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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: Producer ... director producer screenwriter production assistant
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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 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.

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