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Overview for Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich


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Also Known As: Derek Thomas Died:
Born: July 30, 1939 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Kingston, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... director screenwriter actor producer critic film programmer


The Peter Bogdanovich story is a Hollywood tale through and through, replete with memorable associations and fantastic success mitigated by mediocrity, tragedy and bankruptcy. Though his talent was never as great as the hubris that allowed him to believe his own press clippings and compare himself to Orson Welles after critics called his breakout movie, "The Last Picture Show" (1971), "the most impressive work by a young American director since 'Citizen Kane'," he did enjoy a brief run as a 70s wunderkind before slipping into a Welles-like decline that made his earlier words ("I hope I'm not repeating what happened to Orson") almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, Bogdanovich's eye for younger ladies separated him from perhaps his greatest asset (first wife Polly Platt whose production designs and story input played no small part in his greatest triumphs) and ultimately proved to be his Achilles' heel to tragedy, while living fabulously above his means and avoiding fiscal responsibilities led to the second of his two bankruptcies.

Bogdanovich was a teenage actor in NYC and directed and produced an Off-Broadway production of Clifford Odets' "The Big Knife" at age 20. He worked as a film critic for such magazines as Film Culture, Movie and Esquire and began interviewing directors in the early 60s, writing monographs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Howard Hawks, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock and publishing elsewhere the results of his talks with other luminaries like John Ford, Fritz Lang and Allan Dwan. Despite his reported megalomania, it is a mark of his humanity that Bogdanovich continued to care about and seek out "old directors" during his glory days of the 70s, compiling a storehouse of anecdotal information about the pioneering days of Hollywood which found its way into "Who the Devil Made It?," a huge and valuable collection of his interviews with 16 great Hollywood directors (including such first-person tid-bits as Raoul Walsh's account of stealing John Barrymore's body from a morgue and leaving it for a drunken Errol Flynn to discover on his couch) that was published in 1997.

Fed up with waiting for Broadway to discover his genius, Bogdanovich and wife Platt relocated to Hollywood where he entered film production under the aegis of Roger Corman who hired him (on the strength of his film criticism) as a second unit director on "The Wild Bunch." His next assignment for Corman was to cut some "T & A" footage of Mamie Van Doren into a somber Russian sci-fi movie, resulting in "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" (both 1966) and his first film credit. Bogdanovich's feature directing debut came at the helm of another Corman project, "Targets" (1968), in which he and Platt improved on the more pedestrian idea of creating a movie around 20 minutes from the 1963 Corman stinker "The Terror," coming up instead with an original and brilliant melodrama which relied on less than three minutes of "Terror" footage and gave its star Boris Karloff his best part in years. Karloff, essentially playing himself (in his last American film), is an old veteran of horror flicks, who heroically disarms a sniper near a drive-in theater where one of his movies is playing.

Though a commercial failure, the belated critical success of "Targets" convinced the backers of "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces" to give him artistic carte blanche on "The Last Picture Show," Larry McMurtry's coming-of-age novel about a group of high school seniors in a dying Texas town during the Korean War. Platt, who had come up with the idea to film the novel, provided the production design, and Bogdanovich, seeing it as a Texas version of Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," proceeded to produce a brooding, laconic black and white "masterpiece" that resonated the period. If "Picture Show" was his hymn to Welles, then "What's Up, Doc?" (1972) was his tribute to the screwball comedies of Howard Hawks. Although Barbra Streisand was no Carole Lombard or Katharine Hepburn (both of whom Hawks directed at their madcap apex) and Ryan O'Neal was doing an obvious Cary Grant imitation, "What's Up, Doc?" was a huge success, just the prescription for a country weary of the Vietnam War. Bogdanovich followed with the Depression-era comedy-drama "Paper Moon" (1973), which marked the peak of his filmmaking fame and his last picture with Platt as production designer, By then, his liaison established with Cybill Shepherd during "Picture Show" had kicked her to the curb.

Bogdanovich's fortunes began to flag with the ill-conceived costume drama "Daisy Miller" (1974), which Shepherd nearly single-handedly sunk with her lackluster performance. He rebounded for "Nickelodeon" (1976), recreating the early days of motion pictures, but the slide had already begun; although he regrouped somewhat for the low budget "Saint Jack" (1979) before the murder of the "love of his life" Dorothy Stratten by her jealous husband sent his life spinning out of control. His failed attempt to distribute "They All Laughed" (1981), his "record of Dorothy," led to his first bankruptcy, and though "Mask" (1985) opened to good reviews, whatever cachet it might have restored dissipated amid reports of his bratty behavior on the set, coupled with revelations of his financial difficulties. Of his subsequent features, "Texasville" (1990), a sequel to "The Last Picture Show" released to mixed reviews, and "Noises Off" (1992), adapted from the hit stage play, did not flop whereas the stench raised by "Illegally Yours" (1988) and "The Thing Called Love" (1993) has pretty much relegated him to the status of TV-movie director.

In a twist stranger than fiction, Bogdanovich married Stratten's half-sister, Louise Hoogstraten, a contemporary of his daughters, on December 30, 1988 and has managed to remain on good terms with both Platt and Shepherd. The director, who has seen his love life thinly, or not so thinly disguised in at least four movies, claims to have "more pictures that I want to make now than I ever did and I'm afraid I won't get to them." Of course, his work at the helm of TV-movies could earn him another shot at directing a feature film, but if he never makes another great movie, he will always have those few exceptional pictures from the glory days of the early 70s to anchor his reputation. "The Last Picture Show," "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon" stand as monuments to his (and Platt's) genius, but his lasting legacy may be as a link to the "old directors," providing in "Who the Devil Made It?" an indispensable text for anyone interested in Hollywood filmmaking.

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