Dore Schary Papers, circa 1920-1980


Playwright, motion picture executive, and activist Dore Schary was born Isidore Schary on August 31, 1905 in Newark, New Jersey. After dropping out of school at age fourteen Schary worked in a number of jobs including operating his parents' catering business and serving as publicity man for Admiral Byrd. Schary returned to school, completing four years of school in ten months and graduating from Newark Central High in 1923. Schary became a reporter for the Newark Call. During the same period he became involved in little theater productions as an actor and director. Eventually he joined a stock company in Cincinnati, then moved to New York City where he debuted as an actor in 1930 and tried his hand at playwriting.

In 1932 one of Schary's unproduced efforts attracted the attention of Walter Wanger who offered him a job as a screenwriter with Columbia Pictures. Schary later turned to freelancing for other studios and independent producers, and in 1937 his first play was produced on Broadway. Back in Hollywood he wrote Boys Town for MGM for which he received an Oscar in 1938. Subsequent successes, including an Oscar for Edison the Man, earned Schary a promotion as head of the low budget unit at MGM. Between 1941 and 1943 he oversaw two dozen productions including Joe Smith, American and Lassie Come Home.

Creative disagreements led to Schary's move to head David Selznick's independent company Vanguard Pictures, and from 1943 to 1946 he personally produced five highly successful pictures: I'll Be Seeing You, The Spiral Staircase, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, The Farmer's Daughter, and Til the End of Time. In 1947 he became studio production head at RKO. During a year and a half period, often considered the most creative of his career, Schary released Crossfire, The Boy with Green Hair, I Remember Mama, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, and many other titles.

In 1948 Howard Hughes bought controlling interest in RKO, and soon after in order to retain his creative independence Schary returned to MGM as vice-president in charge of production. In his first years Schary restored MGM's former prestige, and his films achieved both box office success and Oscar-winning recognition. During this period he oversaw productions such as The Stratton Story, Adam's Rib, An American in Paris, Show Boat, and Singin' in the Rain. At the same time he personally produced Battleground, The Next Voice You Hear, Westward the Women, Bad Day at Black Rock, and Designing Woman. After the departure of Louis B. Mayer in 1951 Schary was named head of the studio. In his eight years at the studio MGM released over 270 pictures, and Schary earned a personal reputation for his willingness to challenge conventional Hollywood wisdom concerning subject matter appropriate for films.

Beginning in the late 1930s Schary had also become active in the Anti-Defamation League and the Democratic Party. In 1940 he chaired the Hollywood for Roosevelt Committee. These liberal associations continued during Schary's years as a studio executive. Although he signed the so-called Waldorf Conference Statement in 1947, he did not abide by the conference's decision to blacklist the “Hollywood Ten.” During the 1950s Schary was a leading supporter of Adlai Stevenson. Political differences with the more conservative studio leadership apparently contributed to Schary's controversial dismissal from MGM in 1956.

Returning to his earlier interest in writing, Schary wrote and staged the Tony Award-winning hit Sunrise at Campobello in 1958. Two years later he wrote and produced the Warner Bros. film version. In subsequent years Schary devoted most of his creative energy to the theater, with productions such as Act One, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Devil's Advocate, and the semi-autobiographical Banderol. He also served as head of Theatre Vision Inc. and in 1973 formed Schary Productions in an abortive attempt to return to filmmaking.

Schary's civic activities continued throughout his life. He served as national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League and was commissioner of cultural affairs for New York City. He was also a popular public speaker. Schary died of cancer on July 7, 1980. He was survived by his wife Miriam Svet Schary, a noted painter, and three children: Jill Robinson, Joy Stashower, and Jeb Schary.