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Also Known As: Robert Bernard Altman, Robert B. Altman Died: November 20, 2006
Born: February 20, 1925 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Kansas City, Missouri, USA Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, pilot

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Long recognized as a true auteur in American cinema despite his rather confrontational on set demeanor, director Robert Altman brought an ironic and irreverent perspective to his films that often deconstructed classic film genres like Westerns, crime dramas, musicals and classic whodunits. His films were filled with unexpected quirks, overlapping dialogue - often improvised - and an acutely iconoclastic point of view that was deftly used to skewer long-standing American values. Following a rather inauspicious entry into moviemaking by way of industrial films, Altman cut his teeth in television on shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS/NBC, 1955-1965) before making his mark on American cinema with "M*A*S*H" (1970), a loose and irreverent look at a group of hedonistic army surgeons and nurses that tapped into the angst of the antiwar generation growing up under the shadow of the Vietnam War. Altman next turned his attention to revitalizing the Western with "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971), before earning the enmity of critics who blasted the director for his irreverent caricature of Philip Marlowe in "The Long Goodbye" (1973). But he earned back their admiration tenfold with "Nashville" (1975), a...

Long recognized as a true auteur in American cinema despite his rather confrontational on set demeanor, director Robert Altman brought an ironic and irreverent perspective to his films that often deconstructed classic film genres like Westerns, crime dramas, musicals and classic whodunits. His films were filled with unexpected quirks, overlapping dialogue - often improvised - and an acutely iconoclastic point of view that was deftly used to skewer long-standing American values. Following a rather inauspicious entry into moviemaking by way of industrial films, Altman cut his teeth in television on shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS/NBC, 1955-1965) before making his mark on American cinema with "M*A*S*H" (1970), a loose and irreverent look at a group of hedonistic army surgeons and nurses that tapped into the angst of the antiwar generation growing up under the shadow of the Vietnam War. Altman next turned his attention to revitalizing the Western with "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971), before earning the enmity of critics who blasted the director for his irreverent caricature of Philip Marlowe in "The Long Goodbye" (1973). But he earned back their admiration tenfold with "Nashville" (1975), a multi-layered satire that followed 24 main characters in numerous intersecting storylines that ably weaved a tapestry depicting the folly of pursuing fame in America. After that critical success, which was later widely considered to be his best film, Altman hit a long, slow slide that ended in the commercial and critical debacle known as "Popeye" (1980). The director spent the ensuing decade making interesting low-budget indies like "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982), "Secret Honor" (1984) and "Vincent and Theo" (1990) before returning to the Hollywood fold with a biting satire, "The Player" (1992), which savaged the very industry that embraced his return. Altman helmed another multi-character piece, "Short Cuts" (1993), a darkly comic look at relationships surviving contemporary Los Angeles that recalled his efforts on "Nashville" two decades prior. Following another brief creative lull that saw "Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter)" (1994) and "Kansas City" (1996) added to his canon, the director earned high praise and fawning reverence for the comedy-of-manners wrapped around a country manor whodunit, "Gosford Park" (2001), which underscored arguably one of the most important cinematic careers of the late 20th century.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
  Company, The (2003) Director
3.
  Gosford Park (2001) Director
4.
  Dr. T and the Women (2000) Director
5.
  Cookie's Fortune (1999) Director
6.
  Gingerbread Man, The (1998) Director
7.
  Kansas City (1996) Director
8.
  Ready to Wear (1994) Director
9.
  Short Cuts (1993) Director
10.
  The Player (1992) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Words In Progress (2004) Himself
3.
 Frank Capra's American Dream (1997) Himself
4.
 Hollywood Mavericks (1990) Himself
5.
 Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema Of Edwin S. Porter (1982) Voice ("Jack And The Beanstalk" Promo)
6.
 Events (1970) Bob
7.
 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) RAF pilot
8.
9.
 Anatomy of a Scene: Gosford Park (2002) Interviewee
10.
 Intimate Portrait: Lee Grant (2001) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1943:
Joined the US Army at age 18; became a B24 pilot (dates approximate)
1948:
First feature screen credit ("from story", co-written by George W George), "The Bodyguard", a crime film directed by Richard Fleisher
:
Moved to NYC and attempted to make a living as a writer of stories and screenplays
:
Tried living as a writer on the West Coast
:
Returned to Kansas City; made industrial films for the Calvin Company, serving as designer, cinematographer, producer, director, writer and editor
1955:
Raised $63,000 to direct his first independently produced fiction feature, "The Delinquents" (acquired by United Artists for $150,000 and released in 1957)
:
Completed over 65 industrial films and documentaries
1957:
Co-produced and co-directed (with George W. George) first commercial documentary, "The James Dean Story"
1957:
On the strength of "The James Dean Story", hired by Alfred Hitchcock to direct episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"; made TV directing debut with episode entitled "The Young One"; also completed episode entitled "Together" before being fired in 1958
:
Directed (and occasionally produced and wrote) episodes for some 20 TV series including "Combat," "Kraft Mystery Theater" and "The Roaring Twenties"
1963:
Formed (with Ray Wagner) Lion's Gate Films (approximate date)
1964:
Two-episode TV movie "Nightmare in Chicago"--made for "Kraft Mystery Theater"--edited together for feature release
1968:
First studio-backed fiction feature, "Countdown" (Warner Bros.)
1970:
Critical and popular breakthrough feature, "M*A*S*H"; earned first Best Director Academy Award nomination
1971:
Helmed the revisionist western "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"
1973:
Took on the detective genre with "The Long Goodbye"
1974:
Buddy gambling picture "California Split" marked first credit for "Lion's Gate 8-Track Sound"; allowed Altman to record sound live from microphones planted on set or on location thereby eliminating the need for postdubbing while allowing the sound to be mixed or unmixed at will
1975:
Earned second Best Director Oscar nomination for "Nashville", arguably his masterpiece
1976:
Stumbled a bit with "Buffalo Bill and the Indians"
1977:
Produced first film, "Welcome to L.A.", directed by Alan Rudolph; also produced "The Late Show", directed by Robert Benton
1978:
Helmed the ensemble comedy-drama "A Wedding"
1980:
Directed the fantasy musical "Popeye", starring Robin Williams
1981:
Sold Lion's Gate
1981:
Debut as stage director, "Precious Blood" and "Rattlesnake in a Cooler" in "Two By South", Actors Theatre, Los Angeles
1982:
Directed Broadway production of "Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"; filmed production and released movie in 1982
:
Formed Sandcastle 5 Productions
1983:
Won acclaim for film adaptation of David Rabe's "Streamers"
1984:
Helmed the one-man drama "Secret Honor", with Philip Baker Hall starring as Richard Nixon
1985:
Directed the film adaptation of Sam Shepard's play "Fool for Love"
1985:
Returned to TV work after 17 years as director of "The Laundromat" (HBO)
1987:
Made another feature based on a play, "Beyond Therapy", adapted from Christopher Durang
1987:
Produced and directed the ABC TV specials "The Dumb Waiter" and "The Room"
1988:
Helmed the HBO series "Tanner '88", about a presidential candidate; won Emmy Award
1988:
Directed the CBS remake of "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial"
1990:
Earned praise for "Vincent & Theo", a biography of the Van Gogh brothers
1992:
Earned critical praise for "The Player"; nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards
1992:
Staged William Bolcom's "McTeague" (libretto by Arnold Weinstein and Robert Altman), based on Frank Norris' 1899 novel of the same name, for the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the novel was the basis of Eric von Stroheim's "Greed"
1993:
Garnered fourth Oscar nomination as Best Director for "Short Cuts"; also co-wrote the screenplay adapted from short stories by Raymond Carver
1994:
Honored with a Gala Tribute by the Film Society of Lincoln Center
1994:
Had critical and box-office failure with "Ready to Wear (Pret-a-Porter)"
1996:
Helmed the jazz-era set comedy-drama "Kansas City"
1997:
Produced the Alan Rudolph-directed "Afterglow"
1997:
Executive produced, created series and helmed episodes of the ABC series "Gun"
1998:
Directed and co-scripted "The Gingerbread Man", a legal drama based on a screenplay by John Grisham; Grisham had his name removed from the final script which was rewritten by Altman; the onscreen credit was to the pseudonymous Al Hayes
1999:
Returned to form with the comedy "Cookie's Fortune"
2000:
Directed "Dr. T and the Women", with Richard Gere as a gynecologist
2002:
Helmed "Gosford Park", a period mystery; earned Best Picture and Best Director Academy Award nominations
2003:
Directed Neve Campbell, James Franco and Malcolm McDowell in the film "The Company," about a season in the life of Chicago¿s Joffrey Ballet company
2006:
Directed the ensemble feature "A Prairie Home Companion," based on Garrison Keilor's long-running radio show; earned an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best Director
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Rockhurst High School: Kansas City , Missouri -
University of Missouri: -
St Peter's Catholic School: Kansas City , Missouri -
Wentworth Military Academy: Lexington , Missouri -

Notes

Named a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1996.

After "Popeye", which Altman still refuses to acknowledge was the failure critics labeled it, he changed his style. The master of the ensemble movie, he was often reduced to a cast of five, or two, or even--in the case of his extraordinary Richard Nixon monologue film, "Secret Honor"--just one. The blithe deconstructionist of screenplays, he stuck almost religiously to texts by David Rabe and Harold Pinter. The mixed celebrator/debunker of male camaraderie, he began to focus more on women and gay themes. He went from wide-screen to regular aspect ratio, foggy colors to sharp contours. The Altman of the 80s was often a very different director from the Altman of the 70s: arguably less inventive, but far more exacting, less of a virtuoso, more of a polished craftsman." --Michael Wilmington in Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1990.

"When you can direct great individual scenes, you can end up with some beautiful pearls. Then you can say, 'O.K., put them on a strand'. And you put them on a strand, and something is missing. It's just not a beautiful necklace. Altman is one of the few directors I've worked with who makes beautiful necklaces, not just the pearls." --Jack Lemmon on Altman's style of directing, from Interview, October 1993.

On Hollywood studio executives, Altman was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter (January 9, 2002): "I don't think I know any of their names. They make shoes, I make gloves."

"If there is any aspect of Robert Altman's work that fascinated me more than any other, it is his grasp of visual narrative. He has the eye of a choreographer grafted onto the brain of a dramatist, the heart of a dancer and the soul of a poet. So, he can steer the audience through incredibly complicated scenes, in which many different actors all have their own agenda and yet, somehow, and I don't know how, make it all perfectly clear on the screen. Part of this comes from a genuine love of, and respect for, actors. This is, believe me, rare among directors and as a result the cast all strive to do their best in the certain knowledge that their contribution is being appreciated (it really is) but, even so, how he can throw the camera at five or six different things going on at once without losing the thread of any of them must remain something of a sacred mystery." --"Gosford Park" screenwriter Julian Fellowes at OscarCentral.com.

"I try to give them [actors] confidence and try to earn their trust...and I won't let them make fools out of themselves. In other words, I will protect them so they are not afraid to go over the top."- Altman Entertainment Weekly 2002

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
LaVonne Elmer. Married in 1947; divorced in 1949; was injured in a car accident before the wedding; deceased.
wife:
Lotus Corelli. Married in 1954; divorced c. 1957.
wife:
Kathryn Reed. Former showgirl. Met in 1957 on the set of the TV series "The Whirlybirds" when she was an extra; married in Mexico when their respective divorces became final; remarried a year later.

Family close complete family listing

father:
B C Altman. Insurance salesman.
mother:
Helen Altman.
daughter:
Christine Altman Westphal. Born c. 1947; mother, Lavonne Elmer.
son:
Michael Altman. Born c. 1954; mother, Lotus Corelli; wrote the lyrics to "Suicide Is Painless", the theme to "M*A*S*H", at age 14.
son:
Stephen Altman. Production designer. Born c. 1956; mother, Lotus Corelli began career as member of property department on father's "Buffalo Bill and the Indians"; served as father's production designer on "Perfect Couple", "Fool For Love", "Secret Honor", "Beyond Therapy" and "Vincent & Theo" and other films; received Oscar nomination for "Gosford Park" (2001).
son:
Robert Altman. Cameraman. Born c. 1959; mother, Kathryn Reed.
son:
Matthew Altman. Prop man. Born c. 1966; adopted by Altman and Reed.
step-daughter:
Konnie Corriere. Born c. 1946.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Persistance of Vision: Films of Robert Altman" Ayer
"Robert Altman" Edilig
"The Films of Robert Altman" Scarecrow Press
"American Skeptic: Robert Altman's Genre-Commentary Films" Pierian Press
"Robert Altman" Twayne
"Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff: A Biography of the Great American Director"
"The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman's Masterpiece" Simon & Schuster
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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