Gregory La Cava
Often overshadowed by Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges, director Gregory La Cava was a fine practitioner of the screwball comedy while earning a reputation for drawing out the best from his leading performers, thanks to a penchant for on-set improvisation. He began his career as a cartoonist, making over 100 animated shorts during the silent era before making the switch to live-action features, collaborating with the likes of Richard Dix and W.C. Fields. He successfully transitioned to the sound era with "Laugh and Get Rich" (1931) and "What Every Woman Knows" (1934), while finding more critical success with "The Affairs of Cellini" (1934). He made occasional excursions into drama with "Symphony of Six Million" (1932) and the overtly political "Gabriel Over the White House" (1933), but often his more serious films failed to live up to even his more middling comedies. Meanwhile, La Cava was Oscar-nominated for directing "My Man Godfrey" (1936), starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, which was considered by many historians to be one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made. He followed that with another Academy Award-worthy comedy, "Stage Door" (1937), which marked the pinnacle of his career. From there, he hit a precipitous downward slide with a number of box office failures that basically ended his career in the early 1940s. Though he was often forgotten by later generations, La Cava no doubt left behind an inviting oeuvre of exceptional comedies that ranked alongside the works of better known directors.