Summer Shivers with Director Billy Wilder

It’s Friday. How about some film noir?

This clip is from Double Indemnity (1944), written by director Billy Wilder and author Raymond Chandler. It stars Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who teams up with an insurance agent (played by Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband. The film, considered risky material for its time, set conventions for later noir films and brought Wilder his first Academy Award nomination for best direction.

Billy Wilder, who was born on this day in 1906, is featured on the Great Film Directors stamps, which were issued May 23, 2012, in Silver Spring, MD. For more information about the stamps, visit Beyond the Perf.

Wilder worked successfully in various genres, from the noir of Double Indemnity to the wild farce of Some Like It Hot (1959),and created several of Hollywood’s most unforgettable pictures. Want to see more of his work? You’re in luck because TCM is hosting a birthday tribute tonight! Films include the screwball comedy Ninotchka (1939), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Love in the Afternoon (1957), and The Spirit of St. Louis (1957). Throwing a Billy Wilder theme party? Send us some pictures to uspsstamps [a] gmail [dot] com (they must include the stamp!), and we may feature them here.

Some Like It Hot © 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Great Film Directors First Day of Issue Ceremony a Cinematic Success

Thank you to everyone who came out yesterday to the First Day of Issue Ceremony for the Great Film Directors stamps at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Dedicating the stamps were (from left to right) Bernard Cook, Director of Film and Media Studies, Georgetown College, Georgetown University; Jean Picker Firstenberg, Chairman, Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee and President Emerita, AFI; Samuel M. Pulcrano, Vice President, Corporate Communications, U.S. Postal Service; Ray Barry, Director, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center; and Arch Campbell, local news anchor and entertainment critic.

Cinematic legends Frank CapraJohn FordJohn Huston, and Billy Wilder created some of the most iconic scenes in American film, and there was no lack of reverence for all four men at yesterday’s ceremony. Jean Picker Firstenberg surprised us all with a special (and very moving) showing of John Ford’s acceptance of the Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon in 1973. These filmmaking giants gave audiences an unforgettable (and in some cases, deeply personal) vision of life, connecting generations of moviegoers with their textured portrayals of America.

We had a wonderful time at the AFI, which turned out to be a perfect place for an FDOI ceremony. We hope you’ll join us next time!

Our next great event is the National Philatelic Exhibitions (NAPEX) in McLean, Virginia, from June 1-3. This year, the previously issued Four Flags (Forever®) and 32-cent Aloha Shirts stamps will be reissued in new formats during the annual convention.

This is turning out to be a philatelic summer, and we couldn’t be more thrilled! Which events are you looking forward to?

The use of the name and likeness of John Huston by permission of the Huston Family.

John Huston Showed Us the Dark Side of the Quest for Riches

There has never been a greater storyteller in American movies than John Huston. A recurring thematic element in many of Huston’s films is the quest for riches that comes to naught. In The Maltese Falcon (1941), the action centers on an antique object that turns out to be fake; in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), three prospectors amass a fortune in gold dust only to have it scattered by the wind. Before hubris brings about their downfall, two soldiers enjoy ruling the remote country of Kafiristan in The Man Who Would Be King (1975).

Huston was born August 5, 1906, in Nevada, Missouri. His mother Rhea, a journalist, and his father, actor Walter Huston, were divorced when he was small. As a young man, he became interested in acting and writing while watching his father rehearse Eugene O’Neill’s play Desire Under the Elms. An early milestone in the younger Huston’s life came in 1929, when a short story he wrote was accepted for publication in the American Mercury, then a highly regarded magazine. During this period, he also tried his hand at newspaper reporting.

With his father’s film industry connections, Huston got a job writing for the movies. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his contribution to the screenplay for Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940). The following year, he received two nominations: one for his work on the team that wrote Sergeant York and one for his solo effort on The Maltese Falcon, also the first film he directed.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon brought detective Sam Spade to life in a definitive performance by Humphrey Bogart. The archetypal gumshoe, Spade becomes involved with an unscrupulous group of characters played by Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor. Huston’s signature visual style, with the camera’s movement and placement at the service of the story and its characters, was already in evidence.

Huston joined the Army Signal Corps during World War II and made three documentaries. The Pentagon delayed release of two of these films because of their frankness in showing the horrors of war. (One of them, Let There Be Light, focused on the psychological damage sustained by soldiers in combat, and was suppressed for decades.)

Back in Hollywood after the war, Huston wrote and directed The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), an adaptation of a novel by B. Traven. Huston’s father, Walter, played an old prospector who guides two younger men, played by Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt, on a quest for gold in the mountains of Mexico. John Huston won Academy Awards for writing and directing this picture; his father won in the best supporting actor category.

In 1950, Huston directed The Asphalt Jungle, his adaptation (with screenwriter Ben Maddow) of a novel by W.R. Burnett. For his work on this tale of jewel thieves, Huston again received Academy Award nominations for both directing and writing.

One of Huston’s most beloved films, The African Queen (1951), paired Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as a drunken riverboat pilot and a prim missionary. Once again he was nominated for Academy Awards for his screenplay (with James Agee) and direction.

Moulin Rouge (1952) was a story of painter Toulouse-Lautrec. In an effort to create cinematic images that resembled their subject’s work, Huston and his cinematographer Oswald Morris used smoke on the set and other techniques to achieve the right color effects.

Among Huston’s other pictures during this period are Beat the Devil (1954), a parody of film noir; Moby Dick (1956), an adaptation of the classic novel by Herman Melville; and The Misfits (1961), with a screenplay by Arthur Miller. The latter film starred Clark Gable as an aging cowboy who becomes involved with a depressed younger woman played by Marilyn Monroe.

Having appeared in front of the camera on several previous occasions, Huston took the role of Cardinal Glennon in The Cardinal (1963), directed by Otto Preminger, and received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance. Some of his other notable performances were as Noah in his own film The Bible (1966) and as villainous Noah Cross in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown(1974).

DCP Keepsake (click to order)

The Man Who Would Be King (1975) paired Sean Connery and Michael Caine as soldiers who go to a remote region of Afghanistan with the intent of stealing its riches. Huston received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay (written with Gladys Hill), which reflected his admiration for the source story by Rudyard Kipling. His love of storytelling was close to the heart of his work; he spoke of his “desire to share an emotional and intellectual experience with a new audience” as his motive for making movies.

Two strong films brought Huston’s long and varied career to an impressive finish. Prizzi’s Honor (1985), a black comedy about professional assassins, garnered several Academy Award nominations, including one for Huston’s direction, and an Oscar for best supporting actress for his daughter, Anjelica Huston. The Dead (1987), also featuring Anjelica, is an adaptation by Huston’s son, Tony, of the classic story by James Joyce. (Another of his children, son Danny, is also an actor and director.) It was the last film Huston completed before his death on August 28, 1987.

Three of John Huston’s films—The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre—are included on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movies. He received a total of fourteen Academy Award nominations: eight for writing, five for directing, and one for acting.

John Huston is one of four directors featured on the Great Film Directors pane. The stamps will be issued Wednesday, May 23, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, but you can preorder them today!

The use of the name and likeness of John Huston by permission of the Huston Family.

THE MALTESE FALCON © Turner Entertainment Co. A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.  All Rights Reserved.

Frank Capra Championed the Courage of the Every Man

The films of Frank Capra express his love for America. His movies celebrate democracy and freedom, mixing humor and pathos in a unique way. His most characteristic theme, developed in classic works such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, is the triumph of the idealist over cynical sophisticates.

Capra was born May 18, 1897, in Sicily, where his parents were farmers. He was still small when his family came to the United States and settled in California. He was drawn to science and studied chemical engineering in college. During World War I, he served briefly in the Army; afterward, he became an American citizen and tried his hand at various jobs before he began making short silent films.

After honing his craft writing and directing comedies for Harry Langdon, Capra started working for Columbia Pictures in 1928. There, he directed some action films, such as Submarine (1928) and Flight (1929), and worked with stars such as Barbara Stanwyck (Ladies of Leisure, 1930) and Jean Harlow (Platinum Blonde, 1931).

A major preoccupation of Capra’s movies—his love for individuals and fear of mobs—emerged clearly in American Madness (1932), with Walter Huston as an upright banker pitted against angry customers and unscrupulous associates. Capra tried melodrama with The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), again with Stanwyck, and received his first Academy Award nomination for Lady for a Day (1933), based on a story by Damon Runyon.

The following year, Capra made It Happened One Night (1934), a box office smash that turned its romantic leads, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, into sex symbols. This story of a reporter and a runaway heiress was buoyed by several unforgettable scenes, including one in which they show off their hitchhiking skills—a competition she wins easily after lifting her skirt to reveal a shapely (and traffic-stopping) leg. It earned Academy Awards for best picture—“outstanding production,” as it was then officially known—actor (Gable), actress (Colbert), adapted screenplay (Robert Riskin), and direction.

The overwhelming success of It Happened One Night heightened Capra’s awareness of the power of the movie medium and gave him a greater sense of responsibility. In later life, he explained, “From then on I began to think of cinema seriously, in the sense that maybe I could use it for a purpose besides being entertaining. And so I made my first picture in which I tried to say something that was socially important, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and from then on I tried to use films to make a social point.” Gary Cooper played Longfellow Deeds, a man from a country town who confronts the big city and emerges battered but victorious. Capra’s subsequent films often adhere to the same basic formula of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), in which the idealistic and naïve hero prevails over corruption.

Ceremony Program (click to order)

Lost Horizon (1937), a fantasy based on James Hilton’s novel, was followed by the comedy You Can’t Take It with You (1938), which won Academy Awards for best picture and best director. In the latter film, based on the successful play by Kaufman and Hart, James Stewart played the free-spirited son of a snobby banker. Stewart became a Capra favorite and played the lead in his next picture, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), about an idealistic senator. The movie received several Academy Award nominations, including one for Capra’s direction; audiences still treasure the scene in which Stewart delivers an impassioned filibuster.

During this period, Capra was head of the Directors Guild, putting him on the front lines of a dispute with the studios that resulted in directors getting a greater degree of artistic control over their work. Capra believed that a film should express the vision of a single guiding intelligence rather than a committee of decision-makers.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, Capra reenlisted in the Army at age 44. He became head of the Army Pictorial Service and directed a series of documentaries under the umbrella title Why We Fight, intended to justify the war effort. When screened for general audiences, the films won wide acclaim, and one of them, Prelude to War, received an Academy Award in 1942. Capra was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Order of the British Empire, and the French Legion of Merit.

After his release from active duty in 1945, Capra joined with directors George Stevens and William Wyler in founding Liberty Films, giving themselves total artistic freedom. His first picture there, It’s a Wonderful Life, was Capra’s personal favorite among his works, and again brought Academy Award nominations for Capra and James Stewart. This sentimental holiday favorite stars Stewart as George Bailey, a despairing man who is helped by an unlikely guardian angel.

Capra’s later films include A Hole in the Head (1959), with Frank Sinatra, and Pocketful of Miracles (1961), a remake of his early work Lady for a Day. He died on September 3, 1991.

John Ford is one of four directors featured on the Great Film Directors pane. The stamps will be issued on May 23 at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, but you can preorder them today!

Great Film Directors Stamps Premiering Soon!

The Great Film Directors First Day of Issue ceremony is just one week away! The Forever® stamps honor four filmmakers who captured the many varieties of the American experience. These extraordinary directors—Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, and Billy Wilder—created some of the most iconic scenes in American cinema. They gave audiences an unforgettable (and in some cases, deeply personal) vision of life.

The stamps will be issued at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, on May 23. Stay tuned for more details on the time the event will kick off. Will you be joining us?

In the mean time, you can celebrate these four cinematic masters by pre-ordering the Digital Color Postmark First Day Covers. Including four envelopes with each of the stamps, the color postmark design, modeled after an admission ticket, showcases the stamp name in dramatic type and includes the date and location of issue: May 23, 2012, Silver Spring, MD, 20910. A beautiful addition to any collection, it also makes a great gift!

The John Wayne name and likeness licensed by John Wayne Enterprises, LLC. Newport Beach, CA. All rights reserved.

Humphrey Bogart ® Bogart LLC. Licensed by Licensing Artists, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The use of the name and likeness of John Huston by permission of the Huston Family.

Some Like It Hot © 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT” © 1934, renewed 1962 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

THE SEARCHERS © C V Whitney Pictures, Inc. Licensed By: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE MALTESE FALCON © Turner Entertainment Co. A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. All Rights Reserved.