Katherine Orrison


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Katherine Orrison's letter to Scott Eyman,
author of Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille

Born in Anniston, Alabama, Katherine Orrison spent a childhood divided between Anniston and Pompano Beach, Florida, where her grandparents owned and ran the only hotel on Ocean Avenue.
She was the only child of John M. Orrison and Mary H. Orrison, who divorced when she was in second grade.

Educated at Sacred Heart Convent in Cullman, Alabama (one of only two Protestants in her class), she graduated in 1966 and journeyed to California three weeks later to attend the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theater Arts (1966-1967). She was briefly married to actor Peter Coe (1918-1992; The Sands Of Iwo Jima, Rocky Mountain; The House Of Frankenstein), obtaining an annulment in 1969.

Orrison worked in animated films and commercials from 1969 to 1980 for Filmation, Hanna-Barbera and Disney, working on Superman, Star Trek, Batman, Tron, Human Highway and many others. With the outsourcing of hand-drawn animation overseas, she saw the handwriting on the wall and attended the American Film Institute in the years 1980-1982, producing some ten student films for the AFI and DGA grant programs.

From 1982 through 1992 she worked as an associate producer, production manager, art director, set decorator and costumer for independent features. While some of the movies were of the caliber of Miracle Mile (1988) or The Doors (1992), many were not. She grew increasingly frustrated with the quality of the scripts she had to work with and the subject matter of the stories.

As more and more of the film business “ran away” to Canada, Mexico, Europe, and
Asia, Orrison again saw the handwriting on the wall (by now covered with graffiti). From 1988 through 1992 she alternated film work with restoring and decorating the Mayan Theater and nightclub in downtown Los Angeles, and writing her first book.

That first book was Lionheart in Hollywood, a biography of actor/producer Henry Wilcoxon [right] (1905-1984), star of Cleopatra (1934), The Last Of The Mohicans (1936), The Crusades (1935), Unconquered (1947) and Samson and Delilah (1949), and his twenty-five-year association with legendary director Cecil B. De Mille. With the publication of Lionheart In Hollywood by Scarecrow Press in late 1991, she turned to writing full-time.

She was a staff writer on Cult Movies magazine for over ten years, penning articles on such subjects as Lawrence of Arabia, Ed Wood, actresses Yvonne De Carlo and Joan Woodbury, actor Bela Lugosi, the re-modeling of Cecil B. De Mille’s estate in Los Feliz, and the making of Blade Runner, to name a few. She also contributed regularly to the Cult Movies book review column.

She appeared as a film historian on the Yul Brynner episode of Biography, on the CBC on the subject of Gary Cooper and on the BBC on the subject of epic films. She provided the DVD commentary on both the 1923 and 1956 versions of The Ten Commandments, for Paramount Studios.

Her second book, Written In Stone: Making Cecil B. De Mille’s Epic The Ten Commandments, was published in 1999 by Vestal Press.

Katherine Orrison married Sherman Labby in the early 1990s. Labby was production illustrator on over eighty films including Blade Runner, Top Gun, Thelma and Louise, 2010, The Horse Whisperer, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and What Dreams May Come. He died from the effects of muscular dystrophy in 1998.

In addition to books and magazine articles, she has collaborated on several screenplays, one of which, Rave-On Macbeth, was produced in Europe in 2002.

Orrison does not own a computer, cellphone, fax, answering machine, CD player, TiVo, iPod, pager or digital camera, but she does employ an answering service. All her writing is done with a #2 pencil with no eraser. Her favorite tech gadget is her 1930s Western Electric rotary-dial telephone from Henry Wilcoxon's Paramount office.

She has resided in Hollywood through fires, floods, earthquakes, riots and recessions. She currently lives in a Mediterranean-style building once owned by Cecil B. De Mille, although it's obvious he never lived there.

Click on the images below to order the item.

Written In Stone: Making Cecil B. De Mille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments

by Katherine Orrison

As fascinating to read about as it is to watch, Cecil B. DeMllle's epic The Ten Commandments unfolds in never-before-heard tales from those who were there. Written In Stone takes you behind the scenes from the movie's inception to its distribution, including casting, writing, storyboardlng, special effects, music scoring, dubbing, photographing, and acting. Orrison gives us unique perspectives on both the film and its director with in-depth interviews of casting directors, researchers, costumers, artists, and composers as well as stars, supporting actors, and extras. Moving between Hollywood and Egypt, Written In Stone captures filmmaking on its grandest scale and Hollywood during its golden era. Illustrated with rare photographs taken on location by Ken Whltmore, this book is a one-of-a-kind look at one of America's foremost directors.

Did you know that Charlton Heston was NOT DeMille's first choice for Moses? The book reveals that the part was offered to (and turned down by) William Boyd, a longtime friend and associate of DeMille's best known as Hopalong Cassidy. This is one of many fascinating revelations in this unique book.

-- Jeffrey Massie

Lionheart In Hollywood: Life and Times with C. B. DeMille

by Henry Wilcoxon, with Katherine Orrison

Wilcoxon (1905-84), an English stage actor imported by Hollywood, made a splash in DeMille's productions of Cleopatra (Mark Antony) and The Crusades (Richard Lionheart). Wilcoxon began a second career with De Mille as producer. This chatty first-person memoir concentrates on Wilcoxon's work with De Mille. His Hollywood tales filled with famous names make enjoyable reading.

DVD commentaries for The Ten Commandments

Commentary tracks by Katherine Orrison for the 1923 and 1956 versions of Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments. To be released in Blu-Ray format for Easter 2011, with the commentary tracks and featuring documentary footage.

Ms. Orrison was able to interview people familiar withn the film's production for her book [Written In Stone], so she has a lot to share with the film's viewers. She's an engaging speaker, and thankfully, she doesn't resort to reading from her book or from too many notes ... She is about as good a commentator as you can get for these two movies.
-- John J Puccio and Yunda Eddie Feng, DVDTown.com

Orrison offers one of the best commentaries of this sort I've heard. She delves into virtually every aspect of the production ... Orrison demonstrates a consistently high level of energy, and she shows great enthusiasm for the film, which she clearly reveres. I truly enjoyed this terrific commentary.
-- Colin Jacobson, DVD Movie Guide

You gotta give it up to Katherine Orrison, whose stamina in supplying the film with a commentary track that rarely stops for a breath deserves some sort of prize. Her enthusiasm for the film is clear, and she has clearly done her research.
-- Eric Henderson, Entertainment Weekly

Student and author Katherine Orrison furnishes an incredible, interesting, and overwhelming avalanche of information ...
I did not realize that DeMille, 75 when this film was made, suffered a devastating heart attack during production--a setback that threatened to bring the entire project to its knees, before his ambitious daughter filled in for her father, for three short days, before DeMille returned to navigate THE TEN COMMANDMENTS to its historical conclusion. This is good stuff, and Orrison furnishes minute details of just about everything in spellbinding fashion.

-- D. Mikels