Thomas Leo McCarey (October 3, 1898 July 5, 1969) was an American screenwriter and director who was especially prominent in The Golden Age of Hollywood.
Born in Los Angeles, California, McCarey initially studied to be a lawyer but by his own admission he wasn't very good at it. He eventually felt his true passion was in show business instead and in 1919 he found work as a writer and gagman for Tod Browning and Hal Roach studios. In The Silent Age of Hollywood, McCarey was a highly regarded comedy producer and writer. Most notably, he was the one who first paired together Laurel and Hardy. When sound arrived, McCarey continued to direct many comic performers such as W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, and most notably the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.
However, McCarey was interested in making his own kind of films, dealing with more serious subjects (albeit with elements of comedy and satire involved). He considered Ruggles of Red Gap (Charles Laughton's Breakthrough Hit) his first major film. 1937 would prove to be the height of McCarey's personal and professional accomplishment. In that year he made two films nominated for Best Picture; the film that won (The Awful Truth) was the movie he considered the lesser one, while the one that didnt (Make Way for Tomorrow) was what he considered his greatest film. The Awful Truth, however, would prove to be of greater impact. The film was the star-making role of Cary Grant who was famous and well regarded but had not yet been established as a romantic male lead. McCarey played no small part in that, and he modelled Grant's distinct personality of a suave, elegant and somewhat aloof charmer on himself, including his own dressing style. The physical resemblance between Grant and McCarey likewise helped the transition. In other words, McCarey is responsible in part for Cary Grant's Signature Style which he would play and repeat in many films he would make subsequently.
McCarey was the among the least prolific of all major Golden Age directors. He very early insisted on making films his way and refused to make commercial films and more or less worked as an "independent film-maker" in the studios. He continued to direct iconic films such as the much-remade Love Affair (remade by McCarey himself as An Affair to Remember). His reputation declined after the war, with some of his films such as Good Sam made for Republic studios not finding attention (even if it would be seen as a masterpiece by admirers later on). His most controversial film by far was the 1952 My Son John inspired by the Red Scare, which tarnished McCarey's reputation owing to his support for the anti-communist activities run by HUAC. The film's Troubled Production, with leading man Robert Walker's death midway into production further hampered the film. He would make two more films after that before retiring.
McCarey was much admired in his own time by his peers, including Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford among many others. His film Make Way for Tomorrow is loved by Orson Welles as well as Yasujiro Ozu (whose famous film Tokyo Story was inspired by it). Despite being obscure, his works continue to be touchstone for modern film-makers, most notably Wes Anderson.
- Mighty Like a Moose (1926, short film)
- Pass the Gravy (1928, short film) (production supervisor)
- Big Business (1929, short film)
- Duck Soup (1933)
- Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
- The Milky Way (1936)
- Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
- The Awful Truth (1937)
- Love Affair (1939)
- My Favorite Wife (1940) (produced but not directed)
- Going My Way (1944)
- The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
- Good Sam (1948)
- My Son John (1952)
- An Affair to Remember (1957)
- Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1958)