The term "icon" is bandied about so freely these days, it seems to have lost much of its power. Nevertheless, Robert Wise, in an extraordinarily productive and eclectic fifty-year career, has more than earned that noble distinction.
In 1933, forced out of college in Indiana by the Great Depression, Mr. Wise moved to Los Angeles, where his older brother David had previously found work in the accounting department at RKO Studios. Through his brother's contacts at the studio, Wise landed a job as a porter in the editing department, carrying prints up to projection booths for executive screenings and inspecting them afterward for damage. The rest, as they say, is history. Unlike many directors today, who leap from an accepted screenplay to the lofty perch of the canvas-backed chair, Wise learned his craft from the ground up. In fact, Wise belongs to the last generation of directors who were trained under the old Hollywood studio system.
Following his tenure as a film porter, Wise spent years training in the sound and editing departments, finally being promoted to the rank of full-fledged editor. It was there he made his first prestigious mark, cutting Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which earned him his first Academy Award Nomination. After a few more years in front of the movieola, Wise got his first chance to direct, replacing the original director on The Curse Of The Cat People. Because his style has never followed any readily identifiable pattern and because he has never limited himself to any particular genre, Wise is not always given the credit due him for the huge and varied body of work he has produced. Indeed, it is surprising for some film-goers to discover that he was the guiding creative force not only behind monster hits such as The Sound Of Music, West Side Story, and Star Trek-The Motion Picture, but also The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Sand Pebbles, and The Haunting. But regardless of the genre in which he has worked, what has always distinguished Wise's films is the impassioned dedication and meticulous craftsmanship he brings to each of his explorations into the mysteries of the human condition.
Contrary to today's trend of shameless self-promotion, where directors seemingly pop up on all 120 cable television channels, earnestly plugging their latest pictures, Wise has always chosen to avoid the harsh glare of the spotlight and is therefore not as recognizable as a Quentin Tarantino or a Martin Scorsese. But, being the consummate professional, Mr. Wise has always preferred it that way. The work, he knows, can easily speak for itself. And speak it does; honestly, eloquently, passionately. -- P.D. Crane