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Alan J. Pakula

Alan J. Pakula

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Also Known As: Alan Jay Pakula, Alan Pakula Died: November 19, 1998
Born: April 7, 1928 Cause of Death: accident while driving
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, production assistant

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Known for drawing Oscar caliber performances out of his actors while helming suspenseful, moody thrillers, director Alan J. Pakula emerged from the theater world to produce a number of quality films in the 1960s with director Robert Mulligan, most notably the iconic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). He went on to produce another six films with Mulligan during the decade before stepping into the director's chair himself for the low-key melodrama "The Sterile Cuckoo" (1969). But with his next picture, "Klute" (1971), Pakula began cementing his reputation as a fine practitioner of the conspiracy thriller while showcasing exemplary performances from his leading actors. He went on to practically define the genre with "The Parallax View" (1974), a box office disappointment at the time that later earned a reputation as one of the best conspiracy thrillers ever made. Pakula rounded out his so-called paranoia trilogy with "All the President's Men" (1976), arguably his finest achievement and one of the best movies of the entire decade. With the tearjerker drama "Sophie's Choice" (1983), he tackled the exceedingly difficult subject of the Holocaust in exceptional fashion while...

Known for drawing Oscar caliber performances out of his actors while helming suspenseful, moody thrillers, director Alan J. Pakula emerged from the theater world to produce a number of quality films in the 1960s with director Robert Mulligan, most notably the iconic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). He went on to produce another six films with Mulligan during the decade before stepping into the director's chair himself for the low-key melodrama "The Sterile Cuckoo" (1969). But with his next picture, "Klute" (1971), Pakula began cementing his reputation as a fine practitioner of the conspiracy thriller while showcasing exemplary performances from his leading actors. He went on to practically define the genre with "The Parallax View" (1974), a box office disappointment at the time that later earned a reputation as one of the best conspiracy thrillers ever made. Pakula rounded out his so-called paranoia trilogy with "All the President's Men" (1976), arguably his finest achievement and one of the best movies of the entire decade. With the tearjerker drama "Sophie's Choice" (1983), he tackled the exceedingly difficult subject of the Holocaust in exceptional fashion while allowing star Meryl Streep to deliver an Oscar-winning performance that long remained the best of her storied career. Later in his career, Pakula began delivering rather underwhelming, but nonetheless financially successful movies like "The Pelican Brief" (1993), which nonetheless helped cap a sterling career highlighted by some the best movies Hollywood had to offer.

Born on April 7, 1928 in the Bronx, NY, Pakula was raised by his father, Paul, who owned a printing and advertising business, and his mother, Jeanette, a homemaker. After attending the Bronx High School of Science, he graduated from the private boys and girls institution, The Hill School, when he was 16 years old. Before moving on to college, Pakula spent a summer working in the office of agent Leland Hayward, which sparked an interest in show business. At Yale University, he studied drama and began directing plays at the University Club. Following graduation in 1948, Pakula moved out to Los Angeles, where he started his career in earnest as an assistant in the cartoon department at Warner Bros. From there, he became an assistant to writer-director Don Hartman and followed his boss to Paramount Studios when he became head of production. While continuing to work in Hollywood, Pakula produced a number of plays back in New York, including "There Must Be a Pony" starring Myrna Loy and "Comes a Day" with George C. Scott and Judith Anderson.

Pakula graduated to producing films with the baseball psychodrama "Fear Strikes Out" (1957), which marked the first of seven collaborations with director Robert Mulligan. Their most significant work came about with their next movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962), the iconic adaptation of Harper Lee's only novel which starred Gregory Peck as the virtuous Atticus Finch, a widowed Southern lawyer with two small children (Mary Badham and Phillip Alford) who defends a black man (Brock Peters) against charges that he raped a white woman. Nominated for a number of Academy Awards, "To Kill a Mocking Bird" won three for Best Art Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Peck, whose very name became synonymous with the role of Atticus Finch. Pakula continued his collaborations with Mulligan on several move films to varying degrees of success, though nothing reached the status of "Mockingbird." He produced the romantic dramedy, "Love with the Proper Stranger" (1964) starring Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, before reuniting with McQueen on "Baby, the Rain Must Fall" (1965) and Wood on "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965). The producer-director pair had a box office hit with "Up the Down Staircase" (1967), which starred Sandy Dennis as an idealistic young teacher tackling her first assignment, before concluding their working relationship with "The Stalking Moon" (1968) with Gregory Peck.

Pakula launched his own directing career with the sensitive, if somewhat static melodrama "The Sterile Cuckoo" (1969), which yielded a strong, Oscar-nominated performance from Liza Minnelli. Two years later, he embarked on what informally became known as his paranoia trilogy with "Klute" (1971), a moody psychological thriller that starred Donald Sutherland as a private detective investigating the murder of a friend, only to learn that both victim and killer were clients of the same high-class call girl (Jane Fonda). Lauded for its striking blend of film noir with 1970s paranoid sensibilities, "Klute" was a major showcase for the director and his stars, particularly Fonda, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Pakula moved on to the underrated, gorgeously shot "Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing" (1973), which focused on the unlikely relationship between a dying woman (Maggie Smith) and a much younger man (Timothy Bottoms). He next helmed the gripping political thriller "The Parallax View" (1974), the second in his paranoia trilogy. The film starred Warren Beatty as an intrepid reporter who accidentally uncovers a secret organization in the business of framing socially unacceptable people in a series of assassinations, only to become more deeply involved than he planned. Considered too dark even for those difficult times, "The Parallax View" received mixed reviews and poor box office totals upon its release. But over time, the film earned a reputation - bolstered by numerous critics - as being one of the all-time classics of the conspiracy thriller genre.

Despite the financial failure of "The Parallax View," Pakula directed what many would call his best film, "All the President's Men" (1976), a fact-based look at the lonely and often daunting Watergate investigation by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). With a taut script from eventual Oscar-winning scribe William Goldman, Pakula crafted a suspenseful story despite an audience knowing the eventual outcome. "All the President's Men" was a box office hit and earned several Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director, while cementing its place as one of the best films of that decade, if not of all time. Now established as a bankable director, Pakula stepped away from conspiracy thrillers and turned his attentions to "Comes a Horseman" (1978), a Western set in the 1940s. Reuniting with Jane Fonda and Jason Robards - who won an Oscar for playing Bill Bradley in "All the President's Men" - Pakula earned mixed reviews for his understated, contemporary cowboy tale that showcased fine performances from its cast, including Richard Farnsworth, who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Because he tended to favor performances above other elements, Pakula was able to showcase actors delivering their highest quality work. He next directed "Starting Over" (1979), based on a strong script from James L. Brooks, a serio-comic look at the aftermath of divorce that featured strong turns by Burt Reynolds as the newly single journalist, Candice Bergen as his tone-deaf ex-wife who harbors dreams of a singing career and Jill Clayburgh as his new lover. Returning to political thrillers, Pakula helmed "Rollover" (1981), his third collaboration with Fonda, who played the widow of a corporate executive involved in high-stakes financial dealings. The director-producer branched into screenwriting with his critically-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated adaptation of William Styron's Holocaust drama "Sophie's Choice" (1983), which showcased Meryl Streep in a luminous portrayal of a concentration camp survivor romanced by a mentally unstable Jew (Kevin Kline) and a Southern would-be author (Peter MacNichol). Powerfully realized, "Sophie's Choice" was a mature look at a difficult subject and delivered what many felt was the finest performance of Streep's already impressive career, bringing her an Oscar for Best Actress. He next directed "Orphans" (1987), a stylized adaptation of Lyle Kessler's play starring Albert Finney and Matthew Modine that nonetheless suffered in its translation from stage to screen.

Pakula moved on to write his first original screenplay for his next directing effort, "See You in the Morning" (1989), an autobiographical romantic dramedy about two divorcees (Jeff Bridges and Alice Krige) struggling to combine their families after getting married. For his follow-up, "Presumed Innocent" (1990), he scripted - along with Frank Pierson - and directed an adaptation of Scott Turow's best-selling novel that was rife with the familiar Pakula themes of social and political anxieties exacerbated by sexual tensions. Despite an all-star cast that included Harrison Ford, the overall effect fell short of its potential for greatness, but the film was still a powerful addition to the director's legacy, and underscored his reputation an intelligent filmmaker. Pakula went on to directed "Consenting Adults" (1992), a thriller starring Kevin Kline, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Kevin Spacey and Rebecca Miller that involved mate swapping and murder. Next up was "The Pelican Brief" (1993), a loose and rather superficial adaptation of the John Grisham novel about a young female law student (Julia Roberts) who endangers her own life after solving a supposedly unsolvable crime. Despite its flaws, "The Pelican Brief" became a huge box office hit - due mainly to the allure of its female lead, then the biggest star in the world. Pakula was a hired gun on "The Devil's Own" (1997), a low-key thriller about an Irish terrorist (Brad Pitt) taken in by an American cop (Harrison Ford) and his family who know nothing about his background. The troubled production made headlines during and after filming, thanks to Pitt badmouthing the script, while audiences failed to turn the star pairing into a hit. The movie proved to be Pakula's last. On Nov. 19, 1998, the director was involved in what The New York Times described as a "freak accident" on the Long Island Expressway, when a piece of metal pipe kicked up by another vehicle flew threw his windshield, striking him in the head and killing him instantly before his car swerved off the road. He was 70 years old.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Devil's Own, The (1997) Director
2.
  The Pelican Brief (1993) Director
3.
  Consenting Adults (1992) Director
4.
  Presumed Innocent (1990) Director
5.
  See You in the Morning (1989) Director
6.
  Orphans (1987) Director
7.
  Dream Lover (1986) Director
8.
  Sophie's Choice (1982) Director
9.
  Rollover (1981) Director
10.
  Starting Over (1979) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1944:
Worked as an office boy for agent Leland Hayward for two months before attending college
:
Directed plays at the Circle Theatre in Los Angeles
1949:
Began career as assistant in Warner Bros. cartoon department
1950:
Joined MGM as apprentice to writer-producer-director Don Hartman
1951:
Remained Hartman's assistant when he became production head at Paramount
:
While continuing his Hollywood career, produced several New York stage productions including "There Must Be a Pony" with Myrna Loy and "Comes a Day", starring George C Scott and Judith Anderson
1957:
Produced first film, the biopic of Jimmy Piersall "Fear Strikes Out", beginning a seven-film collaboration with director Robert Mulligan
1962:
With Mulligan, formed Pakula-Mulligan Productions
1968:
Produced final film for Mulligan, "The Stalking Man"
1963:
Second Pakula-Mulligan production, "Love With a Proper Stranger", was success
1967:
Had box-office hit with "Up the Down Staricase", starring Sandy Dennis
1969:
Feature directorial debut, "The Sterile Cuckoo" (also produced)
1971:
Delivered top-notch detective-thriller cum character-study "Klute" (co-produced)
1971:
Delivered top-notch detective-thriller-cum-character-study "Klute"; also co-produced; steered Jane Fonda to a Best Actress Oscar
1974:
Helmed the underrated political thriller "The Parallax View", starring Warren Beatty
1976:
Received Best Director Oscar nomination for "All the President's Men"; Jason Robards received Best Supporting Actor Oscar
1978:
Reteamed with Jane Fonda and Jason Robards for the Western "Comes a Horseman"
1979:
Directed the serio-comic look at divorce "Starting Over", starring Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen and Jill Clayburgh
1981:
Third outing with Jane Fonda, the thriller "Rollover"
1982:
First feature screenplay credit, adapting "Sophie's Choice" from the William Styron novel; received Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay; also directed and produced; star Meryl Streep won Best Actress Oscar
1990:
Directed film version of Scott Turow's "Presumed Innocent" (also co-wrote with Frank Pierson)
1993:
Wrote, directed and produced "The Pelican Brief", adapted form the John Grisham novel
1997:
Shepherded the troubled "The Devil's Own" production to conclusion; rewarded for his pains by mostly positive reviews
1998:
Appeared as interviewee in Lifetime documentary, "Intimate Portrait: Katherine Graham"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Bronx High School of Science: Bronx , New York -
Hill School: Pottstown , Pennsylvania - 1944
Yale University: New Haven , Connecticut - 1948

Notes

Pakula was killed in a freak accident when a seven-foot-long metal pipe smashed through his windshield and struck him in the head. His car swerved off the Long Island Expressway near the Melville exit and struck a fence. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Posthumously inducted into the Producers Guild Hall of Fame in 1999.

"The reason I became a director was that I've always loved actors." --Alan J Pakula

"I am oblique. I think it has to do with my own nature. I like trying to do things which work on many levels, because I think it is terribly important to give an audience a lot of things they may not get as well as those they will, so that finally the film does take on a texture and is not just simplistic communication." --Pakula quoted in "The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia" (edited by Andrew Sarris; New York: Visible Ink Press 1998)

"['See You in the Morning' is] about people who've had other lives and now are falling in love and about the difficulty in dealing with the lives we had before. It's about being able to break through your own defenses so you can fall in love again. It reflects my feelings about love--romantic love--and the family, and about my observation that at a certain age you better co-exist well or you won't survive. It also reflects my optimism, and I guess more than anything else it's an ode to falling in love and being in love." --Alan J Pakula in LOS ANGELES TIMES, March 5, 1989

"There's rewriting, and there's rewriting. There's rewriting when you start to make one kind of movie and then everybody panics and you wind up making another movie. That was never the case here ['The Devil's Own']. How to tell the story might have changed; individual plot things might have changed. It was always telling the same story." --Pakula to THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 31, 1997

About "The Devil's Own": "What do you do when you have to chose between friendship and duty? That is the Sophie's Choice at the end of this movie. The truth is I seem to be attracted to certain subject material and in a lot of it people aren't exactly who you think they are . . .

"We've already been slammed in the London and Conservative MPs based upon the trailer saying it's a pro-IRA picture. They come out with that based upon the fact that there's one scene in which Harrison Ford says, 'If I was eight years old and I saw my father shot down, I'd do what he did.'

"What they don't know is that it's a moment when that man is out to bring him back to justice. The picture represents both sides. To say that makes it pro-IRA, I think, is nonsense and that was certainly never the intention of it." --Alan J Pakula quoted in EMPIRE, June 1997

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Hope Lange. Actor. Married in 1963; divorced in 1969; had three children from a previous marriage.
wife:
Hannah Cohn Boorstin. Historian, writer. Author of "The Last Romantic" about Queen Marie of Romania; married on February 17, 1973; had three children from previous marriage.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Paul Pakula. Business owner. Polish Jew; owned a printing and advertising business in NYC.
mother:
Jeanette Pakula. Polish Jew.
step-son:
Christopher Murray. Born in 1957; son of Hope Lange and Don Murray.
step-daughter:
Patricia Murray. Born in 1958; daughter of Hope Lange and Don Murray.
step-son:
Robert Boorstin. Government official, former reporter. Served with the US Treasury Department; spoke publicly about his battles with depresson; son of Hannah Boorstin and her first husband.
step-son:
Louis Boorstin. Son of Hannah Boorstin and her first husband.
step-daughter:
Anna Boorstin Brugge. Daughter of Hannah Boorstin and her first husband.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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