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Robert Earl Wise (September 10, 1914 – September 14, 2005) was an Americanmarker sound effects editor, film editor, film producer and director. He won Academy Awards as Best Director for The Sound of Music (1965) and West Side Story (1961) as well as nominations as Best Film Editing for Citizen Kane (1941) and Best Picture for The Sand Pebbles (1966).

Among his other films are Born to Kill; The Hindenburg; Star Trek: The Motion Picture; The Day the Earth Stood Still; Run Silent, Run Deep; The Andromeda Strain; The Set-Up; The Haunting; and The Body Snatcher. Wise's working period spanned the 1930s to the 1990s.

Often contrasted with contemporary "auteur" directors such as Stanley Kubrick who tended to bring a distinctive directorial "look" to a particular genre, Wise is famously viewed to have allowed his (sometimes studio assigned) story dictate style. Later critics such as Martin Scorsese would go on to expand that characterization, insisting that despite Wise's notorious workaday concentration on stylistic perfection within the confines of genre and budget, his choice of subject matter and approach still functioned to identify Wise as an artist and not merely an artisan. Through whatever means, Wise's approach would bring him critical success as a director in many different traditional film genres: from horror to noir to Western to war films to science fiction, to musical and drama, with many repeat hits within each genre. Wise's tendency towards professionalism led to a degree of preparedness which, though nominally motivated by studio budget constraints, nevertheless advanced the moviemaking art, with many Academy Award-winning films the result. Robert Wise received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1998.

Early years

Wise was born in Winchester, Indianamarker, the son of Olive R. (née Longenecker) and Earl W. Wise, a meat packer. Wise attended Connersville High School in Connersvillemarker, Indiana, and its auditorium, the Robert E. Wise Center for Performing Arts, is named in his honor. Wise began his movie career at RKO as a sound and music editor, but he soon grew to being nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing for Citizen Kane in 1941: Wise was that film's last living crew member.

Though Wise worked only as editor on Citizen Kane, it is likely that while working on the film he would become familiar with the optical printer techniques employed by Linwood Dunn, inventor of the practical optical printer, to produce effects for Citizen Kane such as the image projected in the broken snowglobe which falls from Kane's hand as he dies. Though Wise was never known as a special-effects-driven director, echoes of this 1940s high-tech special effects technology were to emerge in several of his important later films, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Wise could also make a movie special in the use of technique borrowed from one genre but applied to another genre: in his hands, a science fiction movie might acquire mood from a "haunted house" film, and vice versa. Wise sought never to waste the time (or salary) of the talented people who produced his features: the result was an impressively prolific series of films which showcase the talents of director, cast, and crew.

In March 1987, Wise accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor, on behalf of his absent friend, Paul Newman, who won for his performance in The Color of Money.

Wise becomes a director

First called as assistant director to shoot additional scenes for Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, Wise took his first directing job with the stylish horror film The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, teaming with Hollywood horror producer/director Val Lewton. Lewton promoted Wise to his superiors at RKO, beginning a collaboration which would produce several notable horror films, among them The Body Snatcher starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, a film which in its acting direction deliberately evoked the groundbreaking horror films of the 1930s, while presenting a psychological horror film more in tune with the uncertainty of the 1940s.

In 1947, Wise directed the Lawrence Tierney noir classic Born to Kill and two years later directed the boxing movie The Set-Up, where his direction of the real-time setting got him noticed. Wise's use and mention of time in this film would find echos in later noir films such as Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

In the 1950s, Wise proved adept in several genres, from the science fiction of The Day the Earth Stood Still to the melodramatic So Big, to the 1954 boardroom drama Executive Suite, to the epic Helen of Troy based on Homer, to Susan Hayward's Oscar winner in I Want to Live!, for which he was nominated for Best Director.

In 1961, teamed with Jerome Robbins, he won the Academy Award for Best Director for West Side Story, which he also produced. In 1963 he directed the horror film The Haunting, with Julie Harris. He won the Academy Award for Best Director in 1965 with The Sound of Music.

The Sound of Music was an interim film for Wise, produced to mollify the studio while he developed the difficult film The Sand Pebbles, starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and Candice Bergen. Set in the late 1920s in Chinamarker, this was Wise's entry in a spate of Vietnam war era films (Catch-22, M*A*S*H), which, though set in other periods of wartime, nevertheless sounded with its depictions of gunboat diplomacy what would come to be recognized as timeless themes. Wise would later speak of The Sand Pebbles as the film he most wanted to direct, though he had earlier explored such anti-war themes in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

In the 1970s, he directed such films as The Andromeda Strain, The Hindenburg, the horror film Audrey Rose, and the first Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In 1989, he directed Rooftops, his last theatrical feature film.

Later years

Even in his twilight years, Wise continued to be active in productions of DVD versions of his films, even making public appearances promoting those films. His last contributions were to the DVD commentaries of "The Haunting," and "The Set-Up," but he oversaw the DVD commentaries of "The Sand Pebbles," "Executive Suite," (which featured Oliver Stone hailing it as an inspiration for his "Wall Street ), and "The Set-Up" (which featured Martin Scorsese and Wise talking about the film that was Wise's own personal favorite and was the direct inspiration for Scorsese's "Raging Bull"). He also oversaw and provided DVD commentary for the director's edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which included re-edited scenes, new optical effects, and a new sound mix.

Wise's last few years were marked by controversy. His second wife, Millicent (his first wife, Pat, had died of cancer in the mid-70s) was a zealous gatekeeper and he became cut off from his family and many former friends. He was ensnared in a PR fiasco when he lent his name to Scorsese's Gangs of New York Oscar campaign and suffered chastisement at the DGA Awards in 2001 when he praised screenwriters' contributions in a speech that took place during a credit struggle between the DGA and the WGA. After suffering a heart attack at home, Wise was rushed to UCLA Medical Centermarker, where he died from heart failure. He died on September 14, 2005, four days after his 91st birthday.

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