King Vidor, film director, was born in Galveston, Texas, on February 8, 1894, the son of Charles Shelton and Katie Lee (Wallis) Vidor. His father was a lumber producer and merchant with the Miller-Vidor Lumber Company, which had headquarters in Galveston and owned land, mills, and lumber railroads in East Texas. The towns of Vidor and Milvid were named for him. King Vidor's grandfather, Charles Vidor, was a refugee of the Hungarian revolution of 1848–49 who settled in Galveston in the early 1850s. King attended Peacock Military Academy in San Antonio in 1908–09. He left after only one year. One of his schoolmates there was Edward Sedgwick, later his partner in the film business. Vidor began his career in the cinema as a teenage movie projectionist at a local Galveston theater. He made an amateur movie based on the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and opened his first movie company, Hotex, in Houston in 1915; his father was vice president of that company, having fallen on hard times in the lumber business. After making a few amateur films on his own, Vidor struck out for Hollywood with his bride, Florence Arto, in 1915 at the age of twenty-one. He was determined to learn more about the art and technique of filmmaking. The career he found in Hollywood spanned the earliest days of silent filmmaking, when he shot two-reelers on a shoestring budget, to the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, marked by the spectacular cinematic productions of David O. Selznick, with whom Vidor made Duel in the Sun (1946). Throughout his long Hollywood career, Vidor's Texas roots remained apparent. He considered himself a southerner and made films that championed the poor and exposed racism and the horrors of war, yet also captured the adventures and action of a lively West. Among the many films to his credit are The Big Parade (1925), Billy the Kid (1930), Our Daily Bread (1934), The Texas Rangers (1936), Northwest Passage (1940), and The Fountainhead (1951).
Though Vidor is probably best remembered for his collaboration with Selznick, which resulted in one of the top-grossing films in cinema history, he made most of his films not with Selznick but with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. M-G-M produced his first highly acclaimed film, The Big Parade, in 1925; it was hailed by critics as a powerful antiwar movie. Vidor made film history with the first all-black musical, Hallelujah!, in 1929. His Our Daily Bread won a League of Nations award "for its contribution to humanity" five years later. He also wrote two books, A Tree is a Tree (1953) and King Vidor on Filmmaking (1972). During the 1920s and 1930s, as his career was burgeoning, Vidor experienced a tumultuous personal period. He was divorced from Florence in 1924 and married Eleanor Boardman, from whom he was divorced in 1932. In that year he married his third wife, Elizabeth Hill. Vidor had a self-proclaimed sense of mission about his filmmaking, which was influenced by a Christian Scientist background. In 1920, at the outset of his successful career in Hollywood, he published a "creed" in Variety, in which he publicly announced his commitment to "the picture that will help humanity to free itself from the shackles of fear and suffering that have so long bound it with iron chains." Such was the youthful idealism that gave birth to films like The Big Parade and Hallelujah! It was a sensitivity that remained with Vidor to the end of his long career. Though he was nominated five times for an Academy Award for best director, he never won. In 1978, however, the Motion Picture Academy awarded him an honorary Oscar in recognition of his contributions to filmmaking. After he retired from directing, Vidor taught filmmaking at the University of Southern California and at the University of California at Los Angeles. He died on November 1, 1982, at the age of eighty-eight, leaving behind a wealth of films noted for their realism, their powerful social comment, and their psychological complexities.
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John Baxter, King Vidor (New York: Monarch, 1976).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Vidor, King Wallis,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 11, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
August 1, 1995