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R. Thorpe; Director of MGM FIlms

May 04, 1991|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Thorpe, a silent-screen actor who directed more than 100 films, including "The Great Caruso" and "Ivanhoe" as one of MGM's top directors, has died. He was 95.

Thorpe died Wednesday at Palm Springs Health Care nursing facility of complications of old age, said his son, Jerry Thorpe.

Known as a capable and versatile director willing to take on any assignment the studio handed him, Thorpe was kidded about leaping from horse opera to grand opera when he began the 1951 "Caruso." He had also directed more than 70 silent Westerns and a number of Western talkies.

Thorpe was unfazed by directing Mario Lanza and a host of other opera stars in the biographical film about the fabled Italian tenor.

"I haven't lost any sleep over 'The Great Caruso,' " Thorpe told The Times as filming began in 1950. "That's my test. If a film keeps me awake nights there is generally something wrong."

Thorpe's personal favorites of the films he directed were "Night Must Fall" in 1937 and "Two Girls and a Sailor" in 1944.

"They were new and different experiences," he said. "Because there were new people like June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven in 'Two Girls and a Sailor,' which also launched Van Johnson as a star, we had a great spirit while making that film."

Thorpe moved easily in a variety of genres, including Westerns, musicals, comedies, biographies, Tarzan films and special films designed to showcase performers, such as Elvis Presley in "Jailhouse Rock."

Unruffled by MGM's frequent and widely varied assignments, he told The Times, "I just take them on as they come."

Rollo Smolt (later changed to Richard) Thorpe was born in Hutchinson, Kan., on Feb. 24, 1896. Lured by the newly developing Hollywood as a young man, he had bit parts in some silent films before the 1920s and moved to leading roles by 1924. Films in which he acted included "Three O'Clock in the Morning" and "Flame of Desire."

A director for more than four decades, Thorpe retired after producing and directing the MGM film "The Last Challenge" in 1967.

He is survived by his son and four grandchildren.

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