Rowland V. Lee

Last updated

Rowland V. Lee
Lee in 1928
Born(1891-09-06)September 6, 1891
DiedDecember 21, 1975(1975-12-21) (aged 84)
OccupationActor, director, producer
Relatives Robert N. Lee (brother) [1]

Rowland Vance Lee (September 6, 1891 – December 21, 1975) was an American film director, actor, writer, and producer.



Early life

Born in Findlay, Ohio, Lee was the son of a suffragette who founded a newspaper. [2]

He studied at Columbia University and served in the infantry during World War I. [3]

Acting career

Lee began as an actor. He had early appearances in Wild Winship's Widow (1917), Time Locks and Diamonds (1917), The Mother Instinct (1917), Polly Ann (1917), The Stainless Barrier (1917), The Maternal Spark (1917) and They're Off (1918).

He had a lead part in Fred Niblo's The Woman in the Suitcase (1920) and was in Water, Water, Everywhere (1920) and Dangerous Days (1920). Lee supported Hobart Bosworth in His Own Law (1920) and did another with Niblo, Her Husband's Friend (1920).


Change of profession

Thomas H. Ince suggested Lee make a choice between acting and directing. Lee moved into directing starting with A Thousand to One (1920), Cupid's Brand (1921), and The Cup of Life (1921). [3]

He directed two films for former co-star Hobart Bosworth, Blind Hearts (1921) and The Sea Lion (1921).

Lee made What Ho, the Cook (1921), Money to Burn (1922), The Men of Zanzibar (1922), His Back Against the Wall (1922), A Self-Made Man (1922), Dust Flower (1922), and Mixed Faces (1922).


Lee went to Fox where he directed Shirley of the Circus (1923). He directed and scripted a 1923 adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel Alice Adams, which propelled him into the big time. He followed it with Desire (1923) at Metro. [4] He fell ill during the making of Desire. [5]

Back at Fox, Lee directed Gentle Julia (1923), another Tarkington adaptation. After Gentle Julia, Lee spent several months studying filmmaking in Europe, a practice he would continue for the next decade. [6]

Lee did You Can't Get Away with It (1923), In Love with Love (1924) with Marguerite De La Motte, and an expensive adaptation of The Man Without a Country (1925). [6] [7]

Other credits included Havoc (1925), The Outsider (1926) (with Walter Pidgeon), and The Silver Treasure (1927), based on Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. [8] He also directed The Whirlwind of Youth (1927). [9]


Lee went to Paramount in 1926 where he directed Pola Negri in Barbed Wire (1927) and The Secret Hour (1928). [10] Doomsday (1928) starred Florence Vidor and Gary Cooper. [11]

Lee was reunited with Negri for Three Sinners (1928) and Loves of an Actress (1928) then did The First Kiss (1928) with Cooper and Fay Wray. [12]

In 1929, he directed The Wolf of Wall Street featuring George Bancroft. [13] He followed it with A Dangerous Woman (1929) starring Olga Baclanova, then Lee made the first sound Fu Manchu film, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929). [14] He spent three months touring Europe in 1929. [15]

Lee was one of many directors who contributed to the all-star revue Paramount on Parade (1930). The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930) was a sequel to The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu then Lee made Ladies Love Brutes (1930) and Derelict (1930) with Bancroft, and A Man from Wyoming (1930) with Cooper.


Lee went to Warners to make The Ruling Voice (1931) with Walter Huston. He based himself in England for the next two years where he wrote an English version script of Captain Craddock (1931), did The Guilty Generation (1931) at Columbia and That Night in London (1931) for Paramount in England; the latter starred Robert Donat. [16]

Back at Fox, Lee directed Zoo in Budapest (1933), I Am Suzanne (1933) and Gambling (1934); the latter starred George M. Cohan. [17] [18]

Edward Small

Edward Small hired Lee to write and direct an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) for United Artists starring Donat; it was a huge success and ushered in a cycle of swashbuckling films.

Fox had merged to become 20th Century-Fox whose production head Darryl F. Zanuck hired Lee to direct one of the studio's first films, the biopic Cardinal Richelieu (1935) starring George Arliss. [19]

Lee received an offer from RKO to write and direct another swashbuckler, The Three Musketeers (1935). For United Artists he did One Rainy Afternoon (1936) and the English-shot Agatha Christie adaptation, Love from a Stranger (1937).

Back in Hollywood, Lee was reunited with Small for The Toast of New York (1937), a biopic that was a notorious flop. It was made at RKO who also financed Lee's next film, Mother Carey's Chickens (1938).


Lee signed a contract at Universal, where he directed Service de Luxe (1938). He had a big success with Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff.

Lee followed it with The Sun Never Sets (1939) with Rathbone and Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Tower of London (1939) with Rathbone and Karloff.

Later films

Lee made another swashbuckler for Small, The Son of Monte Cristo (1940). He returned to RKO to do Powder Town (1942), then made a film for another independent producer, Benedict Bogeaus, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944). Bogeaus liked Lee's work and used him on the swashbuckler Captain Kidd (1945). Lee announced he would then made a film about Robespierre [20] but he ended up retiring in 1945.

The Rowland V. Lee Ranch and later life

Lee focused on running his ranch in the San Fernando Valley which he had bought in 1935. He raised cattle and alfalfa. In August 1940, two girls drowned in his private lake while Lee was away. [21]

He converted part of his acreage overlooking the Chatsworth Reservoir into a motion picture location. Among the films shot there were I've Always Loved You , Strangers on a Train (1951), At Sword's Point , The Night of the Hunter (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956), The Light in the Forest (1958) and Back Street (1961). By the early 1960s though the land had become too valuable to use as a location. [22] [3] [23]

Lee decided to return to filmmaking by producing The Big Fisherman from the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. He wrote the script with Howard Estabrook and hired Frank Borzage to direct it. [24]

In 1975, three months past his 84th birthday, Lee died of a heart attack at home in Palm Desert, California, having just finished writing a screenplay, a mystery called The Belt. He was survived by his wife, Eleanor, and brother, Donald W. Lee, a former Hollywood film writer. [3] While it has been reported incorrectly that the former Rowland V. Lee Ranch was subdivided and developed after his death, in fact development of the property began much earlier. Portions of the ranch had begun to be developed by the late 1950s, with the Corporate Pointe industrial park among the first major projects to be built in the area. Development continued throughout the 1960s, with much of the ranch becoming suburban single-family housing typical of the western San Fernando Valley. The section of the former ranch containing Lee Lake was the last major portion to be developed, becoming the gated community Hidden Lake Estates, which was completed by 1971. The lake remains intact as a part of the gated community. [23]

Lee has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale, California. [25]

Complete filmography

As actor

As director


P : also producer
W : also writer
P, W : also producer and writer

As producer

As writer

See also

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