Cecil B. DeMille Award
January 11, 2012 by staff
Cecil B. DeMille Award, Cecil Blount DeMille (August 12, 1881 – January 21, 1959) was an American film director and Academy Award-winning film producer in both silent and sound films. He was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies. Among his best-known films are Cleopatra; Samson and Delilah; The Greatest Show on Earth, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture; and The Ten Commandments, which was his last and most successful film.
DeMille was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts while his parents were vacationing there and grew up in Washington, North Carolina. While he is known as DeMille (his nom d’oeuvre), his family name was Dutch and is usually spelled “Demil”. His father, Henry Churchill DeMille (1853-1893), was a North Carolina-born dramatist and lay reader in the Episcopal Church, who had earlier begun a career as a playwright, writing his first play at age 15. His mother was Beatrice DeMille (née Samuel), whose parents were both of German-Jewish heritage. She emigrated from England with her parents in 1871, when she was 18, where they settled in Brooklyn, New York. According to biographer Carol Easton, Beatrice grew up in a middle-class English household.
DeMille’s parents met while they were both members of a local music and literary society in New York. She was attracted to Henry, a tall, redheaded student who shared her love of the theater. While he was “slender and mild-mannered,” she had dark good looks that “must have seemed to him exotic,” writes Easton. She was also intelligent, educated, forthright, and strong-willed, and they were mutually attracted to each other. They were also both born in 1853. She would later convert to Henry’s faith when they married. Henry worked as a playwright, administrator and faculty member during the early years of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, established in New York City in 1884.
In 1893, at the age of 40, Henry contracted typhoid fever and died, leaving Beatrice with three children, a house, and no savings. Cecil was 11 at the time. Until Henry’s sudden death, they had both loved the theater, and she “enthusiastically supported” her husband’s theatrical aspirations. Recognizing his love of the theater and his efforts to become a playwright and producer, she wrote at his funeral,
“May your sons be as fine and as noble and good and honest as you were. May they follow in your steps . . . ”
Within eight weeks after the death, to provide an income for the family, Beatrice opened an acting workshop, the Henry C. De Mille School for Girls, in her home. She would later become one of the few successful women theater promoters on Broadway.
DeMille attended Pennsylvania Military College in Chester, Pennsylvania from the age of 15. He had an elder brother, William, and a sister Agnes, who died in childhood. Cecil DeMille’s famous niece was named for her. He is credited with providing its name, and both Cecil (Class of 1900) and William (Class of 1901) graduated from the Academy, which they attended on scholarship. The Academy honored Cecil with an Alumni Achievement Award.
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