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Howard Winchester Hawks (May 30, 1896 – December 26, 1977) was an influential American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era. He is popular for his films from a wide range of genres such as Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959).

In 1975, he was awarded the Honorary Academy Award as " a master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world cinema," and in 1942 he was nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Sergeant York.

Early life

Born in Goshenmarker, Indianamarker, Hawks was the first-born child of Frank W. Hawks and the former Helen Howard. After the birth of his brother, Kenneth Neil Hawks, on August 12, 1899, the family moved to Neenah, Wisconsinmarker. Shortly afterward they moved again, to Southern California.

Hawks attended high school in Glendora, and then moved to New Hampshire to attend Phillips Exeter Academymarker from 1912-1914. After graduation, Hawks moved on to Cornell Universitymarker in Ithaca, New Yorkmarker, where he majored in mechanical engineering. During the summers of 1916 and 1917, Hawks worked on some early movies, interning for the Famous Players-Lasky Studio. After graduation he joined the United States Army Air Service after World War I. After the service, he worked at a number of jobs: race-car driver, aviator, designer in an aircraft factory.

Film career

By 1924 he had returned to Hollywood and entered the movie industry. He chummed with barn stormers and pioneer aviators at Rogers Airport in Los Angeles, getting to know men like Moye Stephens. Hawks wrote his first screenplay, Tiger Love, in 1924 and he directed his first film, The Road to Glory, in 1925. Hawks reworked the scripts of most of films he directed without taking official credit for his work. Howard Hawks directed a total of eight silent films, including Fazil in 1928.

He made the transition to sound without difficulty. During the 1930s he freelanced and was not contracted to a studio. For Howard Hughes he directed Scarface (1932); for RKO, Bringing Up Baby (1938) and for Columbia, Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940).

His film, Sergeant York (1941), starring Gary Cooper, was the highest-grossing film of its year and won two Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Editing).

In 1944, Hawks filmed the first of two films starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, which was the first film pairing of the couple. He followed that with The Big Sleep (1946).

In 1948, he filmed Red River, with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. In 1951, he produced - and, reputedly, also directed (without credit) - The Thing from Another World. In 1953, he filmed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which featured Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

1959's Rio Bravo, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan, was remade twice by Hawks - in 1967 (El Dorado) and again in 1970 (Rio Lobo). Both starred John Wayne.

Personal life

Hawks was married three times, to Athole Shearer (a sister of movie actress Norma Shearer), Nancy Gross (later and better known as Slim Keith, she was the mother of his daughter, Kitty Hawks, a noted interior designer), and Dee Hartford (an actress whose real name was Donna Higgins). His brothers were director/writer Kenneth Neil Hawks and film producer William Bettingger Hawks.

Hawks was known to make anti-semitic comments, including in front of Jewish actress Lauren Bacall, who kept her Jewish identity a secret from Hawks and who did not call him on his hateful comments, which she now regrets.


Hawks was versatile as a director, filming comedies, dramas, gangster films, science fiction, film noir, and Westerns. Hawks' own functional definition of what constitutes a "good movie" is revealing of his no-nonsense style: "Three great scenes, no bad ones."Hawks also defined a good director as "someone who doesn't annoy you".

While Hawks was not sympathetic to feminism, he popularized the Hawksian woman archetype, which could be considered a prototype of the modern post-feminist movement.


His directorial style and the use of natural, conversational dialogue in his films were cited a major influence on many noted filmmakers, including Robert Altman, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino.

Although his work was not initially taken seriously by British critics of the Sight and Sound circle, he was venerated by French critics associated with Cahiers du Cinema, who intellectualised his work in a way Hawks himself was moderately amused by, and he was also admired by more independent British writers such as Robin Wood and, to a lesser extent, Raymond Durgnat.

Critic Leonard Maltin labeled Hawks "the greatest American director who is not a household name," noting that, while his work may not be as well known as Ford, Welles, or DeMille, he is no less a talented filmmaker.


He was nominated for Best Director in 1942 for Sergeant York, but he received his only Oscar in 1975 as an Honorary Award from the Academy.

Scarface (1932), was rated "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congressmarker.

Bringing up Baby (1938), listed number ninety-seven on American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies, His Girl Friday (1940), and listed #19 on American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Howard Hawks has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 1708 Vine Street.



  1. IMDB awards
  2. "And let's get the record straight. The movie was directed by Howard Hawks. Verifiably directed by Howard Hawks. He let his editor, Christian Nyby, take credit. But the kind of feeling between the male characters—the camaderie, the group of men that has to fight off the evil—it's all pure Hawksian."
  3. The New Republic

Further reading

  • Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, Todd MacCarthy (Grove Press, 1997)
  • Howard Hawks: American Artist, Jim Hillier, Peter Wollen (British Film Institute, 1997)
  • Hawks on Hawks, Joseph McBride (University of California Press, 1982)
  • Focus on Howard Hawks, Joseph McBride (ed), Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1972
  • Howard Hawks, Robin Wood, Secker & Warburg, 1968
  • Howard Hawks, Robin Wood, British Film Institute, 1981, revised with addition of chapter "Retrospect".
  • Howard Hawks, A Jungian Study, Clark Branson, Garland-Clarke Editions, 1987
  • Red River, Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, bfi Publishing, 2000
  • Rio Bravo, Robin Wood, bfi Publishing, 2003
  • Howard Hawks (New Edition), Robin Wood, (Wayne State University Press, 2006)

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