Robert Wise and Julie Andrews
While the '50s found Wise incredibly prolific, starting one film as soon as he finished another, the '60s would Directing West Side Storyfind him concentrating mostly on fewer but bigger films. He had already proven his skill as a filmmaker, his ability to work with actors, his versatility—and his bankability.

In 1960 he was chosen by Mirisch-United Artists to direct his first full musical, the screen adaptation of the Bernstein/Sondheim-scored WEST SIDE STORY. The film proved how professionally and creatively Wise was equipped to handle the new medium, even making some new strides. And the result was a major artistic and box-office achievement—considered one of the most beloved musicals of all time—and earned ten Academy Awards, including Best Director.


"...The major problem is to find ways to make the musical and theatrical parts of the the stage show compatible with the screen, to keep them from being embarassing."*

Mitchum, Wise, MacLaine
Robert Mitchum, Wise and Shirley MacLaine

Another New York love story, the smaller, absorbing 
drama TWO FOR THE SEESAW (1962), starring Robert Mitchum 
and Shirley MacLaine, followed the blockbuster musical 
WEST SIDE STORY. After SEESAW, Wise challenged himself 
by getting the opportunity to put his stamp on the 
thriller film again (something he hadn't done since 
his B-movie Lewton days) with his next film, THE HAUNTING 

A big blockbuster war drama was what Wise set out to direct and produce next. THE SAND PEBBLES was based on Richard McKenna's novel about an American gunboat in China during the 1926 revolution. When financing
Although THE HAUNTING is set in New England, the entire film was shot in England at the MGM Studios, outside of London. The mansion used in the film is now a resort.
fell through, Wise agreed to direct a 20th Century Fox project, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), and used his time-earned clout to make sure that the studio would also fund THE SAND PEBBLES (1966).

The Importance of Being Friends With Ernest

Wise loved working with the brilliant screenwriter Ernest Lehman. The feeling was mutual.
Wise films penned:


Sound of MusicThe beloved musical became one of the greatest hits of his career and earned six Academy awards, including two for Wise—Best Director and Best Picture. It proved once again that Wise was a director who could surround himself with the creative talent to move his skillful direction apace.

Cost: $8.5 million
Made$100 million in the first two years.

THE SAND PEBBLES, starring Steve McQueen, reflected the pacifist views of Wise, particularly regarding the Vietnam War, but the anti-war statement is implied. The realistic sets, locations in Asia, and hundreds of extras provided Wise with the biggest challenge of his career—not many directors could have handled the task with the same aplomb. That year the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture.

Robert Wise on the SAND PEBBLES...
"It's the most difficult picture I ever made"


Wise received the 1966 Irving Thalberg award for his high achievement as a producer.
On Producing: " the producer you have to stay on [for the post-production], you have to see the film finished up all the way. You get involved in the very important aspects of the release, the distribution, the selling, the promotion of your film. And so you then have continuity from the very beginning to the very end, right into the theaters and afterwards."—AFI Seminar, 10/80

Wise capped off his decade of big pictures with one 
of the last big musicals to be made by Hollywood: STAR! 
(1969), starring Julie Andrews.


1. AFI Seminar, May 1975

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