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Maurice Tourneur

Maurice Tourneur

Maurice Tourneur was an important international film director and screenwriter. Born Maurice Thomas in the Belleville district of Paris, France, his father was a jeweler. As a young man, Maurice Thomas first trained as a graphic designer and a magazine illustrator but was soon drawn to the theater. In 1904, he married the actress, Fernande Petit. They had a son, Jacques (1904-1977) who would follow his father into the film industry.

Using the stage name Maurice Tourneur, he began his show business career performing in secondary roles on stage and eventually toured England and South America as part of the theater company for the great star Gabrielle Réjane. Drawn to the new art of filmmaking, in 1911 he began working as an assistant director. A quick learner and an innovator, within a short time he was directing films on his own using major French stars of the day such as Polaire.

In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Tourneur moved to New York City to direct silent film features for a new French-owned studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Before long, Maurice Tourneur was a major and respected force in American film and a founding member of the East Coast chapter of the Motion Picture Directors Association. As the feature film evolved, he and his team showed exceptional skill with their use of the latest technological developments in film that gave their productions a visual appeal better than most of their competitors that at the same time met with critical acclaim.

Tourneur admired D.W. Griffith and considered the skill level of American actors at the time ahead of their counterparts in Europe. Of the actresses he worked with, he called Mary Pickford the finest screen actress in the world and believed that stage actress Elsie Ferguson was a brilliant artist. However, Tourneur opposed the evolving star system that Carl Laemmle had begun with his advertising campaign for actress Florence Lawrence.

In 1918 Maurice Tourneur launched his own production company with the film, Sporting Life. In 1921 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. By 1922 he believed that the future of the film industry lay in Hollywood and the following year he was hired by Samuel Goldwyn to go to the west coast and make a film version of the Hall Caine novel, The Christian.

Tourneur separated from his wife Fernande in 1923 and a few years later he decided to move back to his native France. There, he continued to make films both at home and in Germany, easily making the change to talkies. In 1933 he met his second wife, actress Louise Lagrange (1898-1979), while shooting his film, L'Homme mystérieux. Tourneur went on to direct another two dozen films, several of which were crime thrillers, until a 1949 automobile accident in which he was seriously injured and lost a leg. Health and age prevented him from directing more films, but a voracious reader and a skilled hobby artist, he kept busy painting and translating detective novels from English into French.

On his passing in 1961, Maurice Tourneur was interred in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Maurice Tourneur was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6243 Hollywood Blvd.

His 1917 film, The Poor Little Rich Girl and his 1920 film The Last of the Mohicans have since been deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Recently, the American Film Institute's Center for Film and Video Preservation and the National Archives of Canada have been cooperating on the restoration of Tourneur's 1915 film, The Cub.

In 2001, a book Maurice Tourneur: The Life and Films was published by author Harry Waldman.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2008.

Maurice Tourneur Facts

Birth Name Maurice Félix Thomas
OccupationDirector, Screenwriter
BirthdayFebruary 2, 1873
SignAquarius
BirthplaceParis, France
Date of deathAugust 4, 1961 (Paris, France, age 88)

Selected Filmography

Not available.