Producer Robert Wise Dies at 91

Robert Wise, who won four Oscars as producer and director of the classic 1960s musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music, has died. He was 91.

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(Soundbite of music from "West Side Story")

Mr. RICHARD BEYMER: (Singing, as Tony) Maria, I just met a girl named Maria.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The movie director Robert Wise has died. During his 91 years, he directed two of the most popular musicals ever on screen, "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story."

(Soundbite of music from "West Side Story")

Mr. BEYMER: (Singing, as Tony) ...I just kissed a girl named Maria...

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

During his career, Robert Wise cranked out dozens of popular films including westerns and science fiction. His was the guiding hand behind "The Curse of the Cat People," which a movie Web site today summarizes as `a tender tale of terror.'

(Soundbite from "The Curse of the Cat People")

Unidentified Woman #1: Do you know why I came to you, Amy, why I came to be your friend?

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Amy) Because you called me. Out of your loneliness, you called me and brought me into being.

MONTAGNE: The director who brought these films to be once explained that his job was to give movie-goers what they wanted.

Mr. ROBERT WISE (Movie Director): I don't think anybody wants to put out a film that just doesn't play with an audience, you know. You want to try to get a version of it that will hold together and be still a damn good film and still work for the audiences, you know. That's why we eventually make the pictures for, for that audience out there.

INSKEEP: Robert Wise was a college dropout who got a job at a film studio. He was a film porter, carrying prints between the projection and cutting rooms. Eventually he became a film editor, and in 1941, he edited what many critics call the best movie of all time, "Citizen Kane."

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: When he went on to direct, his background was apparent to some viewers, including the modern-day director Martin Scorsese.

Mr. MARTIN SCORSESE (Director): One of the reasons I kind of like his stuff a lot is because he was an editor and I could see where he's making these cuts. I could see where he decides to cut from one shot to another and why he puts his camera in certain positions. There's something specific about the intelligence of the way he directed the film. That makes it see like a very special person behind that lens.

(Soundbite from movie)

Mr. BEYMER: (As Tony) Maria?

Ms. NATALIE WOOD: (As Maria #1) Shh.

Mr. BEYMER: (As Tony) Maria.

Ms. WOOD: (As Maria #1) Be quiet.

MONTAGNE: In the 1960s, Robert Wise turned that lens on the story of Romeo and Juliet as set in New York City, and then his camera recorded Julie Andrews singing through Europe in a story set before World War II.

(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music")

Ms. JULIE ANDREWS: (Singing, as Maria #2) Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things.

MONTAGNE: Robert Wise remained a favorite director in Hollywood. He continued leaping from genre to genre, even making a movie of "Star Trek" in 1979.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WISE: Some critics say, `Well, there's no stamp on a Robert Wise film, that, you know, there's no trademark on his film, no distinctive, say, trademark,' and my answer to that always is, `I've done every genre there is and I approach each genre in a cinematic style that I think is right for that genre.'

INSKEEP: Robert Wise was in Los Angeles yesterday when he died of heart failure at the age of 91.

MONTAGNE: Throughout his long life, he always managed to keep his audience in mind. After the release of "The Sound of Music," some critics were dismayed.

INSKEEP: Pauline Kael called it `the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat.' Despite that famous review, "The Sound of Music" went on to become one of the most successful films of all time.

(Soundbite from "The Sound of Music")

Children: (Singing) So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen.

Ms. CHARMIAN CARR: (Singing, as Liesl) I'd like to stay and taste my first champagne.

Children: (Singing) So long, farewell, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, goodbye...

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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