Preston Sturges (August 29, 1898 - August 6, 1959), originally Edmund Preston Biden, was a screenwriter and director born in Chicago. Known for his comedic contribution to American film, he was one of Hollywood's great filmmakers. His mother was Mary Desti, a socialite famous for her friendship with Isadora Duncan.
Sturges took the screwball comedy format of the 1930s to another level, writing dialogue that, heard today, is often surprisingly naturalistic, mature, and ahead of its time, despite the farcical situations. It is not uncommon for one of Sturges' actors to deliver an exquisitely turned phrase and take an elaborate pratfall within the same scene. A love scene between Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve was enlivened by a horse, who repeatedly poked his nose into Fonda's head.
He is often credited as the first writer to direct his own script, but this is untrue. Many major directors such as Frank Capra and Howard Hawks preceded Sturges in making the leap from writing to directing. However, Sturges may have been the first to be promoted as such by the studios for publicity. Famously, he supposedly sold his screenplay for The Great McGinty to Paramount Pictures for $1, in exchange for the director's job.
He won the first Academy Award ever given for Writing Original Screenplay for the McGinty script. Perhaps more impressively, Sturges received two screenwriting Oscar nominations in the same year, for 1944's Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek.
Though he enjoyed a 30-year Hollywood career, the greatest of Sturges' comedies were filmed in a furious 5-year burst of activity. Half a century later, four of these were chosen among the American Film Institute's 100 funniest movies: Morgan's Creek, The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story. Their combination of sentiment and cynicism has kept them fresh for today's audiences.
Sturges liked to reuse many of the same character actors, such as William Demarest, Byron Foulger, Victor Potel, Robert Grieg, Jimmy Conlin, Charles R. Moore, Robert Warwick, or Franklin Pangborn, giving him what amounted to a regular troupe even within the studio system.
Sturges was married four times. His wives were: Estelle deWolfe Mudge, married 1923, divorced 1927; Eleanor Hutton (a daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton), eloped 1930, annulled 1932; Louise Sargent Tevis, married 1938, divorced 1947; Anne Nagle (Sandy), married 1951 - 1959.
He died in New York and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. His book "Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges: His Life in His Words" was published in 1990 by Simon & Schuster. (ISBN 0671679295)