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John Schlesinger

John Schlesinger

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Also Known As: Died: July 24, 2003
Born: February 16, 1926 Cause of Death: debilitating heart attack
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: director, actor, magician

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

John Schlesinger is celebrated for his ability to elicit sensitive performances from his actors, a skill which draws on his own experience on the British stage in the 1950s. His style is also influenced by techniques he developed while directing TV documentaries--a period of his career characterized by extensive location shooting, tight production schedules and an emphasis on the role of editing in shaping narrative structure.Schlesinger first became interested in film at the age of 11, when he received a 9.5 mm movie camera as a gift. While serving with the Royal Engineers during WWII he made an amateur film, "Horrors", and performed as a magician in the Combined Services Entertainment Unit. When he resumed his education in 1945 he immersed himself in the theater, joining the Oxford University Dramatic Society and soon becoming president of the Oxford Experimental Theatre Company. (He would continue to direct for the stage, in between movie assignments, throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.)From 1952 to 1957, Schlesinger worked in England, Australia and New Zealand, appearing in five feature films, acting in nearly 20 plays with various repertory companies and performing on TV and radio. During this...

John Schlesinger is celebrated for his ability to elicit sensitive performances from his actors, a skill which draws on his own experience on the British stage in the 1950s. His style is also influenced by techniques he developed while directing TV documentaries--a period of his career characterized by extensive location shooting, tight production schedules and an emphasis on the role of editing in shaping narrative structure.

Schlesinger first became interested in film at the age of 11, when he received a 9.5 mm movie camera as a gift. While serving with the Royal Engineers during WWII he made an amateur film, "Horrors", and performed as a magician in the Combined Services Entertainment Unit. When he resumed his education in 1945 he immersed himself in the theater, joining the Oxford University Dramatic Society and soon becoming president of the Oxford Experimental Theatre Company. (He would continue to direct for the stage, in between movie assignments, throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.)

From 1952 to 1957, Schlesinger worked in England, Australia and New Zealand, appearing in five feature films, acting in nearly 20 plays with various repertory companies and performing on TV and radio. During this period, a chance meeting with director/producer Roy Boulting catalyzed his interest in photography and filmmaking and led to the creation, with theatrical agent Basil Appleby, of a 15-minute documentary, "Sunday in the Park" (1956). The film brought Schlesinger a series of documentary assignments for the BBC. After a stint as a second unit director, he was commissioned to make an industrial documentary of daily life in London's Waterloo Station. The poignant result, "Terminus" (1961), achieved nationwide commercial distribution and earned him a Venice Festival Gold Lion and a British Academy Award.

Motivated in part by the festival success of "Terminus", producer Joseph Janni offered Schlesinger his first shot at a feature film with "A Kind of Loving" (1962). The result was a critical and financial success which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival and propelled its director into the front rank of young British filmmakers. In "Billy Liar" (1963), Schlesinger continued to examine the themes of inarticulate ambition and frustrated tenderness he had explored in "A Kind of Loving". Both films showed the influence of the British Free Cinema movement, with its emphasis on the constraints and restrictions of working-class life. Schlesinger then moved into very different terrain with "Darling" (1965), a flashy satire of "swinging London" that certified its lead actress, Julie Christie, as an international star when she won the Academy Award for best actress.

"Midnight Cowboy" (1969) was perhaps Schlesinger's greatest success commercially and critically, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and launching a long but rather turbulent Hollywood career for the director. Films such as "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (1971), "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976) all bear witness to Schlesinger's remarkable ability to weave meticulously observed, realistic backgrounds into his complex studies of human relationships.

Schlesinger's later films have included "The Believers" (1987), a gripping contemporary horror story starring Martin Sheen and Helen Shaver, "Madame Sousatzka" (1988), about a London piano teacher (Shirley MacLaine) and her gifted young student, "Pacific Heights" (1990), possibly the first thriller to weave its plot around the problems faced by landlords in their attempt to evict a bad tenant, and "The Innocent" (1993), an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Cold War psychological thriller. He directed "Cold Comfort Farm" for British TV (shown at film festivals in 1995), a period comedy about an orphan who take refuge with her cousins. Schlesinger also directed the minor revenge thriller "Eye for an Eye" (1996), which pitted Sally Field against Kiefer Sutherland, before tackling a major television adaptation of "The Tale of Sweeney Todd" (1998), a straight, non-musical version of the famed British folk tale starring Ben Kingsley as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

His final directotial outing was at the helm of the mild comedy "The Next Best Thing" (2000) which starred Madonna as a middle-aged woman whose biological clock has ticked so loud she conceives a baby with her gay pal (Rupert Everett) and then struggles to raise the child with him. Although a fairly minor work in his otherwise bold canon, it was appropriate that in his last film effort before his death in 2003, Schlesinger, who was gay, again tackled the issues of homosexual life and love that had characterized his keenest work.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Next Best Thing, The (2000) Director
2.
3.
  Eye for An Eye (1996) Director
4.
  Cold Comfort Farm (1995) Director
5.
  Innocent, The (1993) Director
6.
  Pacific Heights (1990) Director
7.
  Madame Sousatzka (1988) Director
8.
  Believers, The (1987) Director
9.
10.
  Separate Tables (1983) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Twilight of the Golds, The (1997) Adrian Lodge
2.
 Celluloid Closet, The (1995) Himself
3.
 50 Years of Action! (1986) Himself
4.
 The Last Man to Hang (1956) Dr. Goldfinger
5.
 Oh... Rosalinda! (1955) Gentleman
6.
 Divided Heart, The (1955) Ticket Collector
9.
10.
 Lost Language of Cranes, The (1991) Derek Moulthorp
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Made first home movie at age 11 with 9.5mm camera
:
During WWII, served as architectural draftsman with Royal Engineers; made amateur film, "Horror"; entertained troops with magic act (fellow performers included Kenneth Williams and Stanley Baxter)
:
Became associate director of Britain's National Theater
1948:
Formed Mount Pleasant Productions with Alan Cooke
1948:
Made 16mm short, "Black Legend"
1951:
Worked with Ngaio Marsh's theater company in Australia and New Zealand and with British repertory companies
1952:
Film acting debut in "Singlehanded"
1958:
Began working for BBC-TV news show, "Tonight"
1961:
Directed first theatrical documentary, "Terminus"
1962:
Directed first feature, "A Kind of Loving"
1965:
Directed the Oscar-winning Julie Christie in "Darling"
1968:
Directed first American film, "Midnight Cowboy"
1972:
Contributed "The Longest," a short film, to the official Munich Olympic film, "Visions of Eight"
1980:
Directed Offenbach centenary production opera, "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" at London's Royal Opera House
1989:
Directed Verdi's opera, "Un Ballo in Maschera," (featuring Placido Domingo) at the Salzburg Festival in July
1998:
Helmed non-musical Showtime movie "The Tale of Sweeney Todd", starring Ben Kingsley in the title role
2000:
Directed the feature "The Next Best Thing", starring Rupert Everett and Madonna
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Balliol College, Oxford University: -
Uppingham public school: -

Notes

Made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his contributions to British cinema; awarded by Queen Elizabeth II (c. 1970)

Underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2000.

In January 2001, Schlesinger suffered a stroke.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Noel Davis. Casting director.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Bernard Schlesinger. Pediatrician. Jewish.
mother:
Winifred Schlesinger. Jewish.
sister:
Wendy Schlesinger.
brother:
Roger Schlesinger. Twin of Hilary.
sister:
Hilary Schlesinger. Twin of Roger; converted to Catholicism.
sister:
Susan Maryott. Actor. Committed suicide in 1963 at age 30.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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