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Biography Celebrates "The Most Important Filmmaker You've Never Heard Of"

Wiki Commons

You may not know his name, but many of the movies you've seen have been influenced by his work.

Filmmaker Rouben Mamoulian left his native Armenia before the World War II, in an effort to escape looming strife. He fled to France and England, where he made theater connections, before coming to the United States to work at the Eastman School of Music.

After arriving in Hollywood, he built a career that was innovative in its technical prowess – and for its content. But he was outspoken and clashed with producers and other studio executives in Hollywood, leading to his firing during the productions of "Porgy and Bess," and "Cleopatra."

And his innovations? No less than a concept called the voiceover, which is common today, but was unheard of when Mamoulian decided to employ it.

"Producers said, 'You can’t have a voiceover – nobody’s going to know where that voice is coming from',” says Dave Luhrssen, author of a new biography of Mamoulian. "And he said, 'Ridiculous – of course people will figure it out,' and they did, and hence the voiceover was born."

Luhrssen is Arts and Entertainment editor at Milwaukee's Shepherd Express weekly newspaper, and Lake Effect's regular film contributor.  The new book is called Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen, published by University of Kentucky Press.  Luhrssen will discuss it tomorrow evening at Boswell Book Company.

Dan Harmon was one of the original members of Lake Effect (formerly At Ten). He started at WUWM in November of 1998 and left December of 2015 after 17 years of production.