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            George Seaton


            Working his way up from general factotum and gag writer to becoming a highly versatile writer/director, George Seaton was involved in many aspects of the entertainment industry along the way.

            He was born George Stenius of Swedish parentage (his family hailed from Stockholm) in South Bend, Indiana, and grew up in Detroit. Determined to become an actor after leaving school, rather than pursuing a university education at Yale (much to his father's chagrin) , George joined Jessie Bonstelle's stock company for $15 a week and changed his name to 'Seaton', which he thought, people would find easier to pronounce. In addition to his work on the stage, he supplied the voice to The Lone Ranger on Detroit radio station WXYZ, where he claimed to have originated the "Hi-yo, Silver!" catchphrase because of his inability to whistle. In 1933 he sent a play he had written to MGM's office in New York. Irving Thalberg, who read it, was less interested in the play than the man, in whom he recognized potential. George was consequently hired as a writer, for $50 a week, to learn his new trade as an assistant to the famous writing team Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Unfortunately, MGM parted company with the duo before George ever reached Hollywood.

            Over the next few years George worked, often uncredited, as a gag writer and ideas man. The turning point in his career was his contribution to the classic The Marx Brothers picture A Night at the Opera (1935). Groucho Marx was sufficiently impressed to ask for his collaboration on the screenplay for A Day at the Races (1937). This zany comedy proved one of the brothers' biggest hits and, along with Robert Pirosh, George Oppenheimer and Al Boasberg, the name George Seaton appeared prominently among the writing credits. He also sidelined as a playwright, but his first attempt to create a hit on Broadway, "But Not Goodbye", closed in 1944 after just 23 performances. He tried again 23 years later with the comedy "Love in E Flat", to even poorer critical reception.

            During a brief stint at Columbia (1939-40), George became the protégé of producer William Perlberg. When Perlberg left Columbia to join 20th Century-Fox in 1941, he took George with him. As a result of this alliance, George had carte blanche to write the screenplay for the religious drama The Song of Bernadette (1943), which was a box-office hit and garnered him an Academy Award nomination. He remained under contract to Fox as a writer until 1950, and as a director from 1945 to 1950. His directorial debut, from his own screenplay, was the musical comedy Diamond Horseshoe (1945) starring Betty Grable. Featuring the classic song "The More I See You" (sung by Dick Haymes), "Diamond Horseshoe" turned a tidy profit for Fox, and for Billy Rose, who earned a $76,000 fee for allowing his nightclub (or a set thereof) to be used as the backdrop for the film. George's next assignments as writer/director included humorous family fare in the shape of Junior Miss (1945) and the period comedy The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), with Grable and songs by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. "Miss Pilgrim" was a lamentable failure, as audiences were unwilling to accept Grable's "Million Dollar Legs" hidden beneath 1870s skirts.

            George's next film more than compensated for that failure: the perennial sentimental Christmas favorite Miracle on 34th Street (1947) won Academy Awards for Seaton (Best Screenplay), Valentine Davies (Best Original Story) and Edmund Gwenn (Best Supporting Actor) as Kris Kringle. Two of the last Seaton-Perlberg collaborations at Fox were The Big Lift (1950), a well-mounted drama based on the Berlin airlift, filmed on location; and For Heaven's Sake (1950), an amusing variant on Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), starring Clifton Webb. In 1952 the team packed their bags and set up shop at Paramount, where they remained for eight years. For the remainder of the decade George worked as co-producer (with Perlberg) on several big-budget films, such as The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) and the classic western The Tin Star (1957). Seaton won his second Academy Award (again for Best Screenplay) for his adaptation of a play by Clifford Odets, The Country Girl (1954). The film was one of Paramount's top-grossing releases of the year. George was credited with eliciting Bing Crosby's best-ever dramatic performance as an alcoholic weakling and Grace Kelly's (who won the Academy Award as Best Actress) as his wife.

            Seaton's output became more sparse during the following decade. He directed Fred Astaire and Lilli Palmer in the stagy but highly entertaining The Pleasure of His Company (1961) and William Holden and Lilli Palmer in the excellent World War II espionage drama The Counterfeit Traitor (1962). His last big success as director was the blockbuster Airport (1970), for which he won another Academy Award nomination. Until Falci (1975), this was Universal's biggest money-making picture, earning the studio $45 million in film rentals in the US and Canada alone.

            In addition to his direct involvement in making movies, George Seaton was also very active within Hollywood as President of the Screenwriter's Guild, President of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (from 1955 to 1958) and Vice President of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. He was a recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1961. His wife, Phyllis Loughton, a former Hollywood dialogue director, became the first female mayor of Beverly Hills.