Thursday, June 12, 2014

George W. Hill -- The Lone Wolf


George William Hill (born in Douglass, Kansas, on April 25, 1895) broke into pictures in 1908 as a prop boy for D.W. Griffith at the Fine Arts Studio.  Evincing an interest in photography, he graduated to the position of first cameraman and shot several films in the teens including The Sea Wolf (1913), Burning the Daylight (1914), Buckshot John (1915), Polly of the Circus (1917), and Turning the Tables (1919).  From the early twenties Hill turned to direction and made several well regarded films for MGM including Tell it to the Marines (1926), The Cossacks (1928), his 1930 masterpiece The Big House, and the classic comedy Min and Bill (1930) starring Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler.  In January 1930, the director married Frances Marion, his longtime scriptwriting collaborator, but the union ended in October 1933 amid charges of Hill's cruelty.  Despite their estrangement, the pair continued to be amicable and were working together on the script of the MGM vehicle The Good Earth, which Hill was set to direct.

While preparing for the film in June 1934, Hill was seriously injured in a car accident when he swerved to avoid a group of children running onto Venice Boulevard.  The director crashed into a telephone pole, crushing his chest and breaking several ribs.  In constant physical pain following the accident, the man known to his friends as "the lone wolf" became even more withdrawn, morose, and moody.  In the late afternoon of August 10, 1934, Hill returned to his spacious South Beach home at 5109 Ocean Front in Venice, California, after vacationing for several days at his cabin at Lake Arrowhead.  To his valet, the 39-year-old director entrusted a tin box containing a .45-caliber pistol (a memento from Hill's days as a captain in the photographic division of the Signal Corps during World War I) with the instruction to "put it away."  Hill then left and spent several hours with ex-wife Marion and studio officials on the MGM lot in a story conference concerning The Good Earth.

Shortly after 9:00 P.M., Hill returned home and phoned his valet to ask where he had placed the box containing the pistol.  At 7:35 A.M. the next morning, the valet arrived at Hill's home to find the pajama-clad body of his employer dead in the second floor master bedroom clutching a pistol in his right hand.  Sometime during the hours before, or, shortly after midnight, Hill had fired a practice shot into the ceiling, before laying in bed, placing the gun in his mouth, and pulling the trigger.  The bullet, passing through the director's skull, lodged in the headboard of the bed.  While Hill left no note, he had drawn up a will days before the suicide in which he directed that his body be cremated immediately after the death certificate had been signed.  By 4:00 P.M. the day he was found, Hill's body was cremated.  Authorities speculated that Hill had either taken his life because of the car accident or his divorce from Frances Marion, or both.

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