Today is the birthday of the great film director Gregory La Cava (1892-1952).
Formally trained as a visual artist, La Cava broke into film as an animator for Bray Productions, making his way to directing by 1916. He worked on adaptations of Hearst comic strips in long-running animated series, mostly the Katzenjammer Kids, but also Krazy Kat and the Happy Hooligan.
By the ’20 he was directing live action comedy shorts starring the likes of Raymond McKee, Charlie Murray, et al. By mid decade he was making features with such stars as Chic Sale, Richard Dix, and Chester Conklin. The best remembered of this period are his two with W.C. Fields: So’s Your Old Man (1926) and Running Wild (1927). The two remained friends for the remainder of Fields’ life.
By the talking era, La Cava was one of the most in-demand, highest paid directors in Hollywood, although only two of his films from this period remain well-known: the magical, perfect William Powell–Carole Lombard screwball classic My Man Godfrey (1936) and the all-star George S. Kaufman–Edna Ferber vehicle Stage Door (1937), with Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Constance Collier, Adolphe Menjou, Franklin Pangborn and Grady Sutton.
By the mid 40’s La Cava’s output had slowed considerably. His last screen credit was for Living in a Big Way (1947) with Gene Kelly.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube