Robert Wise Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Wise Touch; Conversation with filmmaker Robert Wise, by Harry Kreisler, 2/28/98

Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 2 of 10

Hollywood

So how did you get from Indiana to Hollywood?

I became a Depression dropout from college. I managed to get one year at a small college near Indianapolis, Franklin College, on a scholarship. But I had no money to go back a second year. This was the height of the Depression in 1933; Dad's business was on the rocks and all. I had an older brother who had come out to Los Angeles in 1928 and started working at RKO Studios, first in the labor gang, and then finally into accounting. And he came home that summer (his first trip home after five years), and since it was apparent I wasn't going to go back to get any more college, my family said, "You'd better go back to Los Angeles with your brother and get a job and earn your living." And that's how I got into films.

What was the first job you wound up having?

After we were out in LA, my brother got me an appointment with the head of the property department. And fortunately, as it turns out, he couldn't use anybody right then and the next week he got me an appointment with the head of the film editing department, who decided he could use another strong-backed eager kid who cared to work in the film shipping room to carry prints of films up to the projection room for executives, and check prints and patch leader and all those menial things. But that was my break -- getting into that department. And I was spotted out by the sound effects editor. He asked me to be put up with him so I learned sound effects editing and music editing. I did that for a couple of years when I looked around and saw guys who had been doing that for eight or ten years. And I didn't want to stop there, so I asked my boss to put me over on the picture side so I could become an assistant film editor, which he did. He put me in with a marvelous old-time master film editor, Billy Hamilton, who taught me my trade. I went on and became a film editor, and edited Citizen Kane for Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons too.

It sounds like you had a lot of mentors. Which directors influenced you the most?

Oh, I don't know that I had any particular "influence," but when I came into the business my idols were people like John Ford and Willy Wyler and Howard Hawkes, later on Joseph Mankiewicz and others like that. But I don't know that I picked up, necessarily, anything. Of course Orson was a big influence.

Next page: Working for Orson Welles

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