LOS ANGELES – JANUARY 26, 1952: Cecil B. DeMille attends an awards party in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
  • Cecil B. DeMille

Ready for My deMille: Profiles in Excellence – Cecil B. deMille, 1952

"Arial",sans-serif;color:#550016″>  was presented to its namesake visionary director, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has awarded its most prestigious prize 66 times. From Walt Disney to Bette DavisElizabeth Taylor to Steven Spielberg and 62 others, the deMille has gone to luminaries – actors, directors, producers – who have left an indelible mark on Hollywood. Sometimes mistaken with a career achievement award, per HFPA statute, the deMille is more precisely bestowed for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”. In this series, HFPA cognoscente and former president Philip Berk profiles deMille laureates through the years.

Cecil B. deMille was approached by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to name our lifetime achievement award in his honor he graciously welcomed the idea.

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Claudette Colbert and Charles Laughton and was a huge success. He had discovered Laughton on the London stage and brought him to Hollywood. His next blockbuster two years later, Cleopatra, did even better, still remembered for Colbert’s goat’s milk bath sequence.

"Times New Roman";color:#222222″>his first film in Technicolor and his second with Gary Cooper followed, and again proved the year’s biggest attraction. Two years later following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he had his biggest success with Reap the Wild Wind, which featured a spectacular giant squid sequence that had audiences lining the block. Two years later as a patriotic gesture he then made The Story of Dr. Wassell, his least typical film, a tribute to a World War 2 hero, which still made money, no doubt because superstar Gary Cooper played the doctor. After a three-year break, he came back with possibly his worst movie Unconquered in which Paulette Goddard played a white slave and Gary Cooper her slave owner, his only movie that lost money. Maybe deMille had learned a lesson, and he waited another two years before unleashing the movie that would become the template for all future deMille epics, his signature combination of sex and religion. Even though movie attendance had dropped off astronomically it never impacted a deMille picture. Samson and Delilah became his biggest success grossing three times that of its nearest competitor.

High Noon, both the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy went with The Greatest Show on Earth. In retrospect it’s a credible choice, a sprawling circus movie with an all-star cast, climaxed by a spectacular train derailment, featuring a disguised James Stewart as a clown. And of course, the public ate it up, but Hollywood’s liberals were incensed. For them, this recognition was an affirmation of the Blacklist. They hadn’t forgotten C.B.’s red-baiting throughout the 1940s. And were incensed when High Noon’s screenwriter Carl Foreman, who later exiled himself to England, was denied his award.

The Ten Commandments, would become his most famous movie, a TV ratings bonanza which audiences thrill to every year around Easter week. It offered the same old sex and religion, but it had the imprint of deMille, which no one has ever been able to replicate since try as they may.

Anthony Quinn, who was once married to Katharine, wrote in his autobiography about his last visit with a fatally ill deMille: “I got up to leave. I said, ‘You know in Europe I learned a nice thing. Men hug each other in saying goodbye.’ I took the frail man in my arms. He made a feeble attempt to hug me. In that minute out of twenty-odd years we became father and son. And I still love him deeply for that minute when he was in my arms.”