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His real-life story rather more noteworthy than any of the films he directed and/or produced, Alexis Thurn-Taxis was the American-born son of Alexander Prince of Thurn and Taxis, a nephew of the slain Empress Elizabeth of Austria. A former chief of staff for General Milan Stefanic of the French army, the young Thurn-Taxis later became an aide to White Russian Admiral Kolchak and was among the first to enter Ekaterinburg in Russian Siberia in order to obtain facts relating to the slaughter there of the Russian Imperial family. He later testified about the murders before the Overman U.S. Senate Committee on Russian Affairs. Leaving an eventful military life behind, Thurn-Taxis entered films with Universal in the 1920s with the help of director Rex Ingram who, according to Thurn-Taxis, had been "a classmate at Yale." Changing his billing to the more American sounding Cliff Wheeler, the former military officer went on to produce such Broadway shows as Sweetheart Shop and It's Up to You and helmed New York-lensed screen melodramas for low-budget Excellent Pictures: A Bit of Heaven (1928), Making the Varsity (1928), and The Prince of Hearts (1929). He left New York after the changeover to sound in favor of Europe and a series of Fritz Kreisler musicals, but was forced to return to the U.S. for political reasons in 1937, returning also to his original name. As Alexis Thurn-Taxis, the former Cliff Wheeler went on to direct for both Universal and Columbia before landing as an associate producer with low-budget company PRC. Under either of his monikers, Thurn-Taxis made genre films that turned a profit but rarely, if ever, offered anything out of the ordinary, much less reflected his own very eventful life. He died at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA.
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