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William Friedkin

William Friedkin

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: August 29, 1935 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: director, producer, screenwriter, mail room worker, studio floor manager

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the most powerful film directors of the 1970's, Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin was representative of Hollywood's first wave of hip, hot, young super-directors. Famed for his boisterous talent and booming ego, Friedkin earned a reputation for drawing out brilliant performances from his actors - by whatever means necessary. While a few of the director's notoriously manipulative tactics seemed questionable, no one could argue their effectiveness. Just five years after making his feature film debut, Friedkin snagged the Best Director Oscar for "The French Connection" (1971). The director's landmark achievement, however, would be his 1973 filmic adaptation of William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist." A landmark in special effects, make-up and storytelling, "The Exorcist" grossed - and grossed-out - millions. Noted for the stylized documentary look of his dramas, Friedkin's talents catapulted him to the front rank of American directors. The husband of former Paramount Pictures head honcho, Sherry Lansing since 1991, Friedkin's career remained active well into the next century.Born in Chicago, IL on Aug. 29, 1935, William "Billy" Friedkin was the son of Louis Friedkin, a semi-pro...

One of the most powerful film directors of the 1970's, Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin was representative of Hollywood's first wave of hip, hot, young super-directors. Famed for his boisterous talent and booming ego, Friedkin earned a reputation for drawing out brilliant performances from his actors - by whatever means necessary. While a few of the director's notoriously manipulative tactics seemed questionable, no one could argue their effectiveness. Just five years after making his feature film debut, Friedkin snagged the Best Director Oscar for "The French Connection" (1971). The director's landmark achievement, however, would be his 1973 filmic adaptation of William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist." A landmark in special effects, make-up and storytelling, "The Exorcist" grossed - and grossed-out - millions. Noted for the stylized documentary look of his dramas, Friedkin's talents catapulted him to the front rank of American directors. The husband of former Paramount Pictures head honcho, Sherry Lansing since 1991, Friedkin's career remained active well into the next century.

Born in Chicago, IL on Aug. 29, 1935, William "Billy" Friedkin was the son of Louis Friedkin, a semi-pro softball player turned clothing salesman; and his wife, Rachel, a nurse. Growing up exceptionally poor, Friedkin escaped his harsh surroundings by sneaking into the movies. One of the first films he saw, in particular, "Citizen Kane "(1941) with Orson Welles, made a profound impact on the future auteur. After graduating from high school, Friedkin got a job at Chicago's WGN, where he directed television and made documentaries. In 1962, Friedkin made his film-directing debut with "The People vs. Paul Crump" (1962), a narrative documentary about an inmate who was put on death row after giving a confession which was forcibly beaten from him by police. While "The People vs. Paul Crump" never aired, it won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival and paved the way for future work for the filmmaker.

His first effort, "Good Times" (1967) - an enjoyable little free love-and-music romp - barely registered on the cultural radar, but Friedkin's career was about to take a quantum leap forward. He followed up "Good Times" with the ambitious burlesque nostalgia piece "The Night They Raided Minsky's" (1968). Based on the 1960 book of the same name by Rowland Barber, the film was an unremarkable bit of fluff. Luckily, Friedkin fared better with his next project, an adaptation of Mart Crowley's off-Broadway play about homosexual men, "The Boys in the Band" (1970). Sensationally acted by the original stage cast, the film was a rare case where a single, claustrophobic set was an asset. Crowley, who also produced "Boys," introduced Friedkin to legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks, who advised the young director: "People don't want stories about somebody's problems or any of that psychological sh*t. What they want is action stories. Every time I made a film like that, with a lotta good guys against bad guys, it had a lotta success, if that matters to you."

The advice stuck. When Fox production president Richard D. Zanuck offered Friedkin a shot at directing "The French Connection," he jumped at the chance. Operating on an extremely tight budget of $2 million, Friedkin opted to cast his film with relative unknowns, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. The rest is movie history. Friedkin's plan to shoot "The French Connection" as documentary-style as possible was mostly decided as a cost-saving measure, but ended up yielding a number of innovative techniques in cinematography. For instance, Friedkin instructed his camera operator to eschew such traditional basics as lighting and blocking; instead, simply film the events before them as if they were news reporters. The result was an "induced documentary" style of filming that was perfect for the gritty, urban crime drama. Perhaps best remembered for its renowned car chase - considered by many to be the most exciting chase sequence ever filmed - "The French Connection" garnered five Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hackman), Best Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman) and Best Editing (Jerry Greenberg).

Friedkin's next picture, "The Exorcist" (1973), ushered in a new kind of horror film. It also earned him a reputation as a bully on the set. A highly controlling, extremely manipulative director, Friedkin's antics for "improving" performances ranged from slapping a non-actor - a real Catholic priest, no less! - to get an appropriately shaken line reading; to firing off a blank pistol behind star Jason Miller to catch the perfect startled reaction. Still, there was method to Friedkin's madness - the powerfully suggestive movie topped $100 million, accompanied by reports that audience members were fainting, having fits and regurgitating their popcorn in the aisles. A true landmark of '70s cinema, "The Exorcist" received 10 Academy Award nominations, including one for Friedkin as Best Director.

Unfortunately, fast on the heels of success, came the prodigious failures, starting with "Sorcerer" (1977) - a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear" (1952). A colossal bust, "Sorcerer" was labeled by reviewers as a pretentious waste of time. Friedkin's next project, "The Brink's Job" (1979), assembled a notable cast - including Peter Falk, Warren Oates and Paul Sorvino - along with authentic period flavor, but it, too, died at the box office. Then came "Cruising" - the notoriously controversial 1980 crime thriller, which starred Al Pacino as a straight undercover cop who must pose as gay to capture a homosexual stalking serial killer. "Cruising" elicited widespread protest from the gay community for what they viewed as a highly negative depiction of the gay club culture. The film's graphic sexuality and violence also provoked loud howls from the MPAA, which refused to rate it until after substantial editing - described by the director in a 1998 interview with Sight and Sound as "butchery on the scale comparable to 'The Magnificent Ambersons' - we must have lost about 40 minutes of material."

Friedkin missed again with "Deal of the Century" (1983), a satire about international weapons merchants starring Chevy Chase. Increasingly in need of a hit, Friedkin attempted to fashion a California-set saga equivalent of "The French Connection." The result was the neo-noir crime thriller, "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985). Based on a novel by former secret service agent Gerald Petievich, the film boasted a solid cast - headlined by a pre-"CSI" William Petersen - and some truly spectacular car chases; but its intense vulgarity, amoral characters and stylistic overkill doomed the film with mainstream audiences.

After a brief foray into television in the mid-1980s, Friedkin returned to features. Hoping to recapture some of his early mojo, Friedkin returned to the genre that made him a household name - namely, horror. Inspired by personal experiences with people hired to look after his son, Friedkin wrote and directed "The Guardian" (1990), a dopey thriller about a baby in supernatural danger from a new nanny. Panned by critics, the film died quickly at the box office. Friedkin returned to deliver some scares (with a comic twist), by helming an episode of "Tales From the Crypt" (HBO, 1992). The next year, Friedkin reached a career low point by helming the made-for-cable television movie, "Jailbreakers" (Showtime, 1994) starring Shannen Doherty and Antonio Sabato, Jr. He also directed one installment of Showtime's "Rebel Highway" (1994), a series of re-made 1950s and '60s teen drive-in movies.

On the big-screen, Friedkin continued his cinematic free-fall with such box office duds as the Ron Shelton-scripted basketball pic "Blue Chips" (1994) and "Jade" (1995), a by-the-numbers erotic thriller by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Convoluted, but decently acted, the film's climax featured one of the filmmaker's trademark long, dizzying car chases. Unfortunately, audiences - by now, somewhat jaded themselves after living in the modern age of summer blockbusters - were left unimpressed. "Jade" consequently died at the box office. Fortunately, Friedkin's acclaimed made-for-cable remake of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime, 1997) earned him another shot at a big Hollywood project - an adaptation of the latest Tom Clancy techno-thriller, "Rules of Engagement" (2000). Declared by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as "probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood," the film earned scathing reviews. No doubt stung by the criticism, Friedkin retreated from filmmaking for the next three years.

Friedkin's output continued trickling in through the new millennium. In 2003, Friedkin returned to direct "The Hunted," an underrated actioner starring Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones. Following the movie's lukewarm reception, Friedkin retreated into hiding once more and did not emerge again for four more years. In 2007, Friedkin returned with his latest comeback bid, the psychological thriller, "Bug," starring Ashley Judd. The story of a divorcee on the run from her abusive ex-husband, (Harry Connick, Jr.), "Bug" was a complex tale of paranoia and violence told amid the infestation of madness. The film, an adaptation of the play "Bug" by American playwright Tracy Letts, received its world premiere in France at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, but was not released domestically until a year later.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  I Am Wrath (2014)
2.
  Bug (2006)
3.
  Hunted, The (2003) Director
4.
  Rules of Engagement (2000) Director
5.
  12 Angry Men (1997) Director
6.
  Jade (1995) Director
7.
  Jailbreakers (1994) Director
8.
  Blue Chips (1994) Director
9.
  Guardian, The (1990) Director
10.

CAST: (feature film)

4.
 Without Limits (1998) Tv Director
6.
7.
 History Vs. Hollywood (2001) Interviewee ("The French Connection")
8.
 Intimate Portrait: Linda Blair (2001) Interviewee
9.
 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills (2001) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Began career in mailroom of WGN-TV, Chicago; eventually moved up to director
1962:
Helmed first TV-movie, "The People vs. Paul Crump," a 16mm documentary
1965:
Moved to Los Angeles
1965:
Hired to direct episodes of NBC's "Alfred Hitchcok Presents", including the final broadcast
1967:
Directed first feature, "Good Times", starring Sonny and Cher
1968:
Directed "The Night They Raided Minsky's," an affectionate look at burlesque; production was slightly hampered by death of co-star Bert Lahr during filming
1968:
Filmed a somewhat static feature adaptation of Harold Pinter's stage play "The Birthday Party"
1970:
Helmed "The Boys in the Band", adapted from the Mart Crowley play
1971:
Won the Best Director Oscar for "The French Connection"
1973:
Had box-office hit with screen version of "The Exorcist"
1973:
Formed the Directors Company, a partnership with Peter Bogdanovich and Francis Ford Coppola; split after one year
1977:
Suffered career setback with the box-office failure of "Sorcerer", a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's "The Wages of Fear"
1978:
Helmed comic period piece, "The Brink's Job", about the infamous 1950 Boston heist
1980:
Directed and penned first screenplay, "Cruising"; film sparked controversy over its depiction of the gay community in NYC
1983:
Attempted satire of international weapons merchants in "Deal of the Century", starring Chevy Chase
1985:
Helmed and co-scripted "To Live and Die in L.A."
1986:
Returned to TV to direct Barbra Streisand's HBO special, "Putting It Together--The Making of 'The Broadway Album'"
1986:
Executive produced, created and directed the NBC pilot "C.A.T. Squad" and its 1988 TV-movie sequel
1987:
Helmed "Rampage," a film which dealt with the death penalty and the complexity of the insanity plea; release delayed when De Laurentis Entertainment went bankrupt (released in 1992)
1990:
Returned to horror with "The Guardian"; also co-scripted
1992:
Continued in the horror vein directing "On a Dead Man's Chest" episode of HBO's "Tales From the Crypt"
1994:
Helmed "Jailbreakers" segment of Showtime's "Rebel Highway" series
1994:
Returned to features as director of the sports-themed "Blue Chips", scripted by Ron Shelton
1995:
Helmed third film in Joe Eszterhas' "sleaze" trilogy, "Jade"
1997:
Directed the acclaimed small screen remake of "12 Angry Men" (Showtime)
1997:
Received star number 2,093 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (August 14)
1998:
Directed Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck" in Florence, Italy with Zubin Mehta conducting
2000:
Directed "Rules of Engagement" a film produced by Richard D. Zanuck, the executive who greenlit his most popular film "The French Connection"
2002:
Staged two productions for the Los Angeles Opera
2002:
Directed Benicio Del Toro in "The Hunted"; production was shut down in June 2001 when Del Toro was injured days before principal photography was due to end (completed several months later)
2007:
Directed the psychological horror film, "Bug" starring Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Senn High School: Chicago , Illinois -

Notes

"I always aim at the stars and sometimes I hit Dresden. But I set out, as Wernher Von Braun did with every rocket, to take it to the moon." --William Friedkin on aiming his films at the widest possible audience to Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1989.

Although it never aired on the small screen, Friedkin's first TV film, "The People vs. Crump", was instrumental in saving the life of its subject, a man who had spent several years on death row.

"I never made the film ["Cruising"] to have anything to do with the gay community other than as a background for a murder mystery. It was not meant to be pro or con, gay rights, or gay anything. It was an exotic background that people, I knew, hadn't seen in a mainstream film. That's what intrigued me about it. I had never seen it, but heard about it and decided to go around to the various clubs and saw what was going on. I decided to write the story based on what I'd seen and on a story that one of the 'French Connection' cops told me that he'd experienced when he was sent as a decoy in the gay world to catch a killer who was targeting gays. That situation really screwed him up. It made him start to question his sexuality. Some of the best stuff was cut out of it. It was compromised severely. It should've gone out as an 'X' picture, but they couldn't." --Friedkin quoted in Venice, August 1997

"I burned a lot of bridges. I treated Diller and Sheinberg and Eisner with contempt. The more powerful they got, the easier it was for them to remember the way I had carried on with them. Those people on the elevator going up were the ones I met going down. There was a lot of resistance to my doing films at some of these studios.

"I never set out to make a bad film. I thought in each case they were going to be as good or better than anything I had done. I went through this long period of wondering why I wasn't being received in the same way. Now I've reached the point where I know why. These films just weren't any fucking good. They have no soul, no heart--they don't even have any technical expertise. It's as though someone reached up inside of an animal and pulled the guts out. The thing that drove me and still keeps me going is 'Citizen Kane'. I hope to one day make a film to rank with that. I haven't yet." --Friedkin to Peter Biskind in Premiere, May 1998

On his ruthless treatment of Mercedes McCambridge (vocal double for Satan) on the set of "The Exorcist": "I had her tied to a chair for a month while we recorded. I squeezed her, I tortured her, I shoved raw eggs and whisky down her throat and made her chain-smoke so we could get the sounds we wanted. She was a lapsed Catholic and a reformed drunk, so it really whipped her out of shape. She had two friends of hers who were priests, and when she'd start to blubber after takes, they'd give her counseling. Did it bother me? Nah, I was just making a movie." --Friedkin to The Guardian, October 18, 1998

About meeting Alfred Hitchcock: "Hitchcock came over and I told him I was really honored to meet him and I extended my hand. And he gave me his hand like a royal hand show. He handed it to me like a dead fish to shake and he said: 'Mr. Friedkin, I see that you're not wearing a tie.' And I thought he was putting me on. I said: 'No sir, I didn't put on a tie today.' And he said: 'Usually our directors wear ties.' And he walked away.

"... a few years later ... I was at the Directors Guild Awards in Los Angeles and the film ["The French Connection"] had won and I came down the platform with this director's award in my arms. It was in a banquet room and there at the first table was Hitchcock. I had a tuxedo with one of those flashy string bow ties, and I went down to Hitchcock, holding my award and I snapped my tie and said: "How do you like the tie, Hitch?' And he sort of stared at me. Of course he didn't remember at all." --Friedkin quoted in The Guardian, October 22, 1998.

On the famous car chase from "The French Connection": "We'd been shooting for a number of days on elements for the chase, and it occurred to me that we didn't have anything really dangerous, and not a lot of speed. Bill Hickman, who was the stunt driver on 'Bullit', was our man, and one night I got him drunk and told him, 'You know, Bill, you're a pussy. You've shown me nothing, and I don't think we have much of a chase.' He immediately rose to the challenge and said, 'You wanna see some hairy driving? Have you got the balls to get in my car?' So next day we strapped a camera to the front of the car, I got in the back with a handheld, and my memory is that he just drove through 26 blocks of traffic ... just kept his foot on the gas. One take. And this one take is cut into ... the chase over and over, Bill going in the wrong lane and cutting off opposing traffic. It's only by the grace of God we didn't kill ourselves or somebody." --quoted in Sight and Sound, January 2000.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Kitty Hawks. Model. Also worked in an advertising agency; daughter of Howard Hawks; introduced to Friedkin by playwright Mart Crowly c. 1969 during the filming of "Boys in the Band"; lived together; announced engagement but separated in June 1971.
companion:
Jennifer Nairn-Smith. Dancer. Met in 1972; together for four years; twice announced engagement; mother of Friedkin's son Cedric.
companion:
Ellen Burstyn. Actor. Worked together on "The Exorcist" (1973); Burstyn claims they had an affair c. 1976; Friedkin disputes it claiming they were "just friends".
wife:
Jeanne Moreau. Actor, director. Married in 1977; divorced in 1979.
wife:
Lesley-Anne Down. Actor. Married in 1982; divorced in 1985; mother of Friedkin's son Jack; engaged in bitter custody dispute over son.
wife:
Kelly Lange. Newscaster. Married in June 1987; filed for divorce in December 1990.
wife:
Sherry Lansing. Producer, executive. Married on July 6, 1991 in Barbados.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Louis Friedkin. Clothing store salesman, former merchant seaman and semipro softball player. Died indigent in Chicago.
mother:
Raechael Friedkin. Nurse.
son:
Cedric Nairn-Smith. Born on November 27, 1976; mother, Jennifer Nairn-Smith.
son:
Jack Friedkin. Born c. 1983; mother Lesley-Anne Down.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"William Friedkin: Films of Aberration, Obsession and Reality" McFarland

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