Director Vincente Minnelli, 83, the onetime art designer whose stylish and sophisticated movie musicals included the balletic "An American in Paris," the archly elegant "Gigi" and the lushly romantic "Brigadoon," died late July 25.
Mr. Minnelli, who had been hospitalized several times in the past year for pneumonia and emphysema, was stricken at his Beverly Hills home with a respiratory problem and was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead.
He won the best-director Oscar for "Gigi" in 1958, and made his last film "A Matter of Time," starring daughter Liza Minnelli, in 1976. He had directed Judy Garland, who was his first wife and Liza's mother, in three films. He directed more than 35 films in the past 40 years.
Over the years, Mr. Minnelli was hailed for his daring use of color, unique camera techniques and an ability to advance stories through music. He ended "An American in Paris" with a ballet performed by Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.
He is probably best remembered for directing musicals, including "Meet Me In St. Louis," "Ziegfeld Follies," "Kismet," "Bells Are Ringing," and "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever." However, he also directed comedies, such as "Father of the Bride" with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, and "I Dood It," starring Red Skelton. His dramatic works included "The Bad and the Beautiful," "The Clock" and "Madame Bovary." He also directed "Lust for Life," the story of painter Vincent Van Gogh.
Over the years, films he directed received 16 Academy Awards. "Gigi" won 10, "An American in Paris" won five, and "Lust for Life" garnered one. Mr. Minnelli's sole best director award was for "Gigi."
"He believes implicitly in the power of his camera to turn trash into art, and corn into caviar," wrote the Village Voice's movie critic, Andrew Sarris, in 1968.
Mr. Minnelli was born in Chicago into a theatrical family, the Minnelli Brothers Dramatic and Tent Shows. He made his acting debut at age three. According to his 1974 autobiography, "I Remember It Well" (a reference to "Gigi"), he was a natural ham. In the book, he recounts how after a particularly moving scene in "East Lynne," he sat up and reassured his actress mother, "I'm not dead. I was acting!" His love of design became apparent almost as early. Still in his teens, he became a display designer for Marshall Field & Co., then turned to society photography and theatrical costume design and eventually moved to Broadway in 1931 as a set designer.
He soon after became art director of Radio City Music Hall, where he designed and produced a new show every week. He became a member of the innovative Gershwin/Levant circle and produced extravaganza-style sets for Florenz Ziegfeld and Josephine Baker before moving to Hollywood and directing movie musical numbers for Lena Horne. He directed his first full-length movie in 1942, the groundbreaking, all-black "Cabin in the Sky," starring Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
One of his earliest films, the 1944 "Meet Me in St. Louis," was an extraordinary hit. It featured Judy Garland, who sang the title song, Mary Astor and a very young Margaret O'Brien, who was supposed to cry in a scene about a snowman. Mr. Minnelli resorted to a rather cruel stratagem to make her cry: He told O'Brien that her dog had just died, and then kept the cameras rolling with the tears.
In keeping with his early dabblings, a number of Mr. Minnelli's films played off other artistic media: "An American in Paris" was inspired by a Gershwin composition; "The Pirate" was about a actor who specialized in swashbuckler roles; "Gigi" featured a promenade scene inspired by Renoir and a cafe scene reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec. Mr. Minnelli directed many stars of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Among them were Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, James Mason and Leslie Caron. He received his latest award in April from French President Francois Mitterrand, who made him a Commander of the Legion of Honor for his "contributions to French culture and the high esteem our country holds for you." He and Garland were divorced in 1951. His second and third marriages, to Georgette Magnani and Denise Gigante, also ended in divorce.
In additon to his daughter Liza, his survivors include another daughter, Christine Miro, his wife Lee, and two grandchildren.