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Editor of "Citizen Kane," Oscar-winning director
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Robert Wise, 91, the much-honored film-editor-turned-director who won four Academy Awards for producing and directing "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," died yesterday.
Mr. Wise, who edited Orson Welles' landmark "Citizen Kane" and Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," became ill at his home yesterday morning and died of heart failure at UCLA Medical Center, said Lawrence Mirisch, a friend.
Mirisch noted that Mr. Wise was buoyant in celebrating his 91st birthday, which was Saturday, at a party with 24 close friends.
Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America, said Mr. Wise's " devotion to the craft of filmmaking and his wealth of head-and-heart knowledge about what we do and how we do it was a special gift to his fellow directors."
In a directing career that began in 1944 when he took over the reins of the horror classic "The Curse of the Cat People" in midproduction, Mr. Wise defied being pigeonholed.
He earned a reputation as a disciplined and impeccable craftsman as he worked in virtually every genre, from high drama and romantic comedy to film noir and the supernatural.
Among the better-known of his 40 films: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951); "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956); "I Want to Live!" (1958), which earned Susan Hayward a best-actress Oscar; "The Haunting" (1963); and "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), which earned Steve McQueen his only Academy Award nomination.
He had the distinction of having two films on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time as a director ("West Side Story" at No. 41 and "The Sound of Music" at No. 55), and as an editor, he played a key role in the No. 1 film on the list, "Citizen Kane," for which he received his first Oscar nomination.
In 1998, he became the 26th recipient of the film institute's life achievement award, joining the ranks of fellow directors John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Welles in receiving what is widely considered the film industry's highest career honor.
"Some of the more esoteric critics claim that there's no Robert Wise style or stamp," Mr. Wise said at the time. "My answer to that is that I've tried to approach each genre in a cinematic style that I think is right for that genre. I wouldn't have approached 'The Sound of Music' the way I approached 'I Want to Live!' for anything, and that accounts for a mix of styles."
He won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his body of work from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1967.
Mr. Wise is survived by his second wife, Millicent, a son, a daughter and a granddaughter.
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