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Overview for Richard Lester
Richard Lester

Richard Lester


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Also Known As: Dick Lester Died:
Born: January 19, 1932 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA Profession: Director ... director producer musician singer composer stagehand


awford with Lester, who credited Keaton, among others, as an influence on his cinematic style, seemed at first to be a perfect match, but the results were too manic for fans of the musical to appreciate the droll comedy and songs, and too passé for admirers of Lester¿s previous efforts. "Forum" was nevertheless a minor hit, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Score and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy.

However, Lester¿s next few projects were out-and-out failures. In the surreal black comedy "How I Won the War" (1967), John Lennon appeared in his only screen role without The Beatles, starring as a former Fascist sympathizer-turned-British soldier who attempted to stay alive under the command of an inept officer (Michael Crawford) by killing him, which ironically resulted in his own death. Described as an "anti-anti-war movie" by Lester, who considered most films as ultimately sympathetic to the concept of war, which he found personally abhorrent, the film presented memorable images, such as the ghost of each fallen soldier lingering in the camp after his death, but failed to connect with audiences until decades after its release. Its follow-ups included 1968¿s "Petulia," with Julie Christie as a flighty San Francisco socialite who falls in love with a recently divorced doctor (George C. Scott) and "The Bed-Sitting Room" (1969), a bizarre comedy based on the play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus about the survivors of a nuclear conflict who began to mutate into inanimate objects. Despite the wealth of British talent in its cast, including Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, Michael Hordern and Marty Feldman, the film¿s doggedly absurd and bleak tone repelled many viewers.

The failure of "Bed-Sitting Room," as well as the collapse of the British film industry in the late `60s, cast a pall over Lester¿s career, and he spent several years directing energetic commercials in Italy during the first few years of the 1970s. A break came in 1974 via producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who hired Lester to direct a comic-tinged take on Alexandre Dumas¿ "The Three Musketeers" (1974). The three-and-a-half-hour film was an action-packed and frequently hilarious take on the venerable swashbuckler tale, with Michael York as the eager young D¿Artagnan, who joined musketeers Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain to thwart the evil schemes of Charlton Heston¿s Cardinal Richelieu and Faye Dunaway¿s seductive Miladay. Lester¿s trademark humor shot through nearly every scene, most notably in the outrageous choreography, which saw the musketeers engaging in epic slapstick duels, and in the casting of longtime friend Roy Kinnear as York¿s servant and Raquel Welch as his accident-prone love interest. A massive international hit for the Salkinds, its impact on the fortunes of Lester and his castmates was considerably reduced; the father-and-son team released the finished product as not one but two films ("The Four Musketeers" was released in 1974) without informing any of the principals, thus depriving them of their shares of the profits.

The success of the "Musketeers" films revived Lester¿s directorial career, and he spent much of the 1970s behind the camera, though his output hewed more towards mainstream fare than the offbeat, experimental titles of the 1960s. Some were successful: "Robin and Marian" (1976) cast Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, who was making her first film appearance in nine years, as a middle-aged Robin Hood and Lady Marian in a bittersweet romance that charmed most audiences. However, the flops far outweighed the hits during this period. They included an adaptation of Terrence McNally¿s "The Ritz" (1976) and "Cuba" (1979), a period adventure so disastrous that it destroyed the relationship between Lester and star Sean Connery.

In 1978, Lester was brought aboard the Salkinds¿ long-gestating film adaptation of "Superman" as a producer, though his role had less to do with seeing the notoriously troubled project to fruition and more with settling his unpaid debt from the "Musketeers" debacle. He also served as a go-between for the Salkinds and director Richard Donner, who had publicly chastised their decisions throughout the productions. The bad blood continued during the filming of "Superman II" (1981), which was shot back to back with the first film as a money-saving gesture. Donner¿s public disparagement of the Salkinds, as well as his exceeding the planned budget, led to his dismissal as director, despite having shot over 75 percent of the film. Lester was placed in the director¿s chair, and despite lacking both Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman to do reshoots, managed to turn out a fresh, action-packed and often funny film that won over all but the staunchest "Superman" fans. The sequel was the third highest-grossing film of 1981, and suggested a return to form for Lester.

However, Lester was forced to shoulder the majority of the blame for "Superman III" (1983), a disorganized, laugh-hungry mess that brought comic Richard Pryor into the fray as a computer genius tapped by a corrupt billionaire (Robert Vaughn) to aid in his plan for world domination. Few enjoyed the new focus on slapstick, which often came at the expense of Pryor¿s comic brilliance, and noted with dismay the loss of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and the reduction of Margot Kidder¿s role as Lois Lane. Critics, fans and even Christopher Reeve himself viewed Lester¿s madcap touch as the weight that capsized the "Superman" franchise, though Lester wisely avoided the debacle of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987). Despite the overwhelming bad press, the film was one of the highest-grossing releases of the year.

Despite having helmed two top box office hits, Lester struggled to find an appropriate follow-up project. A proposed collaboration with producer Dino De Laurentiis failed to bring Lester¿s wish to direct "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988) to fruition; instead, he wound up making "Finders Keepers" (1984), a hopeless caper comedy with Michael O¿Keefe and Beverly D¿Angelo on the trail of wayward loot. The presence of seasoned players like David Wayne, Lou Gossett, Jr., and Brian Dennehy, as well as a young Jim Carrey, did nothing to save the picture from oblivion. In 1988, Lester reunited with his "Musketeers" stars for "Return of the Musketeers," which attempted to revive the derring-do of the two previous films in a story that saw Michael York¿s d¿Artagnan seek out his former comrades-in-arms to defend France against the machinations of Philippe Noiret¿s Cardinal Mazarin. A tired exercise from start to finish, the film was further marred by the accidental death of Lester¿s longtime friend, Roy Kinner, during an action sequence. After completing the project, which was a flop, Lester retired from the motion picture business.

In 1991, Lester reunited with Paul McCartney to direct the concert film "Get Back," which covered the former Beatle¿s 1989-1990 world tour; his first in a decade. He subsequently returned to retirement, although interest in his past work began to grow over the next two decades. In 1993, he served as host of "Hollywood U.K.," a five-part documentary series on English filmmaking for the BBC, and in 1999, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh devoted the majority of his book Getting Away with It to interviews with Lester and his contributions to the British cinema and pop culture as a whole. On a less positive note, the specter of the "Superman II" controversy once again reared its ugly head in 2006 when Richard Donner¿s cut of the film was released on DVD and Donner unapologetically showed how little of the film was Lester¿s.llywood naturally came calling after the success of "The Knack," tapping Lester to direct a film version of Stephen Sondheim¿s hit musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1967). The union of vaudeville and silent film stars like Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton and Jack L

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