Joe May was born Joseph Otto Mandel on November 7, 1880 in Vienna, Austria. A film-editor, director and producer, May started directing films in 1911 and founded his own production company a few years later (May-Film) with the family fortune. He was known as a resourceful, imaginitive producer and director, but because of his upper-class background he also had a reputation for extravagance and high-handed behavior. The films he produced often starred his wife, Mia May.
During World War I, many established film people were able to continue making films, for propoganda or morale purposes. May enlisted in the Army in Vienna but continued to make films throughout the war, especially a popular series of Detektivfilm featuring a character named Joe Deebs. May owned property on Woltersdorf Lake and sometimes filmed background scenes there (for example the 1919 Fritz Lang film Harakiri). Fritz Lang actually got his start as scenarist for May, and was eventually promoted to director. After a disagreement over who should direct his script The Indian Tomb (May went on to direct it in 1921 with Conrad Veidt) Lang severed his connections with May. Forced to flee Germany after Hitler rose to power, May emigrated with his wife to America and opened a restaurant.
A few years later May headed to Hollywood where, after directing the impressively moody Confession (1937), he was consigned to the "B" unit at Universal pictures. Some of his Universals were quite good, notably The Invisible Man Returns (1940) and House of the Seven Gables (1940) both starring Vincent Price, but May's disillusionment with Hollywood began evincing itself via lethargic pacing and sloppy storytelling. The man who once effortlessly commanded thousands of extras in The Indian Tomb found it impossible to control the on-set shenanigans of the Dead End Kids (Huntz Hall, Billy Halop et. al.) while filming You're Not So Tough (1940) and Hit the Road (1941).
Oddly, one of May's best directorial efforts was his last and least typical: Johnny Doesn't Live Here Any More (1944), a sprightly screwball comedy which gave a major leg-up to the career of Robert Mitchum. In addition to directing, May wrote the screenplays for such Universal programmers as The Invisible Woman (1941) and The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler (1943).
Retiring from active filmmaking in 1950, Joe May spent his declining Hollywood years managing the trendy Blue Danube restaurant. He died on April 29, 1954 in Hollywood after a long struggle with illness.
--A HISTORY OF HORROR.
A selection of Joe May films.
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A selection of Joe May in books.
A History of Horror
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