Showman Cecil B. DeMille, Raised in “Little Washington”

DeMille (center) directing a film. Image from the New York Institute of Photography.

On August 12, 1881, movie producer and director Cecil Blount DeMille was born in Massachusetts where his family was vacationing for the summer. The DeMille roots, though, were deeply embedded in eastern North Carolina and Cecil (not yet “C. B.”) grew up in Washington along the Pamlico River.

The DeMilles were a show business family. Cecil’s father was playwright Henry C. DeMille, a leading figure in New York drama circles, and his niece, Agnes, was a dancer who spent her last years teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Cecil B. DeMilleIn 1913, DeMille moved to California and joined Samuel Goldwyn in founding what would become Paramount Pictures. He played himself in the classic 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. In time DeMille’s name became synonymous with spectacle. He produced 70 films including The Greatest Show on Earth and The Ten Commandments. During production of the latter, he suffered a heart attack after climbing a ladder to the top of the set made to look like Pharaoh Ramses’s temple.

DeMille died in 1959 of congestive heart failure. At the time he was negotiating the directing rights to Ben-Hur.

The Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement Award is named in his honor.

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