George Sidney

George Sidney
Penni Gladstone / Los Angeles Times


George Sidney
Film: North side of the 6300 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Born Oct. 4, 1916 in Long Island City, NY
Died May 5, 2002 of lymphoma in Las Vegas, NV

George Sidney, a director of MGM's beloved Technicolor musicals of the 1940s and early '50s, was not merely a master of lighthearted entertainment. He also directed such Academy Award-winning short subjects as "Quicker 'n' a Wink" and "Of Pups and Puzzles" in the early 1940s, and was the longest-serving head of the Directors Guild of America.

Sidney retired from directing in 1968, 34 years before his death in 2002. He was known for being warm and charming, but so unwilling to call attention to himself that his adoring public knew him only through his movies — musicals such as "Anchors Aweigh," "Annie Get Your Gun," "The Harvey Girls," "Kiss Me Kate" and "Show Boat." His movies also included swashbucklers such as "Scaramouche" and "The Three Musketeers" and the Esther Williams aquacades "Bathing Beauty" and "Thrill of a Romance."

At one point in his stellar, 29-feature career, Sidney had 15 box office hits in a row.

Sidney's interests and accomplishments extended far beyond his flair for light, lively entertainment. At 34, he became the youngest president of the Directors Guild and served from 1951 to 1959 and then again from 1961 to 1967.

For steering the guild through the bleak years of the Hollywood blacklist era, Sidney received a unique gold medal, and in 1998 became the first recipient of the guild's president's award.

Speaking of the anti-communist hysteria of the '50s, Sidney told a Times reporter in 1986, "I was called a communist by some people and a reactionary by others. Someone called my father and said, 'What happened to your son? Did you know he was a communist?' My father said, 'My son is a communist? Three Rolls-Royces and he's a communist?' "

Born into show business in New York, Sidney was the son of Hazel Mooney, of vaudeville's headlining Mooney Sisters, and Lewis Sidney, an executive with Loews Inc., parent company of MGM.

He was only 5 when he took the title role in the 1921 Tom Mix western "The Littlest Cowboy." Sidney went to work as an MGM messenger boy when he was still in his teens.

But he was soon directing shorts, including the "Little Rascals" series and, by the age of 20, scores of screen tests. Among those who stepped from Sidney's tests into major careers were Barry Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner, Donna Reed, Ann Sheridan and Van Heflin.

By putting them in star-turn roles, he also played a crucial role in the careers of such leading ladies as Ann-Margret and Williams.

In 1937, Sidney directed an experimental 3-D short, and in 1953 he directed one of the best 3-D features, "Kiss Me Kate," starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and, in one of her best roles, Ann Miller.

He was a pioneer in combining live action with animation, using it to depict Alfalfa's grumbling stomach in a "Little Rascals" short and, more famously, in having Gene Kelly dance with Jerry the Mouse in "Anchors Aweigh."

That led Sidney to financing and helping to found Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1944, serving as its president for a decade.

In the '50s, with MGM's golden era over, Sidney became head of production for Harry Cohn at Columbia, where he directed "Pal Joey," "Jeanne Eagels" and "The Eddie Duchin Story."

During bomb testing after World War II, Sidney was assigned by the Air Force to supervise the Atomic Energy Commission Film Program at Eniwetok Atoll.

In retirement, Sidney pursued interests in paleontology and art history and earned a law degree at
USC. A gifted photographer, he shot more than a million photos, many featuring his stars, including Judy Garland, Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Sidney's marriage to drama coach Lillian Burns ended in divorce. He then married Jane, the widow of his close friend Edward G. Robinson, and lived with her in Robinson's Beverly Hills mansion until moving to Las Vegas. Upon her death in 1991, he married Corinne Entratter, whom he had known since she was the wife of his good friend, the late Jack Entratter, who was president and entertainment director of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Corinne Entratter appeared in Sidney's film "The Swinger," starring Ann-Margret.

Sidney's final weeks before his death in 2002 were marked by visits and phone calls from friends and colleagues, including Bobby Rydell and Tony Curtis. On the road with the musical version of "Some Like It Hot," Curtis called him nightly to chat in Hungarian, the language of their fathers. Singer Phyllis McGuire regularly read him Scripture at his bedside.

At the Mayo Clinic's Scottsdale, Ariz., branch, Sidney refused the surgery or chemotherapy that might have extended his life by two months.

"We're in show business, we know how the script ends," he told his doctors and his wife.

"I don't want a funeral," Sidney told his wife. Self-effacing to the end, he said, "I've been to too many funerals, and I don't want anybody to lose a day's work on account of me."

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