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He was a Hollywood pioneer, but the Central Coast man is now largely forgotten

King Vidor has a career in Hollywood spanning nearly seven decades, but was most active from the 1920's to the 1960's. He had a ranch in San Luis Obispo County for decades.
King Vidor has a career in Hollywood spanning nearly seven decades, but was most active from the 1920's to the 1960's. He had a ranch in San Luis Obispo County for decades.

King Vidor is remembered with a special award in his name at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. The 2024 Festival is April 25-30.

You might not know his name. But, he was a Hollywood pioneer whose half-century career spanned silent films to talkies.

The longtime Central Coast resident directed one of the most iconic movie scenes in history.

King Vidor directed the black and white sequences in the Wizard of Oz, including Judy Garland’s performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

He was born in Texas in 1894. Once of his first jobs was as a ticket-taker at a silent movie theater. While just a teen, he even built his own movie camera, and decided movies were his future.

"King Vidor is important in American cinema," said Kirk Honeycutt, who is a longtime entertainment reporter and author who became friends with Vidor. "I would put him in the second wave of the pioneer filmmakers of the industry," said Honeycutt. "He came to Hollywood with his wife Florence Vidor, who became a star before he became a top director. "

He signed with MGM, and made their biggest early hit, The Big Parade, which was a look at World War I through the eyes of an American soldier. It was the studio's top film at the box office until The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind were released.

Vidor was a pioneer in the move from silent films to those with sound. In 1929, he made Hallelujah, one of the first films with an all-black cast.

It was Vidor's first sound film, and featured an acclaimed soundtrack. Hallelujah lost money, but it earned Vidor an Oscar nomination.

In the late 1940’s, he bought a ranch near Paso Robles.

While he made more than 50 films, by the 1960’s Hollywood stopped calling him.

But, Honeycutt says Vidor never gave up, and for the last 20 years of his life tried to get movies made, including his passion project, a film about Don Quixote. He could never raise the funding for that project.

The San Luis Obispo Film International Film Festival is now keeping his name alive, with an award presented every year for excellence in filmmaking.

Skye McLennan is Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo festival. "We named it after King because because he was a local seemed like the perfect fit," said McLennan.
Some of the past honorees include Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman, and Ann-Margaret.

Actress/Writer/Director Heather Graham is this year’s King Vidor Award winner. She’ll be honored during the 2024 festival which opens Thursday and runs through Tuesday

Graham will be saluted Saturday during ceremonies which include a reception, a question and answer session and a screening of her new movie Chosen Family.

While Vidor might not be remembered by Hollywood, his life, and career are being commemorated every year by film fans on the Central Coast.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.