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Ken Annakin

Ken Annakin

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Also Known As: Kenneth Annakin Died: April 22, 2009
Born: August 10, 1914 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Yorkshire, England, GB Profession: Director ... director screenwriter producer assistant cameraman salesman journalist income tax clerk
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BIOGRAPHY

A versatile filmmaker, skilled at light comedies, dramas and oversized adventures, Ken Annakin was the director of such box office hits as "The Swiss Family Robinson" (1960), "The Longest Day" (1962) and "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (1965). He spent his twenties in search of excitement across three continents before returning to his native England and serving in World War II; the conflict would introduce him to the film industry, where he would begin his career in documentaries before moving to features in the late 1940s. A string of genial comedies and dramas preceded his association with Walt Disney Pictures, which yielded his biggest international hits, including "Robinson." Later, his talents were put to use on sprawling projects like "Longest Day" and "Flying Machines." Though his career wound down in the late 1970s, he remained active until a decade prior to his death in 2009; his body of work, filled with entertaining and enduring pictures, left him with a notable legacy in the world cinema community.

He was born Kenneth Cooper Annakin on Aug. 10, 1914 in Beverley, the county town of East Yorkshire, England. After completing his education, he worked in civil service as an income tax inspector in the city of Hull, but according to his 2001 autobiography, So You Wanna Be a Director? a windfall from a horse race bet allowed him to flee his mundane existence, and he enjoyed some adventurous years in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. In the course of his travels, he worked as a journalist; even spending some time as a gold prospector.

Annakin eventually returned to the UK, where he sold cars and insurance until the outbreak of World War II, when he joined the Royal Air Force as a flight mechanic. He was released from service in 1942 after being injured during the German blitz on Liverpool, and joined the film industry as a camera operator on training films for the RAF and documentaries for the Ministry of Information and the Army, among others. While working with acclaimed filmmaker Carol Reed on the recruitment film "We Serve" (1942), Annakin was promoted to assistant director. He eventually made his directorial debut on the short, "London 1942" (1942), a documentary about the indomitable spirit of London residents under the strain of war. His full-length documentary debut came three years later with "Make Fruitful the Land" (1945).

He continued to turn out recruitment and information films until 1946, when producer Sydney Box, head of Verity Films, which produced Annakin's wartime documentaries, invited him to direct a feature film for his new company, Gainsborough Pictures. His first effort, "Holiday Camp" (1947), was a gentle comedy about a working class family, the Huggetts, who encounter mild comic intrigue during their annual visit to a holiday camp. The film struck a chord with moviegoers, especially in its gentle portrayal of everyday life and its people. Its success generated three sequels - 1948's "Here Come the Huggets," "Vote for Huggett" (1949) and "The Huggetts Abroad" (1949) - all directed by Annakin.

As the 1940s drew to a close, Annakin helmed a string of popular dramas and comedies, including "Miranda" (1948), about a mild-mannered doctor who discovers a real mermaid (Glynis Johns), and "The Colonel's Lady," an adaptation of the Somerset Maugham story for the portmanteau film, "Quartet" (1948). His career truly began to blossom in the 1950s, when he divided his time between big-budget adventures for Walt Disney Pictures, and smaller, more intimate dramas and comedies. Annakin's relationship with Disney began with "The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men" (1952), a robust and well-crafted action-drama that set the tone for his subsequent work for the company. He would later add "The Sword and the Rose" (1953), about Mary Tudor (Glynis Johns), sister of Henry VIII, and "Third Man on the Mountain" (1959), which concerned a young Swiss man (James MacArthur - later the star of "Hawaii 5-0") who sets out to conquer the Matterhorn. The film would eventually serve as the inspiration for the attraction of the same name at Disneyland. MacArthur would reunite with Annakin for "Swiss Family Robinson" (1960), a rousing adaptation of the Johann David Wyss novel about a hardy family who makes the best of their lives after being shipwrecked in the South Seas. The picture, which featured Annakin's traditional balance of family-driven warmth and stirring action - including a massive battle between the family and a crew of Japanese pirates, as well as numerous scenes involving animal performers - took in over $40 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful family features ever produced.

Annakin's dramas and comedies from the period also benefited from his blend of human emotion and entertaining content - most notably "Hotel Sahara" (1951), starring Peter Ustinov as the owner of the title property, whose allegiance lies with whatever army happens to be in town at the time, and the tense drama "Across The River" (1957), with Rod Steiger as an embezzler who accidentally assumes the identity of a wanted murderer. The latter, adapted from a Graham Greene novel, was Annakin's favorite project of the period. After a few more modest pictures along these lines, Annakin settled into a string of high profile features that would largely define the next few decades of his career.

Annakin was one of five directors who worked on Darryl F. Zanuck's epic World War II drama, "The Longest Day." The all-star drama, which detailed the invasion of Normandy from all sides of the conflict, credited Annakin with the exterior scenes involving the British army - which counted Sean Connery and Richard Burton among their number - and the French, which featured Christian Marquand, Arletty and Jean Servais, as well as most of the scenes shot in studios. The film provided a terrific showcase for Annakin's skill with both action set pieces and more intimate drama, and led to his being hired to helm the Cinerama feature "The Battle of the Bulge" (1965), starring Henry Fonda as an American officer attempting to warn his superiors of Nazi commander Robert Shaw's surprise attack on Allied Forces. Annakin also oversaw the turn-of-the-century comedy "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" (1966), about an early aviation race from London to Paris. The film - which featured some of the finest British comic performers of the 1960s in its cast, including Terry-Thomas, Robert Morley and Benny Hill, as well as the legendary Red Skelton - was a major success and earned him his sole Oscar nod for Best Screenplay, which he shared with Jack Davies. Annakin also directed the semi-sequel, "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" (1969), featuring Tony Curtis, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, but it failed to achieve the same level of frothy fun as its predecessor.

Annakin's other late 1960s efforts were largely hit or miss. The caper film "The Biggest Bundle of Them All" (1969) was largely built around showcasing the impressive frame of star Raquel Welch, though Robert Wagner, Edward G. Robinson, Godfrey Cambridge and Vittorio De Sica lent a degree of class and panache. The 1970s saw Annakin scale back his output to a considerable degree; few saw his take on "The Call of The Wild" (1972), with Charlton Heston amidst a cast of European talent, or "Paper Tiger" (1975), a kidnapping drama with David Niven and Toshiro Mifune. By the middle of the decade, Annakin lent his professional polish to such American TV productions as "Harold Robbins' The Pirate" (CBS, 1978). He would return to features a year later with "The Fifth Musketeer" (1979), a handsomely mounted, old-fashioned swashbuckler about Alexandre Dumas' Musketeers in their twilight years. Despite a terrific cast that included Rex Harrison, Cornel Wilde, Lloyd Bridges and Ian McShane, the film failed to find an audience. Even less popular was "The Pirate Movie" (1982), an ill-conceived fantasy-musical inspired by the hit Broadway revival of "The Pirates of Penzance" and starring Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins as modern-day teens who find themselves in a dream inspired by the comic opera. Roundly panned during its release, it went on to become something of a camp favorite.

Annakin's final completed feature film was 1988's "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking," which reunited him with Disney. Based on the children's novels by Astrid Lindgren, the film was a breezy, colorful adventure-musical much like the studio's output in the 1960s - which left most modern audiences indifferent. The film suffered an ignoble death at the box office, and Annakin's last project, a biopic of "Genghis Khan" (1992), with Caucasian actor Richard Tyson as the Mongol emperor and Charlton Heston, went unfinished after producers were unable to fully fund the project.

In his final years, Annakin's long and accomplished career received several worthy tributes. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 2002 for his contributions to that nation's film industry, and Walt Disney, who had released some of his biggest hits, made him a Disney Legend that same year. In February of 2009, his health declined after suffering a heart attack and a stroke within a day of each other, and on April 22, he died at his home in Beverly Hills at the age of 94. In the days following his death, George Lucas dispelled a long-standing rumor by stating that he had not named his character Anakin Skywalker after the filmmaker, as many had long assumed.

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