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Leisen, Mitchell (1898-1972)  
 
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Leisen spent the next two years working for DeMille, beginning in the costume department and working up to set decorator and art director. However, due to constant disagreements with DeMille over design decisions, Leisen resigned in 1922 and joined United Artists, a studio founded several years earlier by the director D.W. Griffith, and the film stars Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.

While at United Artists, Leisen designed the costumes for Fairbanks' swashbuckling epics Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and was entrusted to design the period costumes Pickford wore in her film Rosita (1923).

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However, Leisen grew tired of designing costumes and yearned for greater creative responsibilities. Consequently, in 1925, when DeMille established his own production company, Leisen rejoined him, despite their past antagonisms, as an art director.

Leisen worked for DeMille over the next seven years. Later in his life, he often credited DeMille with teaching him everything he knew about making motion pictures.

Leisen designed the meticulously detailed sets for such DeMille productions as The Volga Boatman (1926), The King of Kings (1927), and Dynamite (1929). He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction for Dynamite, but perhaps more importantly for Leisen's subsequent career, he also served as assistant director to DeMille on the film.

Thereafter, Leisen functioned as both art director and assistant director (while occasionally designing the costumes as well) for DeMille's films including Madam Satan (1930), The Squaw Man (1931), and the infamous The Sign of the Cross (1932), a film replete with opulent Roman orgies, body-baring outfits, and same-sex seductions.

Word of Leisen's talents as a director quickly spread throughout Hollywood. Paramount Pictures offered him a chance to co-direct a film with Stuart Walker, a Broadway stage director the studio had under contract. Leisen and Walker ultimately directed two films together (with Leisen receiving credit as "associate director" on both): Tonight Is Ours (1933), a comic romance based on a play by Noël Coward, and The Eagle and the Hawk (1933), about World War I fighter pilots. Leisen later claimed full credit for both films, asserting that "Stuart Walker had no idea what a camera was for, or about, or anything else."

Both films were critically and commercially successful, and Leisen's career as one of Paramount's foremost directors began. His first solo directing effort was Cradle Song (1933), an unconventional drama about a lovelorn nun who "adopts" a young orphan girl, which starred Dorothea Wieck, known for her work in the classic German lesbian drama Mädchen in Uniform (1931).

Other early successes for Leisen were the elegant allegory Death Takes a Holiday (1934); the eccentric hybrid of musical and thriller Murder at the Vanities (1934); Hands Across the Table (1935), the first of his "gender role-reversal" films, with Carole Lombard as a tough-talking manicurist and Fred MacMurray as a frivolous, bankrupt playboy; and Swing High, Swing Low (1937), another darkly comic love story, again starring Lombard and MacMurray.

In 1937, Leisen also directed the critically acclaimed "screwball" comedy Easy Living, with a script by Preston Sturges. The film revolves around a mink coat thrown out of a window by a wealthy financier during an argument with his wife that lands on the head of a penniless working girl as she passes underneath; she in turn is mistakenly believed to be the millionaire's mistress.

The film fluently encompasses the themes and issues that Leisen returned to again and again throughout his career: mistaken identity, role-playing, and deception.

At the end of filming Easy Living in November 1937, Leisen suffered a heart attack.

He recuperated quickly, however, and returned to the studio the next year to direct the musical-comedy The Big Broadcast of 1938. Set aboard a conspicuously phallic-looking luxury liner named the S.S. Gigantic and staffed entirely by muscular sailors in tight white uniforms, the film is highly theatrical and keenly suggestive.

One of the sailors in that film was a dancer named Billy Daniels (1912-1962). Leisen promptly embarked on a long-term, and open, relationship with Daniels; for much of their time together the two men lived in the same house. Subsequently, Daniels performed in several other of Leisen's films and served as choreographer for the musicals he directed.

Their relationship ended in the late 1940s.

Daniels continued to work in Hollywood as a choreographer on other directors' films before moving to Berlin, where he choreographed dance sequences for several German musicals. He died of a heart attack in 1962.

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