Blacklisted film director Bernard Vorhaus, who emigrated to England after shooting a number of films for major American studios, died Nov. 23 of natural causes in London. He was 95.
Vorhaus worked on more than 30 films in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s for studios including RKO, Paramount, Columbia and MGM. He directed John Wayne in 1941’s “Lady From Louisiana” as well as June Lockhart in 1947’s “Bury Me Dead.”
Though not a member of the blacklisted “Hollywood 10,” Vorhaus was one of the names given to the House Un-American Activities Committee by director Edward Dmytryk in the 1950s. Eventually, the accusation ended Vorhaus’ U.S. film career. However, for at least seven films in the ’50s and ’60s, Vorhaus was credited as an assistant director named Piero Musetta: United Artists gave him the alias, partly as a means to avoid a strike by the fiercely anti-Communist Projectionists’ Union.
Vorhaus was born in New York City on Christmas Day in 1904. He attended Harvard, where he majored in English literature, and then law school. His father, a lawyer of Jewish-Austrian extraction, wanted Vorhaus to join his firm. Outwardly acquiescent, Vorhaus sped through law school in three years, rather than the customary four, so he would have time to gain a foothold in the motion picture industry.
Soon after his graduation from law school, Vorhaus met Harry Cohn, then the head of Columbia. Impressed, Cohn quickly hired him as a junior writer, eventually helping Vorhaus land jobs at Paramount and later at MGM.
At Paramount he assisted director James Cruze on a 1926 sequel to “The Covered Wagon” called “The Pony Express.”
Vorhaus realized his ambition to direct his own movie with the release of his two-reel “Sunlight” soon thereafter. However, the silent film was unable to compete with “talkies,” and Vorhaus decided to take a break and visit England in 1929.
There, he directed his first features, “On Thin Ice” and “Money for Speed,” both in 1932. He also became involved in filming so-called “quota quickies” — short films hastily shot in only five to six weeks and generally disliked by both critics and audiences.
Vorhaus, however, surpassed the expectations set by the meager quota form and produced the best examples of the genre: tight, action-packed and often stunningly shot featurettes including the highly successful, 66-minute “The Last Journey” (1935).
Despite its humble pedigree, Vorhaus’ British work brought him to the attention of Herbert Yates, president of Republic Pictures in Hollywood. In 1937, Vorhaus returned to America, shooting four films for RKO and 10 for Republic including 1940’s “Three Faces West” with John Wayne.
During this time, Vorhaus became acquainted with cameraman John Alton and writers Ring Lardner Jr. and Ian McLellan Hunter, whose left leanings he appreciated. During WWII, he worked in the Air Force and Signal Corps’ film unit and shot a documentary about the Yalta Conference. The film, “Yalta and After,” was shelved by Washington when Vorhaus’ leftist leanings were discovered.
After the war, Vorhaus directed a few more films, both within and outside of Hollywood, before he was denounced as a Communist sympathizer.
Fleeing the rising tide of anti-Communist sentiment in America, Vorhaus and his wife returned to England permanently. In London, his film career essentially ended, the former director became an architecture student and founded his own renovation company.
Vorhaus is survived by his son.