Any Guild member can tell you how they got started in the Guild, but how many can tell you how the Guild got started? Nowadays, possibly only Dick McWhorter, because he was there, and he’s still here. Ninety-two, and retired from a distinguished career as an assistant director, production manager and producer, McWhorter was working as a messenger boy in the production office at Columbia Pictures in January 1936 when the first public meeting of the DGA convened. Itching to become an assistant director, he thought the Guild was a great idea, and hustled down to the Hollywood Athletic Club to attend the meeting with luminaries like Frank Capra, King Vidor and Howard Hawks. After becoming a 2nd AD later that year, he went on to work with each of them.
McWhorter developed many lasting relationships, particularly with Vidor, William Dieterle (Love Letters), Daniel Mann (The Rose Tattoo) and producer Hal Wallis, whom he worked with virtually nonstop from 1943 to 1970.
One of the memorable situations he was called upon to handle occurred during the filming of Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba in 1959 in Madrid. The star, Tyrone Power, collapsed two weeks before the shoot was due to wrap, and after being rushed to a hospital, died of a heart attack. McWhorter was the one who had to tell Vidor that his lead actor had died.
“King and I were close, and he said, ‘Let’s go to lunch and figure this out,’” recalls McWhorter. “I said, ‘I think we’d better start looking through all the shots we’ll have to redo, and find someone who can match the costume.’” Eventually, United Artists arranged for Yul Brynner to step in and fill the role, and the picture was saved.
Involved in a series of sword and sandal pictures, among dozens of others, McWhorter spent much of his time in distant locations like Europe, Africa and Mexico. At the London premiere of Anne of a Thousand Days, his favorite production with Wallis, he had the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II, one of many memories he savors.
“The film business is in my blood,” he says. “I love everything about it. One day you’re in Africa with the Masai, the next day you’re with the Queen. I don’t think there’s anything you can do that gives you more of an education on life and people.”