The Man Who Would Be King

King Vidor literally grew up with the movies and helped shape its history. He co-founded the Directors Guild and became its first president. His legacy as a great storyteller and fighter for directors’ rights continues today.

“King Vidor” — the name sounds like a character from a movie, a match for Darth Vader perhaps. It carries connotations of majesty and the Latin root for video, videre — to see. Vidor was a beloved figure in the industry and a famous director from the silent era to CinemaScope and beyond. He received five best director nominations and an honorary Oscar. More than that, he was a guiding force in the formation of the Screen Directors Guild (later the DGA), serving as its first president in decisive and difficult years. For his distinguished career, he was presented with the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1957.

It was not just that the boy was named “King” (after his uncle). On September 8, 1900, when he was 6 years old, winds of 135 miles per hour struck his home city of Galveston, Texas. There was spectacular devastation, and he was there to see it. “All the wooden structures of the town were flattened,” he told Nancy Dowd and David Shepard in the DGA’s oral history series (1980). “The streets were piled high with dead people, and I took the first tugboat out. On the boat I went up into the bow and saw that the bay was filled with dead bodies, horses, animals, people, everything.”

No one knows exactly how many died in the Galveston hurricane. But the estimate of 8,000 is more than four times the number lost to Katrina. Vidor saw this as a child, and when his father encouraged him to go into business, King said he thought he would be a photographer instead and record extraordinary things.

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