Cukor directed at the age of 75. He ended his career with the television movies "Love Among the Ruins" (1975) and "The Corn Is Green" (1979). Cukor served on the Academy Board of Governors from June 1970 to May 1976. He was nominated for an Academy Award for directing five times, receiving the Oscar for "My Fair Lady."
The George Cukor papers span the years 1905-1979 (bulk 1933-1976) and encompass 31 linear feet. The collection consists of production files (including produced, unproduced, television, radio, and stage), story files, correspondence files, subject files, personal files, oversize material, and scrapbooks.
The production files include script material, correspondence, and production records. The collection has strong coverage from "A Star Is Born" (1954) to "The Blue Bird" (1976), including extensive material for "My Fair Lady" (1964) and "Travels with My Aunt" (1972). Prior to "A Star Is Born" production material is scant, with only script material and limited correspondence for most films. There is no representation of Cukor's earliest films, "Grumpy" (1930), "The Virtuous Sin" (1930), and "Tarnished Lady" (1931), or of the postwar film "Desire Me" (1947). Of special interest is the correspondence file for "Gone with the Wind," which includes photocopies of memos regarding screen tests and test scenes.
The unrealized production files contain a large amount of script, correspondence, and research material. Most of the material is from Cukor's freelance years, with a few exceptions, such as the file on proposed Greta Garbo projects. Material is included from unproduced studio properties such as "Casanova's Homecoming" and "Fanfare for Elizabeth." There is also material from productions that Cukor worked on but that were later produced without him, such as "Goodbye Charlie" (1964), "Lady L" (1966), "My Cousin Rachel" (1952), and "The Razor's Edge" (1946). Particularly well represented are unrealized G-D-C productions from the 1960s, including "Bloomer Girl," "Nine Tiger Man," "Peter Pan," "Mystique" (a.k.a. "The Spiritualists"), and "Olimpia." Also represented are scripts by Gene Allen; a synopsis and correspondence regarding Somerset Maugham's "Cakes and Ale"; correspondence with Ava Gardner regarding "Her Cardboard Lover"; correspondence between Cukor and Edith Sitwell for "Fanfare for Elizabeth"; correspondence regarding "Laurette" for a screen version of Laurette Taylor's life; a treatment by Harry Horner for "Ludwig of Bavaria"; correspondence regarding "Nijinsky"; a story conference transcript and correspondence with Kanin and Gordon for "One More Time"; script material and correspondence with Kanin and Gordon for "Rockabye Baby"; material for "Sand" (on the life of George Sand) and "Sappho"; a carbon copy of a transcript of a story conference between Pandro S. Berman, Somerset Maugham, and Cukor for "Sea of Grass"; material regarding "Twilight Revelers" (a story about D. W. Griffith); an unidentified original typewritten scenario signed by George D. Cukor, circa late 1920s; and material regarding a Virginia Woolf biography, including a handwritten letter from Tom Stoppard.
The television files contain material on projects at the end of Cukor's career, including the made-for-television movies "Love Among the Ruins" and "The Corn Is Green," both featuring Katharine Hepburn. There is extensive documentation on the compilation of "The Movies" (1974), which Cukor executive produced. There are also files for a National Educational Television program on Cukor, including correspondence and a transcript of a filmed conversation between Cukor and Katharine Hepburn. The stage files contain information and correspondence for "The Chalk Garden" and "Gigi"—two stage plays that ultimately were not directed by Cukor.
The story files contain script material submitted to Cukor. Of interest are a screenplay titled "The Free Man" by Jean Anouilh, a 1934 treatment for "Joan of Arc" by Thornton Wilder, a play script and test scene for "Magnolia" by Booth Tarkington, and a first-draft screenplay titled "Naked, Sir, Is the Best Diguise" by Gene Allen.
The correspondence files cover the years 1931-1979 and consist almost entirely of photocopies. Most correspondence dealing with the various films has been moved to the appropriate production files, except in cases where more than one production was mentioned in a letter. The correspondence runs the gamut from thank-you letters, such as those from Margaret Mitchell, to insightful letters on working relationships, such as those from Kanin and Gordon. The list of correspondents is exhaustive and includes Zoë Akins, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Olivia de Havilland, Mia Farrow, Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, George Hoyningen-Huene, Sam Jaffe, Madge Kennedy, Irving Lazar, Vivien Leigh, Somerset Maugham, Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Cole Porter, Anthony Quinn, Rosalind Russell, David O. Selznick, Laurette Taylor, Salka Viertel, Hugh Walpole, Blanche Yurka, and Darryl Zanuck. There is also information on various projects and story properties for such agents as Bob Banner, Allen Davis, Kurt Frings, Irving Lazar, and the William Morris Agency. Unusually candid letters are present from Cukor to his personal friends Alan Searle, Alex Tiers, Whitney Warren, and Robert Wheaton. Correspondence with these friends is largely personal but contains information on the activities of mutual friends and includes updates on Cukor's film-related activities. In writing about his film experiences, Cukor seemed to be more frank with his personal friends than with his friends in the film industry. Cukor's letters to Elsa Schroeder (his household and financial manager) and Irene Burns (his personal secretary) offer insights into his non-film activities and document his actions and feelings while he was on his frequent research and film-related trips away from home. Of interest is a signed copy of "Zen and the Art of Writing" by Ray Bradbury.
The subject files contain Cukor material that includes American Film Institute seminar transcripts, awards, contracts, credits, festivals, and interviews. There is also a dissertation on John Barrymore, a paper on Francis X. Bushman, material documenting the Joan Crawford tribute at the Academy, an article by Cukor on Katharine Hepburn, and correspondence regarding Cukor's reminiscences of Somerset Maugham. Of special interest is a humorous drawing by Harry Horner, a notebook with Cukor's handwritten notes regarding Maugham's life, philosophy, and personality, and an annotated eight-page 20th Century-Fox press release with comments by Cukor regarding Marilyn Monroe and the reasons for her untimely death. There is also miscellaneous correspondence from 1944-1971 concerning story properties for Cukor's consideration.
The personal files contain information regarding Cukor's art collection, a limited amount of personal correspondence from 1967-1975, copies of daily diaries from his trips to New York and Europe, correspondence regarding his house, material regarding his military service, and correspondence documenting several unsuccessful attempts at collaborating on his autobiography. Of special interest is an original typed and annotated manuscript, circa 1905, on the Cukor [Chukor] family history by Cukor's grandfather, and George Cukor's own research into his family and his Jewish and Hungarian ancestry.
Eight scrapbooks cover the years 1924-1951. These scrapbooks cover Cukor's early theater and film career in more detail than anything else in the collection. The only oversize material is 24 sketches by Harry Horner for "Winged Victory" (1944).
The collection is filled with handwritten story notes by George Cukor for produced films, including "The Blue Bird" (1976), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), "Heller in Pink Tights" (1960), "Justine" (1969), "Les Girls" (1957), "My Fair Lady" (1964), "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), and "Wild Is the Wind" (1957), and for unrealized projects such as "Bloomer Girl," "Fanfare for Elizabeth," "The Female," "My Cousin Rachel," "Mystique," "Nine Tiger Man" (contains handwritten casting and research notes), "The Right Honorable Gentleman," and "Vicky." Most of the notes appear to have been hastily written and are on scraps of note paper. There is very little information on his early career in theater and film and almost nothing about his personal life, as the correspondence and diaries are concerned primarily with business.
Gift of George Cukor, 1979.