Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Indiana, Wise began his career in the 1930s in the sound department at RKO, working on The Gay Divorcee, Of Human Bondage, Top Hat, and The Informer. He then became a film editor, cutting such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), My Favorite Wife (1940), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and two landmark motion pictures directed by Orson Welles: Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
His first film as director was The Curse of the Cat People (1944), and his subsequent directorial efforts include The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), and I Want to Live! (1958), and The Haunting (1963), as well as the film version of William Gibson's play Two for the Seesaw (1962), starring Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum.
Wise produced West Side Story (1961) and co-directed the film with Jerome Robbins, who had directed and choreographed the Broadway production; Robbins was dismissed during filming, but Wise always gave him major credit thereafter for his contribution to the finished project. With a cast headed by Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn, the film was an enormous financial success and won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise shared the award with Robbins.)
Another smash hit for Wise as producer/director was The Sound of Music (1965) , starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical, the film was a box-office hit of almost unprecedented proportions and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. "It is with deep sorrow that I received the news of Bob's passing," said Andrews this afternoon. "He was a dear friend, a true mentor, and the epitome of a gentleman. His body of work set thresholds rarely achieved in the film industry and he certainly influenced this (then) young actress from England, who was learning her craft on film. He will be forever missed."
Following the huge successes of Wise's two films based on Broadway musicals, he had another hit with The Sand Pebbles (1966), starring Steve McQueen, Richard Crenna, Richard Attenborough, and Candice Bergen. But Star! -- a 1968 film bio of stage legend Gertrude Lawrence, with Julie Andrews in the title role -- was a misfire in 1968. Wise subsequently directed The Andromeda Strain (1971), Two People (1973), The Hindenburg (1975), Audrey Rose (1977), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). His last theatrical film was Rooftops (1989), and his last directorial credit was the TV movie A Storm in Summer (2000).
In 1988, Wise received the D. W. Griffith Award for career achievement from the Directors Guild of America, and in 1998 he was honored with the American Film Institute's lifetime achievement award. Wise is survived by his current wife, Millicent, of Los Angeles; a son from an earlier marriage, Robert E. Wise of California; a stepdaughter, Pamela Rosenberg of New York; and a granddaughter.