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John G. Avildsen

John G. Avildsen

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Also Known As: John G. Avildsen, Danny Mulroon, John Guilbert Avildsen Died:
Born: December 21, 1935 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: director, editor, screenwriter, producer, director of photography, production manager, assistant director, advertising manager

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

ces¿ heartstrings but failed to generate much attention from ticket buyers. The same fate befell his next efforts, which also suffered from off-camera troubles involving their casts. "The Formula" (1980) starred two notoriously difficult actors, Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, in a thriller penned by "Save the Tiger" author Steve Shagan about the hunt for a Nazi-created synthetic fuel. The film was largely rebuilt in the editing studio after its completion, as was "Neighbors" (1981), a dark comedy that featured John Belushi in his final movie appearance. Hated by nearly every person involved with the project, from writer Larry Gelbart and composer Bill Conti ¿ both of whom saw their work completely retooled ¿ to Belushi and co-star Dan Aykroyd ¿ the former of which threatened to beat up the director at every opportunity ¿ the film was an ignoble end to its star¿s career and a low point for Avildsen.The genuine nadir of Avildsen¿s output came two years later with "A Night in Heaven" (1983), a stunningly crass drama about a student (Christopher Atkins) who moonlights as a male stripper, and the professor (Lesley Ann Warren) who falls for him. A throwback of sorts to Avildsen¿s early career in...

ces¿ heartstrings but failed to generate much attention from ticket buyers. The same fate befell his next efforts, which also suffered from off-camera troubles involving their casts. "The Formula" (1980) starred two notoriously difficult actors, Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, in a thriller penned by "Save the Tiger" author Steve Shagan about the hunt for a Nazi-created synthetic fuel. The film was largely rebuilt in the editing studio after its completion, as was "Neighbors" (1981), a dark comedy that featured John Belushi in his final movie appearance. Hated by nearly every person involved with the project, from writer Larry Gelbart and composer Bill Conti ¿ both of whom saw their work completely retooled ¿ to Belushi and co-star Dan Aykroyd ¿ the former of which threatened to beat up the director at every opportunity ¿ the film was an ignoble end to its star¿s career and a low point for Avildsen.

The genuine nadir of Avildsen¿s output came two years later with "A Night in Heaven" (1983), a stunningly crass drama about a student (Christopher Atkins) who moonlights as a male stripper, and the professor (Lesley Ann Warren) who falls for him. A throwback of sorts to Avildsen¿s early career in exploitation, it was lambasted by critics and ignored by moviegoers, save for its soundtrack, which featured a hit title track by Canadian singer Bryan Adams. The picture also came on the heels of a personal low for the director, who was taken to court by his lover, model Miroslawa Prystay, for child support. He was forced to pay a lump sum and provide five years of financial support for their son, Ashley. In 1993, he lost a case brought against him by Prystay over unpaid support checks.

Avildsen¿s career began its slow recovery in 1982 with an Oscar nomination for "Traveling Hopefully," a documentary short about ACLU founder Roger Baldwin and his fight for free speech. However, his next feature was the blockbuster "Karate Kid" (1984). Built largely on the same model as "Rocky" ¿ an underdog (Ralph Macchio) learns respect and fighting skills through a wizened sage (Pat Morita) ¿ it generated the same stand-up-and-cheer response from viewers, coined "Wax on, wax off" as an oft-quoted movie line, made Macchio a star, and earned the veteran Morita an Oscar nomination. It was quickly followed by "Karate Kid II" (1987), which moved the action to Japan; though not as critically praised as its predecessor, the film topped the first picture in ticket sales.

Unfortunately, Avildsen was again unable to sustain the forward momentum provided by the "Karate Kid" films with his subsequent projects. "Happy New Year¿ (1987) was based on a 1973 French film of the same name and starred Peter Falk as a jewel thief with a penchant for elaborate disguises. It barely received a theatrical release. The same fate befell "For Keeps" (1988), a comedy about teen pregnancy that contributed to the decline of Molly Ringwald¿s status as a teen star. However, he found redemption with "Lean on Me" (1989), a true-life school drama about a tough principal (Morgan Freeman) that leaned heavily on his "Rocky" and "Karate Kid" past in an attempt to portray itself as a similarly inspirational tale. The ploy largely worked, with Freeman receiving an NAACP Image Award for his performance.

"Lean on Me" would be the last substantial hit of Avildsen¿s career to date. Subsequent efforts to mine the "Rocky"/"Karate Kid" vibe, including "The Power of One" (1992), with white South African boxer Stephen Dorff training with Freeman, and "8 Seconds" (1994), with Luke Perry as the ill-fated rodeo star Lane Frost, failed to find audiences. Even a return to the "Rocky" franchise with 1990¿s "Rocky V" was met with dismissal as the worst entry in the series. By 1999, he was reduced to helming B-grade efforts like "Inferno" (1999), a lame vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme¿s waning star. In 2007, he partnered with son Anthony Avildsen to co-direct the documentary "Dancing into the Future," which followed dance instructor Jacques D¿Amboise¿s 2004 trip to China to work with dance students there on a special performance for the Shanghai Special Olympics.ucation called "Guess What We Learned in School Today?" (1971), which he shot prior to "Joe," but only saw release after the later film began racking up dollars at the box office. Avildsen next directed a pair of bizarre comedies ¿ "Cry Uncle!" (1971) was a perverse parody of detective thrillers, with a slovenly Allen Garfield as a gumshoe investigating a murder and indulging in gross-out sex scenes, including a "humorous" bit of necrophilia, while "The Stoolie" (1972) was an early attempt by comic Jackie Mason to revive his career with a comedy about a deadbeat crook that steals from his criminal cohorts. Neither film saw many screenings outside of the 42nd Street and drive-in circuits, and it was soon followed by "Fore Play" (1973), a trio of sex-comedy shorts with political edge that featured Jerry Orbach, Zero Mostel and Estelle Parsons.

However, Avildsen¿s ability to shoot and complete low-budget films in an efficient and cost-effective manner put him in the running to oversee a small drama called "Save the Tiger" (1973), with Jack Lemmon as a businessman teetering on the edge of financial and emotional ruin while attempting to recapture the joys of his youth. Shot in three weeks and for a miniscule budget that required Lemmon and his cast mates to work for scale, the film received near-universal acclaim, as well as an Oscar for Lemmon and a Golden Globe for co-star Jack Gilford. It also put Avildsen on the Hollywood map for the first time, though his initial foray would be anything but smooth.

Avildsen was the director of choice for the Al Pacino cop drama "Serpico" (1973), but was fired from the production over arguments with producer Martin Bregman. He would not step behind the camera for another two years, during which time he was represented by the crass "Fore Play" ¿ a considerable comedown from the heights struck by "Save the Tiger." When he finally landed a directorial assignment, it was for the genial comedy-drama "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings" (1976), with Burt Reynolds in his country-fried phase as the manager of a Southern singing group who also robs banks on the side. Likable if entirely forgettable, it performed modestly at the box office.

But it was his skill with low-budget productions that again propelled Avildsen into the limelight. Hired by producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler to handle a boxing picture in the style of 1930s and `40s dramas, Avildsen became the director of one of the most financially successful and well-loved films of the 20th century. "Rocky" (1976), written by its star, a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone, was a remarkable blend of ringside action, tender romance and character-driven drama, with marvelous performances by its largely unknown cast and fight scenes that drew viewers into the heat of battle by virtue of the then-new Steadicam technology. Shot for $1.1 million, it grossed $225 million worldwide, won the Best Picture Oscar, and made Stallone one of the most recognizable actors on the planet. For once, Avildsen himself shared in the glory by netting a Best Director Oscar. Again, he seemed poised to break into the Hollywood mainstream ¿ but as before, success would continue to evade him.

Avildsen found himself on top of another blockbuster hit immediately after "Rocky." Producer Robert Stigwood had hired him to direct "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), but conflict between the two forced Avildsen out of the project, which of course went on to be as iconic as "Rocky." His next effort as director was "Slow Dancing in the Big City" (1978), a melodrama about a New York columnist (Paul Sorvino, who also appeared briefly in "Rocky") who falls for a terminally ill ballerina, played by Golden Globe nominee Anne Ditchburn. Scored by "Rocky" composer Bill Conti, the film tugged relentlessly at audien

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Desert Heat (1999)
2.
  8 Seconds (1994) Director
3.
  Power of One, The (1992) Director
4.
  Rocky V (1990) Director
5.
  Lean on Me (1989) Director
6.
7.
  For Keeps (1988) Director
8.
  Happy New Year (1987) Director
9.
  Karate Kid Part II, The (1986) Director
10.
  The Karate Kid (1984) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Greenwich Village Story (1963) Alvie
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Milestones close milestones

1964:
Served as assistant to Carl Lerner on set of "Black Like Me"
1965:
Was assistant director on "Mickey One", directed by Arthur Penn
1994:
Directed "8 Seconds" the biopic of rodeo legend Lane Frost

Education

New York University: New York , New York -

Notes

In 1983, Judge Hortense Gabel approved a contract under which Avildsen would give his estranged lover, model Miroslawa Prystay, a lump sum and five years of child support for their son Ashley under a NY law which allows fathers to cut compromise deals over illegitimate children.

In January 1993, NY Supreme Court Justice Shirley Fingerhood decided that Avildsen had purposefully inflicted emotional distress on Prystay by putting the child support money he owed her in escrow and suing her for requesting a check one month early. The former model testified that she had suffered "phlebitis, significant hair loss, and constant stress" and that she and the boy Ashley had to go on welfare.

Avildsen was at one time announced as the director of "Serpico" (1973)

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Miroslawa Prystay. Model. One child together.
wife:
Tracy Brooks Swope. Actor. Married in February 1987.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Clarence John Avildsen. Tool manufacturer.
mother:
Ivy Avildsen.
son:
Ashley Avildsen. Mother, Miroslawa Prystay.
son:
Anthony Guilbert Avildsen. Production assistant, actor. Mother, Tracy Brooks Swope.
son:
Jonathan Avildsen. Production assistant, actor. Mother, Tracy Brooks Swope.
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