Charles Guggenheim

Charles Guggenheim

Charles Guggenheim (March 31, 1924 – October 9, 2002) was an American film director and producer.


Early life

Guggenheim was born into a prominent German Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a furniture salesman. While studying farming at Colorado A&M in 1943, Guggenheim was drafted into the United States Army assigned to the 106th Division. Upon discharge from the service, he finished his college education at University of Iowa and then moved to New York City to pursue a career in broadcasting.


Guggenheim's first job was working for Lew Cohen at CBS, where he was exposed to the new media of film and storytelling. He was subsequently recruited to St. Louis, Missouri, to serve as director of one of the first public television stations in the country, KETC. Two years later Guggenheim founded his film production company and produced his first feature film, The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, starring Steve McQueen. In the early 1960s, Guggenheim formed a partnership with television and documentary film producer Shelby Storck and he and Storck collaborated on several documentaries which were nominated for and/or won Academy Awards. Guggenheim received his first Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject for 1964's Nine from Little Rock, about the desegregation effort in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Storck and Guggenheim also collaborated on a well-received political film for Pennsylvania governor Milton Shapp in 1966. That year, Guggenheim moved his company and his family to Washington, D.C., where he became a media advisor to many Democratic political figures. He worked on four presidential campaigns and hundreds of gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns.

Guggenheim worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign; after Sen. Kennedy was assassinated, Guggenheim was asked by the Kennedy family to put together a tribute for the 1968 Chicago Convention. It was completed in less than two months. It was shown at the convention and broadcast simultaneously. The convention hall came to a standstill for twenty minutes. The resulting film, Robert Kennedy Remembered (1968), won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. Although Guggenheim occasionally ventured into feature and political film production, he stayed mostly with documentary films. He won two more Oscars for short subject documentary filmmaking, for The Johnstown Flood (1989) and A Time for Justice (1995). He received twelve nominations in total.

His last documentary, was produced with his daughter and colleague (since 1986) Grace Guggenheim. Berga: Soldiers of Another War (2003) (TV), a little known story about a group of 350 American soldiers captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge who, because they were Jewish or the Nazis thought they "looked Jewish", were sent to slave labor camp and worked beside civilian political prisoners. (Guggenheim, who was Jewish, had himself been a member of the 106th Division, which had the highest casualty rate of the Allied Divisions. But a severe leg infection caused him to be left behind when his unit was shipped overseas.) Guggenheim finished the film six weeks before his death in October 2002 from pancreatic cancer. Soldiers and Slaves, a companion book to the film, was published by Roger Cohen, New York Times and Herald Tribune columnists using research materials.

Personal life

Guggenheim married Marion Streett in 1957. They had three children: Davis, Grace, and Jonathan. Davis followed in his father's footsteps as a documentary filmmaker and won an Oscar for best documentary in 2007 for An Inconvenient Truth.

See also

  • Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award


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