Mervyn LeRoy , (born October 15, 1900, San Francisco, California, U.S.—died September 13, 1987, Beverly Hills, California), American motion-picture director whose wide variety of films included dramas, romances, epics, comedies, and musicals. He also produced films, including the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939).
After the LeRoy family home was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, LeRoy earned his first money by selling newspapers; that became his entreé to show business when one of his customers helped him get a part onstage as a newsboy. He performed in vaudeville as “the Singing Newsboy.” His cousin Jesse Lasky helped him get a job folding costumes at Famous Players–Lasky in 1919, and from there he ascended from lab technician to assistant cameraman. LeRoy managed a parallel career as an actor, often playing juveniles in films from 1922 to 1924.
After he outgrew those parts, LeRoy moved behind the scenes, writing gags (and sometimes more) for such Colleen Moore pictures as Sally (1925), Ella Cinders (1926), and Twinkletoes (1926). In 1927 Warner Brothers signed him to direct, and he commenced this most-important phase of his career with such low-budget efforts as Harold Teen (1928) and Oh Kay! (1928). Hot Stuff (1929), a comedy with Alice White, was his first sound picture, and White also starred in Broadway Babies (1929) and Show Girl in Hollywood (1930), an inside-Hollywood yarn with portions shot in Technicolor.
Also in 1930 came Numbered Men, a prison drama, and Top Speed, a Joe E. Brown musical comedy. Then came Little Caesar (1931), the film that made LeRoy’s reputation, with Edward G. Robinson as a Capone-like crime czar. It stands as one of the seminal gangster pictures, along with William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931) and Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932).
Gentleman’s Fate, Too Young to Marry, and Broadminded, the latter another comedy with Brown, all followed in 1931, though none had the impact of Little Caesar. However, Five Star Final (1931) again had the benefit of Robinson,