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When he was 15 he was working in a military hospital. Georges Enesco the Romanian composer, came to play the violin to the war wounded; Negulesco drew a portrait of him, and Enesco bought it. Negulesco decided to be a painter and studied art in Bucharest.
He went to Paris in 1920, and enrolled in the Académie Julian. He worked as a professional dance partner on occasion and sold one of his paintings to Rex Ingram. He had exhibits in London and Paris.
In 1927, he visited New York City for an exhibition of his paintings and settled there.
He then made his way to California, at first working as a portraitist.
He became interested in movies and made an experimental feature film, financed as well as written and directed by himself, called Three And A Day. Through his contact with the film's star, Mischa Auer, he managed to get a job at Paramount.
Negulesco went to Warner Bros in 1940. He made his reputation at Warner Brothers by directing short subjects, particularly a series of band shorts featuring unusual camera angles and dramatic use of shadows and silhouettes.
According to one obituary, "the secret of these films' success often seemed to lie in the excellent script writers they used... and the powerful production team at Warner Brothers, where most films were drawn out frame by frame by imposing designers like Anton Grot before a director was ever assigned to them, rather than in any very distinctive qualities of the director himself. All the same, Negulesco had a sure touch with actors, and a refined sense of detail. He was the very last person ever to consider himself as an auteur, with his own personal philosophy to put over: he was a director rather like such other ex-designers as Vincente Minnelli and Mitchell Leisen, where the message was entirely in the style."
From the late 1960s he lived in Marbella, Spain, where he died, at age 93, of heart failure.
During his Hollywood career and in his 1984 autobiography Things I Did and Things I Think I Did, Negulesco claimed to have been born on 29 February 1900; he was apparently motivated to make this statement because birthdays on Leap Year Day are comparatively rare (and even though 1900 was not a Leap Year in the Gregorian calendar, it was under the Julian calendar, which applied in Romania at that time).