Then came THE HEIRESS (1949), a fine version of Henry Jamess novel Washington Square, with splendid performances by Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson. ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), which was completely shot on location in Rome, Italy, is a delight. Wyler gave Audrey Hepburn her first leading role and was rewarded with a magical performance. Hepburn won an Oscar®, like so many of Wylers actors did (14 of whom won Academy Awards®, out of a total of 36 nominations).
Later in his career, Wyler was involved in several popular big-budget blockbusters. BEN-HUR (1959), which includes the justly famous chariot race, was the biggest, and it went on to win a record 11 of the 12 Oscars® for which it was nominated. There was also FUNNY GIRL (1968), in which Wyler guided another first-time performer, Barbra Streisand, to an Oscar®.
The roster of great performances in Wylers films also includes Merle Oberon (THESE THREE), Claire Trevor (superb in a vignette in DEAD END ), the less-well-known Doris Davenport (THE WESTERNER), James Stephenson (THE LETTER), Phyllis Love (FRIENDLY PERSUASION ), and the nonprofessional Harold Russell (THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES).
Even toward the end of his career, Wyler was still capable of surprising his audience. His last movie, THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (1970), is a scathing attack on racism in a small American town. A film of power and vigor, it capped his long, marvelous career as a director.
Wyler wanted to continue to make pictures up until the end, but his health kept him from doing so. For the next decade, Wyler, and his wife Talli, traveled the globe. In 1976, he became the fourth recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, succeeding John Ford, James Cagney and Orson Welles.
William Wyler died on July 27, 1981, in Beverly Hills, California.