Academic journal article Post Script

Christian Nyby: An Interview

Academic journal article Post Script

Christian Nyby: An Interview

Article excerpt

About 14 years ago, I was doing research for an article I was preparing on Clint Eastwood. Since I found so little of substance on his formative years as an actor on Rawhide, the second longest running Western in the annals of television, I thought I would try to speak with whomever I could from the cast and crew of the still-syndicated program originally broadcast on CBS from 1959 to 1966.

Among them was a director of some two dozen episodes of Rawhide who I felt must have recollections of the young Eastwood that would be worthwhile. This was Christian Nyby. Through referrals, I reached Mr. Nyby at his home in Temecula, California, about 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles, where he had since retired. Nyby was then 77 years old.

He was a very cordial man with a deep, authoritative voice and, as I would learn, at 6'3" and 220 lbs., of formidable stature. After making an appointment to speak about Clint Eastwood, I began to inquire a little more about Nyby's own history.

As it turned out, Nyby was one of the pioneers of television. He began in 1952 and went on to direct some 1000 episodes from nearly every memorable program during the "Golden Age" of the medium, from Gunsmoke to Have Gun, Will Travel to Bonanza to Wagon Train to The Twilight Zone and virtually everything in between until the mid-70s. As with so many of these programs, Nyby's recollections of Rawhide decades earlier were often richly detailed and, among those I spoke with, the most astute in characterizing the young Eastwood.

But there was much more to Christian Nyby than his contribution to television. He'd started his career in motion pictures as an editor in the late 30s. Moreover, Nyby had been the editor for pantheon auteur director Howard Hawks through much of the 40s and early 50s. Nyby in fact had cut three of Hawks most enduring classics: To Have or Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and Red River (1948), for which Nyby received an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Editing the following year.

Especially remarkable were the circumstances under which Nyby cut Red River. As he discusses here, he was deeply involved in editing Fighter Squadron for Raoul Walsh, another renowned auteur and Hollywood legend (Walsh had been the assistant director and co-editor on Birth of a Nation, for example, and directed over 135 films between 1912 and 1964), at Warner Brothers when, unexpectedly, Hawks asked Nyby to step in as editor on Red River late in the production. For six weeks, Nyby worked on both films, one during regular working hours and the other at night. Anyone familiar with the editing process instantly recognizes the stress and perplexity of keeping two feature films mentally segregated. I know of no other instance where such a daunting task was undertaken. Yet, Nyby not only rescued Red River from the wayward course it was on but also shaped it into the classic it became.

While Hawks valued Nyby's editing proficiency, it became apparent to me that there were other reasons why Hawks liked Nyby personally. As often noted by critics and scholars, Hawks extolled professionalism and commitment to teamwork. As will become evident, these were virtues Hawks amply recognized in Nyby.

Not long after Red River, Hawks delegated Nyby his first film as a director, The Thing (from Another World) (1951). Much controversy still surrounds The Thing. The film exudes themes and stylistics not only unmistakably that of Hawks but with the composure and sophistication of Hawks at his pinnacle. Many have suggested that it was Hawks, credited as producer of "The Thing," who actually directed the film. Hawks explained it this way: "The direction was handled by (Nyby) but I was on the set for all the important scenes." (1) To what extent this explains Hawks involvement is obviously not really clear, but it does indicate that Nyby was presiding over the actors and the shots.

Regardless, Nyby's contribution to The Thing should not be underestimated. …

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