BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
Born in New York City on August 10, 1894 into an upper-middle class family, the Crosland family soon moved to East Orange, New Jersey where Alan was reared. His family's finances allowed for him to spend part of his elementary education in England, where he acquired a curious Anglo-American accent that he would affect for the rest of his life. With a restless personality that was complimented by a sharp intellect and a smooth tongue Crosland had an uncanny ability of befriending even the most disagreeable people around him (a talent he would put to good use in Hollywood). Read more... College but left before graduation, deciding he wanted to become a journalist, and eventually landed employment with the New York Globe, writing articles and short stories on the side for movie magazines. From 1912 he began to moonlight with the nearby Edison Company as an actor and stage manager. He performed a variety of duties there, eventually directing the studio's last feature, The Unbeliever (1918) shortly before being drafted in WW1. Crosland served out the Great War in the Army Photo Service. After the Armistice he signed with a smaller independent company, Select, one he had briefly worked with prior to the war, remaining with them on 10 more pictures through 1922. During this period he had gained an enviable reputation of effectively directing some of the most temperamental stars of the day. Crosland was of the few directors that actually liked Erich von Stroheim and obtained effective performances from the notoriously hammy (yet undeniably talented) Lionel Barrymore. He signed with Goldwyn-Cosmopolitan in 1923, where the reviews for Under the Red Robe (1923) placed him solidly in the ranks of Hollywood's top directors. He became the first director a studio wanted when shooting a big budget regal historical drama, especially if it starred a difficult actor that might be inclined to spin costs out of control. With his reputation growing, Crosland lived life to the hilt, thoroughly enjoying the 1920s Hollywood lifestyle; he was frequently seen around town looking always dapper in the latest flashy cars and inside the latest hot spot with a dazzling starlet. After a brief stint at Paramount, Crosland signed with Warner Brothers and assigned to projects by Darryl F. Zanuck at the time the studio was in the midst of a make-or-break gamble on sound with it's Vitaphone sound-on-disk system. At that time Warner Brothers was considered an also-ran studio, far below the ranks of MGM, Universal and Paramount. It had acquired an unenviable reputation in Hollywood as having only two major stars, one of which was a German Shepherd named Rin-Tin-Tin and the temperamental, hard-drinking John Barrymore, who was hauled out for it's few prestige pictures. One of the five combative brothers, Sam Warner, saw sound as the way to eliminate the need for theatrical orchestras and establish what he felt was Warner's rightful place within the film industry. Crosland's reputation for handling both spectacle and difficult stars made him the obvious choice to direct their first tentative stab at sound, Don Juan (1926); the first film to contain synchronized music and sound effects. The film was a moderate success and he was picked for an even more ambitious project, The Jazz Singer (1927), a part-talkie, on which the studio's entire fortunes rested. Crosland was chosen to direct the maudlin story largely on his ability to work with the notoriously difficult Al Jolson, after George Jessel (who had starred in the Broadway production) walked out over a pay dispute. The $500,000 production had only 281 spoken words (mostly incidental to the songs and ad-libbed by Jolson) but it ignited the public's voracious appetite for talkies and grossed $3,000,000, a blockbuster in those days. Hollywood was soon caught up in a war between competing two sound technologies, Warner's Vitaphone and Fox's superior Western Electric sound-on-film process. Meanwhile, studios faced enormous conversion costs and uncertainties over their stars' abilities to transition to sound. By 1928, silent film had reached the pinnacle of it's artistic achievement and the early talkies, by comparison, appeared crude. While some studios, most notably MGM (whose parent Loew's faced monumental costs related to converting it's extensive theater network), adopted a wait and see attitude toward both the public acceptance of sound and choosing a system, Warner's saw talkies in the form of it's Vitaphone as its salvation. In Crosland's world of 1927-29, it should be remembered that sound cameras were fixed and muffled, large microphones had to be cleverly hidden and actors were often justifiably terrified of how their voices would be received. Unfortunately the Vitaphone process seriously limited the ability to edit a film, resulting in stagy long takes and with it's cumbersome electro-mechanical hardware and fragile records that would often break in transit, it was soon obvious that Fox's sound-on-film system was vastly superior (Warner's would quietly admit technological defeat in 1931 and convert). Technology issues aside, the Vitaphone propelled Warner Brothers solidly into the ranks of the A-list studios, and infused with cash, enabled it to acquire Fox's First National theatrical network by 1930, a crucial business move which greatly expanded it's distribution capabilities and enabled it ride out huge losses it would incur from 1931 to 1934. And it was during this all-too-brief transition period when Alan Crosland was the most experienced sound director in town. He directed another part-talkie hit, Glorious Betsy (1928), starring Dolores Costello, a return to his favored costume spectacle. By mid-1929, it became apparent that a movie could not solely depend on the novelty of sound; hits required production values and a degree of action, an uncomfortable situation given the restrictions of the equipment. At this point Crosland stumbled badly. A primitive attempt at color didn't help his On with the Show! (1929), a creaky musical starring a badly miscast Betty Compson and Arthur Lake, a textbook example of claustrophobic film making and his first real flop. He tripped again with Captain Thunder (1930), one of his worst films. His next two assignments delved into opera genre with dismal box office returns. His personal life became rocky with his first marriage to Juanita Fletcher failing in 1930. He hastily wed actress Natalie Moorhead, a union that would last less than 5 years. Although he would direct more than 20 features - some of them were moderately successful - after his career triumph with "The Jazz Singer," Crosland fell from the ranks of A-list directors and he settled into directing B-level pictures. Early morning on July 10, 1936 he was driving on Sunset Boulevard when his car hit some road debris and he swerved off the road, flipping twice in a construction zone. He was rushed to the hospital with multiple broken bones and a suspected skull fracture. Within four days he contracted pneumonia and his condition was downgraded by his doctor. He died on July 16, 1936, just shy of his 42nd birthday. His last film The Case of the Black Cat (1936) was completed by William C. McGann. Crosland was survived by his son (with Juanita Fletcher), Alan Crosland Jr., who became a very successful television director in the 1960s-70s.