An Academy Award winner who entered directorial ranks after an apprenticeship as a film editor (editing the picture many regard as the greatest of all time, "Citizen Kane"), Robert Wise has gone on to direct 40 motion pictures, several of which have become the most beloved classics in movie history.
"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" is Wise's 38th film as a director in a distinguished career which includes an unusually broad range of films — everything from science fiction and musicals to horror and docudrama. Examples of this versatility can be seen in a sampling of his credits, which include the boxing film "The Set-Up," the prison drama "I Want to Live," the horror film "The Haunting" and the science fiction cult favorite "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
His pictures have garnered 67 Academy Award nominations and 19 Oscars. Wise himself has been nominated seven times and has won four Oscars. He became a double Oscar winner twice — both as Best Director and as producer of the year's Best Picture — for "West Side Story" (co-directed by Jerome Robbins) and "The Sound of Music," in 1962 and 1966 respectively. He also received the Directors Guild's Best Director Award for both films. Other prestigious honors include the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1967 and the D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild in 1988.
His other outstanding hits have included "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), "The Andromeda Strain" (1971), "The Hindenburg" (1975), "Run Silent Run Deep" (1958), "The Body Snatcher" (1945), "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956) and "Executive Suite" (1954).
Wise was born September 10, 1914, in Winchester, Indiana, the son of a meatpacker. As a youngster, he became a movie fan, sitting in the dime matinees Saturday after Saturday. From this early interest stemmed his desire to become a part of the magic he saw on the screen, and later, the creative urge that launched his directorial career.
Another interest during his schooling was in journalism, but the Depression's effect on his father's business prevented him from continuing his studies at Franklin College in Indiana, and took him to Hollywood. There he was able to get a job as a messenger in the RKO Studio film editing department, with help from his older brother, David, then an accountant with the studio. Wise soon was fascinated by the way movies were cut and patched together, and before long, he was being given opportunities to try his hand at the art. After nine months, he was made an apprentice sound effects editor and later a music editor.
After a period of time, Wise was promoted to Assistant Film Editor and finally in 1938 became a Film Editor. Important editing assignments gradually came his way, including one with Orson Welles on the seminal "Citizen Kane." The skill and imagination Wise demonstrated led him to Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" and to an unexpected opportunity. While Welles was doing a film in South America as part of the U.S. government's Good Neighbor Policy, it was discovered from previews that "Ambersons" needed some additional scenes to be filmed in order to make the picture play as it should for audiences. In Welles' absence, the studio assigned the young editor to direct the scenes.
Wise then began bombarding the studio executives with requests to direct. In 1943, he was editing "The Curse of the Cat People" when its director, far behind schedule, was removed. Wise was given the job; the movie became a hit, and he was established as a director. For the next few years, he brought something more than routine treatment to otherwise routine "B" pictures. Then in 1947, "Blood on the Moon" became such a critical and financial success that it established Wise as one of Hollywood's top directors.
Wise met Gene Roddenberry in the 1970's when both were guests at a science fiction seminar at the University of Arizona. The two began talking and discovered a mutual respect for each other; they decided that it would be fun to work together sometime. Neither suspected how soon that would actually happen. When Paramount decided that the first Star Trek movie deserved to be a major film event, the budget was revised drastically upward and the studio began to seek a major director. When Roddenberry considered the prospective list of top film directors, one name jumped off the page — Robert Wise. And the rest, of course, is history.
Jon Povill, the associate producer of "ST:TMP," described this unusual man: "The thing that makes Bob the great director that he is, is his very approachableness, his willingness to listen to your ideas and use them if they're in keeping with what he wants to do. The tremendous number of problems on this picture would have had any other director in town being carried off to the funny farm, completely blowing his top. Bob kept his cool and came through with flying colors." [Quoted from "The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture," written by Susan Sackett.]
Besides his accomplishments as a director, Wise has remained very active in the Hollywood community, and in particular takes a personal interest in young people trying to make their way into the business. He has served for many years on the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute, and is founding president of Cinema Circulus, support group for the University of Southern California School of Film and Television. Wise has served as president of both the Directors Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and remains very active in both organizations. He has served with the National Council on the Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Educational Film Festival. This is just a sampling of his extensive resume of service to the arts and education and to the industry of which he has become a veritable icon.