Five-time Oscar recipient Robert Wise will receive the 26th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. The producer-director of such films as “West Side Story,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Set-Up,” “I Want to Live” and “The Sound of Music” will be presented with the honor Feb. 19 at a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to be broadcast later in the spring on NBC and the A&E network.
“I’m very excited to be getting this award,” said Wise. “This is one of the top awards you can receive for a film career. I had hoped it would be my turn some day.”
The filmmaker’s honor was a bit of a surprise in light of the AFI’s recent choices, which have included Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson. In 1993, its criteria for the nod were extended to include “individuals with active careers and work of significance yet to be accomplished.”
Wise, a member of the AFI board, was told his name was being submitted for the award and said he quietly opted out of last week’s meeting early. He was elated to be told that his selection was unanimous.
“Robert Wise has created works that stand the test of time and he consistently set trends that continue today,” said Tom Pollock, chairman of the AFI board of trustees. “AFI is not only presenting an award to an extraordinary filmmaker, but is celebrating movies loved by people of all ages.”
Entering the film industry in 1933 as a messenger at RKO, Wise soon apprenticed in the editing department. As a film editor, his credits included “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” In 1941, he received his first Oscar nomination as editor of “Citizen Kane.”
Three years later, Wise directed his first feature, “Curse of the Cat People,” and became a studio house director, churning out thrillers and Westerns. His stock went up with the searing boxing drama “The Set-Up,” starring Robert Ryan, in 1949. Wise moved to Fox and in 1951 made the seminal science-fiction movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Later in the decade, he set up as a director-producer at United Artists, where he had his biggest commercial and critical hits.
“West Side Story” in 1961 earned him best picture and directing honors (the latter shared with Jerome Robbins), and he repeated the feat four years later with “The Sound of Music,” the film that broke “Gone With the Wind’s” 26-year reign as top-grossing film of all time. Wise received a fifth Oscar in 1995 when the Academy presented him with the Irving Thalberg Award for his distinguished body of work.
Among his other directing credits are “Blood on the Moon,” “Born to Kill,” “Executive Suite,” “Odds Against Tomorrow,” ,” “Run Silent, Run Deep,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and “Star Trek — The Motion Picture.” His most recent film was 1989’s “Rooftops.”