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William Wyler was perhaps the most honored of Hollywood filmmakers. He was a perfectionist, a meticulous craftsman, who in his 45 years as a director won three Oscars® — for MRS. MINIVER (1942), THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), and BEN-HUR (1959) — and was nominated on nine other occasions.

He was born Willi Wyler on July 1, 1902, in Mulhouse in the province of Alsace. His father was Swiss, his mother German. Educated in Mulhouse and Lausanne, Switzerland, he worked briefly in Paris before meeting his mother’s first cousin, Carl Laemmle. Laemmle, who left Europe for America as a teenager, had become head of Universal Studios. Laemmle offered Willi the opportunity to come to America and work for him. Wyler left Europe on the Aquitania on September 10, 1920 — he was barely 18.

Wyler first worked in Universal’s New York offices. In January 1922, he persuaded Laemmle to bring him to California. Wyler began at Universal as an errand boy but moved quickly through the ranks. By July 1925, he had graduated to director. His first film was the 24-minute long CROOK BUSTER (1925). Although he never officially changed his name, on this movie he was credited as William Wyler.

After a long apprenticeship in which he made more than two dozen B Westerns, Wyler graduated to A features. In 1930, he was assigned to direct HELL’S HEROES. It was Universal’s first all-sound, outdoor movie, and it became the first of many Wyler movies that were both commercial and critical hits.

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