James Curtis

Menzies is in the TCM Thursday Night Spotlight for January!

It's the first time Turner Classic Movies has ever saluted William Cameron Menzies with a comprehensive retrospective--29 films over four nights in January. It includes essential titles like "Gone With the Wind," "Things to Come," and "Our Town," and rarities such as "Ivy," "Address Unknown," and "Two Arabian Knights." The film that first put Menzies on the map, "The Thief of Bagdad," screens on January 7, while the last film he designed, "Around the World in 80 Days," concludes the series on January 28. And yours truly will serve as prime time co-host with Robert Osborne each Thursday night. For all the details--and Martin Scorsese's January column on Menzies--just click the links above.

On Sale Everywhere!

by James Curtis

As the Father of Production Design, William Cameron Menzies showed Hollywood how to pre-visualize a film compositionally, recasting actors as graphic elements and teasing out the dramatic values of tone and texture. He brought the illustrator’s eye to the camera and graphic validity to an art form that was all too often more theatrical than cinematic. Menzies burst upon the scene in 1923 with his startling designs for the original "Thief of Bagdad." Trained as an illustrator rather than an architect, he created a fantasy world that was integral to the action and not merely a backdrop. For his staging of "The Dove" (1927) and "Tempest" (1928) he won the first Academy Award ever given for Art Direction.

Over a career that spanned nearly forty years, Menzies designed, co-directed, produced, and occasionally directed such movies as "The Bat" (1926), "Bulldog Drummond" (1929), "Chandu the Magician" (1933), "Alice in Wonderland" (1933), "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), "Address Unknown" (1944), "It’s a Wonderful Life" (1947), and "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956). His Oscar-winning design of "Gone With the Wind" (1939) revolutionized the dramatic use of color on the screen, while his work on Alexander Korda’s "Thief of Bagdad" (1940) set a new standard in special effects. With director Sam Wood, Menzies composed a remarkable string of films that included "Our Town" (1940), "The Devil and Miss Jones" (1941), "Kings Row" (1941), "Pride of the Yankees" (1943), and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943). He also directed two influential classics of science fiction, "Things to Come" (1936) and "Invaders from Mars" (1953).

Drawing from Menzies’ personal papers, artwork retained by archival sources and his own family, and interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, "William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come" details the extraordinary influence of one of the cinema’s most unique and celebrated talents.

Pantheon Books
416 pages with 143 black-and-white and color images throughout
Also available as an eBook

“For anyone seriously interested in filmmaking, this is a book you’ve been waiting for, whether you know it or not. William Cameron Menzies, the man who more or less invented the idea of production design in movies, casts a very long shadow. The man behind 'Gone with the Wind,' 'Kings Row,' 'Our Town,' 'Things to Come,' 'Invaders from Mars,' 'Reign of Terror,' both versions of 'The Thief of Bagdad' and many, many other films was a genius, pure and simple, and his influence was incalculable. James Curtis’s informative and beautifully written book does a thorough job of bringing Menzies to life.”
-- Martin Scorsese

“James Curtis's magnificent biography of William Cameron Menzies, an authentic genius in an industry that boasted so many fake ones, is at once the history of the invention of the modern movie business, from the transition of silents to sound and on to the full-blown megapictures like 'Around the World in 80 Days' and to the TV business, and at the same time a brilliant, detailed and touching biography of a man who should be much better known than he is. He flickers in and out of the Korda family’s films, and I remember him well. He has found in James Curtis just the biographer he would have wanted, flinty, accurate and at the same time sympathetic. This is a book that goes far beyond the film buff, it is an important life wonderfully told."
-- Michael Korda, author of “Charmed Lives” and “Queenie”

"James Curtis has provided a great service to anyone interested in the American cinema: he has written a wonderful book about visionary production designer William Cameron Menzies, an unsung hero if there ever was one and yet an artist of almost unparalleled influence. The book is scrupulously researched, detailed, all-encompassing and its many delights include lavish, beautiful illustrations of Menzies' sketches as well as photographs of actual films. A whole new world about production design and American movies will open up for those who read this excellent book."
-- Andre Bishop, Producing Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theater

"Curtis admirably rises to the challenges of chronicling Menzies' career; crisp pacing and tight chronology keep the ever-shifting cast of producers, directors, and actors from becoming overwhelming, and he makes the impact of the designer's innovations accessible to the layperson through well-chosen visuals rather than technical explanations. Readers will come away with a new understanding of the work that goes into moviemaking before the camera begins to roll. VERDICT: An important and informative biography that, like its subject, breaks new ground in its field."
-- Library Journal (starred review)

"Curtis details just about every aspect of director and film production designer William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957). The author's writing style allows readers to actually feel the methods Menzies used as he fractured perspective and created specific moods with angles and shadows. Undoubtedly, Menzies was the first and greatest master of film staging, art direction, and what is now known as production design. From his first great triumph in 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) to 'Around the World in 80 Days' (1956), he spent nearly every waking hour designing settings and sketching out every camera angle for every shot... Curtis provides wonderful sections about his subject's groundbreaking work on 'Our Town' (1940) and an extended chapter devoted to 'Gone with the Wind' (1939)... Menzies was a significant part of the history of filmmaking, from silent films to sound pictures, the advents of color, 3D, and Cinerama... this is an illuminating, long-overdue book about the man who taught the world how to make a good film."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"With a level of detail Menzies would have appreciated, the book demonstrates the huge impact he had even on a great director like Anthony Mann... Menzies' final 10 years included the blockbuster 'Around the World in 80 Days,' but they also were marked by long job-free stretches, a heart attack, and cancer. He died in 1957 at age 60, and Curtis says, 'It's possible Bill Menzies went to his grave convinced he had been forgotten.' There is no danger of that for those who have read this splendid book."
-- Farran Smith Nehme, Film Comment

"Superb and illuminating."
-- Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice

"Here is behind-scenes insight we've not had before, and from perspective of a man to whom recognition is long overdue. Curtis shows how Menzies steered 'Gone With the Wind,' 'Kings Row,' so many others, to greatness. If, during his lifetime, he was too often overlooked, here at last Menzies gets full due. Whatever knowledge you have of Classic Era films, Curtis' book will redouble."
-- John McElwee, Greenbriar Picture Shows

"In a comprehensive volume richly illustrated with storyboards and full of entertaining oral histories, Curtis explores the largely unknown story of the artist who defined the aesthetics of Hollywood in more than 120 productions throughout four decades."
-- Booklist

"Relying on original artwork, personal correspondence, and extensive interviews with family members, Curtis assembles a strong case for Menzies' lasting impact on popular cinema through his innovative work on more than 120 films, most famously 'Gone With the Wind.' The author leaves no stone unturned while delving into Menzies' private and professional lives, emphasizing his collaborations with many of golden age Hollywood's greatest names... a vigorous and detailed portrait of a trailblazing talent."
-- Publishers Weekly

"With a retrospective of Menzies' work currently at New York's Film Forum, the visionary artist/​art director/​production designer/​filmmaker is getting his due, and Curtis' biography confirms his genius."
-- Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

"James Curtis was given access to thousands of the drawings and paintings that Menzies made in preparation for his more than 120 films. Some of these wonderful drawings, along with a selection of Menzies family photographs, adorn the pages of this handsome, meticulously researched and long-overdue biography."
-- Emily Leider, The Wall Street Journal

Selected Works

An actor's life like no other!
"A monumental, definitive biography of one of the finest film actors in the history of the medium." - Kirkus Reviews
Now available as eBooks!
"The definitive book about America's most profound comedian." - John Cleese
"One of the most entertaining and engrossing film biographies I've encountered." - Judith Crist
New edition!
"Essential for all who care about the cinema." - Kevin Brownlow
Now on DVD!
With commentaries by Gloria Stuart and James Curtis.