David Lean


Director
David Lean

About

Also Known As
Sir David Lean
Birth Place
Croydon, England, GB
Born
March 25, 1908
Died
April 16, 1991
Cause of Death
Double Pneumonia Compounded By Throat Cancer

Biography

A consummate craftsman whose sweeping historical epics were mere backdrops for the larger-than-life characters that populated his films, director David Lean helmed some of the grandest movies ever made by Hollywood. After receiving his start as an editor, Lean segued into directing with smaller films like "Blithe Spirit" (1945) and "Brief Encounter" (1946), which often showed hints of th...

Photos & Videos

Lawrence of Arabia - Movie Poster
Doctor Zhivago - Program Book
In Which We Serve - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Isabelle Lean
Wife
First wife; mother of Lean's only child.
Kay Walsh
Wife
Actor. Married 1940, divorced 1949; appeared in Lean's "In Which We Serve" and "This Happy Breed".
Ann Todd
Wife
Actor. Married 1949, divorced 1957; appeared in Lean's "The Passionate Friends", "Madeleine" and "The Sound Barrier".
Leila Devi
Wife
Married in Paris 1960, divorced 1978.

Bibliography

"David Lean: A Biography"
Kevin Brownlow, St. Martin's Press (1996)
"David Lean"
Stephen M Silverman, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1989)
"David Lean and His Films"
Alain Silver and James Ursini (1974)

Notes

Lean's films earned 56 Oscar nominations and 28 Oscars. He was nominated as Best Director seven times and won twice.

"He wrote with light and composition until each of his films was the visual equivalent of great novels. His genius rests in the fact that his characters were never diminished by his epic action." --Steven Spielberg in The Hollywood Reporter, April 17, 1991.

Biography

A consummate craftsman whose sweeping historical epics were mere backdrops for the larger-than-life characters that populated his films, director David Lean helmed some of the grandest movies ever made by Hollywood. After receiving his start as an editor, Lean segued into directing with smaller films like "Blithe Spirit" (1945) and "Brief Encounter" (1946), which often showed hints of the grand scale that was to come. Following excellent adaptations of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Oliver Twist" (1948), he went into a bit of a lull that nonetheless saw him make the compelling romantic drama "Summertime" (1955). But what followed was a series of three films that cemented his place as one of the greatest directors of all time, starting with "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" (1957), a widescreen WWII epic that displayed an unusual elegance despite its depiction of wartime prisoners suffering from a relentless and unyielding camp commander. Next was "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), an iconic historical drama about the adventures of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) that featured some of the most memorable images ever filmed, and went on to win numerous Academy Awards while earning its place as one of the greatest movies ever made. Lean followed this cinematic triumph with "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), a massive box office success that managed to tell a deeply intense personal romance set against the large scale turbulence off revolutionary Russia. After suffering a critical drubbing with his next film, "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), Lean waited 14 years to release his next film, "A Passage to India" (1984), which was a welcome return to the epic landscape previously occupied by "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia."

Born on March 25, 1908 in Croydon, England, Lean was raised in a Quaker household by his father, Francis, a senior partner at the accounting firm Viney, Price and Goodyear in London, and his mother, Helena, who hailed from a family of artists and inventors. When he was 15 years old, his parents split, leaving Lean with his mother while his father went off with another woman. Meanwhile, Lean attended Quaker schools and was at best a mediocre student. But he did have an early interest in photography that he maintained throughout his adolescence, though his parents considered it a mere hobby. Eventually Lean began working for his father's accounting firm once he was finished with school, only to quickly become bored. Convinced by a relative to follow his true passion, Lean wedged his way into Gaumont Studios, where he proved his worth as a teaboy for no pay during his first month. He was soon promoted to clapperboy and eventually worked his way up to assistant director. After befriending the projectionist, Lean squeezed his way into the cutting room, where he learned how to edit newsreels as an apprentice.

Lean continued his upward trajectory by graduating to film editor after receiving his first credit on "The Night Porter" (1930). He went on to edit a number of films throughout the decade, including "Dreaming Lips" (1932) and "As You Like It" (1936), both with Elizabeth Bergner; "Pygmalion" (1938), staring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller; and "The 49th Parallel" (1941). Lean began collaborating with Noël Coward on "In Which We Serve" (1942), a moving study of wartime England that contrasted the duty to fight with the human sacrifice required to win, that he co-directed with the flamboyant playwright. He went on to solo helm a series of films based on Coward's plays, including "This Happy Breed" (1944), which followed a London family from 1919 to 1939; the rousingly entertaining "Blithe Spirit" (1945), a fantasy comedy about an author (Rex Harrison) who accidentally summons the spirit of his dead first wife (Kay Hammond) in the presence of his newly married second (Constance Cummings), and the quietly effective "Brief Encounter" (1945), a romantic drama about a bored housewife (Celia Johnson) who almost has an affair with a doctor (Trevor Howard) that earned three Academy Award nominations, including his first for Best Director.

Lean followed with two faithful adaptations of Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Oliver Twist" (1948), both exemplary translations of the author's work that starred Alec Guinness, with whom the director would work on many subsequent occasions. "Great Expectations" was the more widely hailed of the two, earning five Academy Award nominations, which included Best Director and Best Picture. Unfortunately, Lean soon entered into a career lull, and of his next three films, only the docudrama "Breaking the Sound Barrier" (1952), a fictional look at the titular historical moment, was noteworthy. His rollicking version of the stage comedy "Hobson's Choice" (1954), the story of a strong-willed woman (Brenda De Banzie) and her attempt to emancipate herself from her overbearing father (Charles Laughton), featured the first in a series of strong, independent female characters that would populate his later films. Lean earned his third Oscar nomination for Best Director with "Summertime" (1955), a romantic drama about a lonely American spinster (Katharine Hepburn) who falls in love while abroad in Venice, Italy with a married man (Rossano Brazzi). Again, the film featured a strong, independent woman in a lead role while also reprising one of Lean's central themes throughout his career: the physical journey as a quest for self-knowledge.

But all was prologue to Lean's most fruitful period, where he not only made his personal best, but also some of the finest films in cinema history. Collaborating once again with Alec Guinness, Lean directed the epic World War II adventure, "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), which focused on a group of British prisoners of war held captive by the Japanese in Burma. Leading the POWs is Lt. Col. Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who demands that his soldiers behave by the book while refusing to cooperate with an equally iron-willed Japanese commander (Sessue Hayakawa). But when the Japanese commander forces the British prisoners to build a bridge, they band together to build the best one possible, only to find it targeted by an escaped prisoner-turned-saboteur (William Holden). Both commercially and critically successful, "Bridge Over the River Kwai" amassed a number of statues at the BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes before winning seven Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Director. Most importantly, the film initiated a cycle of big-budget spectacles would go on to define Lean's career and later his legacy.

Lean next accomplished a stunning cinematic feat with "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), a sweeping historical epic that followed the real-life adventures of T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), a British officer who unified the Arab tribes to fight for independence from the Ottoman Turks in 1920, only to struggle with his personal identity, divided allegiances and overreaching ambitions. Grand in every sense of the word, "Lawrence of Arabia" was shot on 70mm - one of the last films to do so - and featured some of the most iconic images ever committed to celluloid, including the extreme wide shot of Omar Sharif emerging from the rising desert sun on a camel. Meanwhile, composer Maurice Jarre's haunting music was equally stirring, winning an Academy Award and cementing its place as one of the finest movies scores of all time. But it was the performance of Peter O'Toole in the role that made him a star that stood out among the many sterling aspects of the film. Starting off as a young, ambitious officer looking for adventure toward the end of World War I, O'Toole's Lawrence was at turns forceful and enigmatic, an iconic hero whose motivations remained unclear even to his closest friends. Though he failed to capture an Oscar for his performance, O'Toole's performance remained one of his best. As for Lean, he earned his second and last Academy Award for Best Director while "Lawrence" won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Rounding out his three greatest films, Lean directed a sterling cast that included Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger and Alec Guinness in "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), a sweeping romantic drama set against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Based on Boris Pasternak's novel, "Doctor Zhivago" focused on a Russian doctor and poet (Sharif), whose love for his mistress - a woman raped by a ruthless politician (Steiger) - transcends the turbulent history of a world war and the rise of Communist Russia, as well as his own marriage to the daughter (Geraldine Chaplin) of a middle-class family who took him in as a child. Though a huge box office hit upon its release - and one of the biggest of all time when adjusted for inflation - "Doctor Zhivago" received mixed critical reviews, mainly over issues of length and deviations from the source material. Still, the film earned a slew of award nominations, including 10 nods at the Academy Awards, where it won statutes for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score for Maurice Jarre, and Best Adapted Screenplay for scribe Robert Bolt. Prior to that, it earned Lean a Golden Globe for Best Director while also taking home the big prize of Best Picture - Drama.

Because of the success of "Doctor Zhivago," Lean decided to make another sweeping romantic drama set against turbulent historical events, only this time his film suffered a critical backlash that had a profound effect on his career. With "Ryan's Daughter" (1970), Lean told the story of an Irish pub keeper's daughter (Sarah Miles) whose loveless marriage to a local schoolmaster (Robert Mitchum) leads her to have an affair with a British officer (Christopher Jones), only to find herself swept into a scandal involving IRA insurgents. Because expectations were high, "Ryan's Daughter" was savaged by critics who were looking for the same grandeur of his previous three epics. Over time, however, critics softened their stance and came to embrace it as one of Lean's finer works. Nonetheless, the director would not release another film for 14 years. But when he did, Lean returned to the sweeping scale that defined him with the splendid adaptation of E.M. Forster's "A Passage to India" (1984). Set in the 1920s during the growth of the Indian independence movement, the film starred Judy Davis as a sheltered English woman who travels to India, where she strikes up a friendship with a doctor (Victor Banerjee), only to accuse him of rape following an expedition to a set of caves. All the while, the fight for Indian independence flares around them. Hailed as another masterpiece, Lean's film was well-received by critics and earned 11 Academy Awards, only to win two for Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Ashcroft) and Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre). "A Passage to India" turned out to be the last film directed by Lean, who died on April 16, 1991 from throat cancer just weeks from helming an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo after years of development. He was 83 and left behind a reputation as one of the greatest directors ever to have stepped behind a camera.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

A Passage to India (1984)
Director
Ryan's Daughter (1970)
Director
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Director
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Director
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Director
Summertime (1955)
Director
Hobson's Choice (1954)
Director
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Director
Madeleine (1950)
Director
The Passionate Friends (1949)
Director
Oliver Twist (1948)
Director
Great Expectations (1946)
Director
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Director
Brief Encounter (1945)
Director
This Happy Breed (1944)
Director
In Which We Serve (1942)
Director
Major Barbara (1941)
Director

Writer (Feature Film)

A Passage to India (1984)
Screenwriter
Summertime (1955)
Screenwriter
Hobson's Choice (1954)
Screenwriter
The Passionate Friends (1949)
Adaptation
Oliver Twist (1948)
Screenwriter
Great Expectations (1946)
Screenplay
Brief Encounter (1945)
Screenwriter
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Screenplay
Blithe Spirit (1945)
Writer (Adaptation)
This Happy Breed (1944)
Adaptation

Producer (Feature Film)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Producer
Hobson's Choice (1954)
Producer
The Sound Barrier (1952)
Producer
Madeleine (1950)
Producer

Editing (Feature Film)

A Passage to India (1984)
Editor
49th Parallel (1941)
Editor
Major Barbara (1941)
Editor
One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1941)
Editor
French Without Tears (1940)
Editing Supervisor
Pygmalion (1939)
Film Editor
As You Like It (1937)
Editing
Dreaming Lips (1937)
Editing
Escape Me Never (1935)
Film Editor

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Company

Cast (Special)

The 18th Annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Salute to Sir David Lean (1990)
Performer

Cast (Short)

Ryan's Daughter (Featurette) (1970)
Himself
Zhivago Behind the Camera with David Lean (1965)
Himself
David Lean's Film of Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Himself
Moscow in Madrid (1965)
Himself
This Is... Julie Christie (1965)
Himself
This Is... Omar Sharif (1965)
Himself
Pasternak (1965)
Himself
New Star: Geraldine Chaplin (1965)
Himself

Life Events

1927

Worked for father's accounting firm at the age of 19 (date approximate)

1927

Began working for Gaumont-British studios as tea-boy, then number-board holder, messenger and camera assistant

1930

Graduated to newsreel editor; then put in charge of Gaumont Sound News

1935

Began cutting feature films with "Escape Me Never"

1942

First film as co-director (with Noel Coward), "In Which We Serve"

1942

Formed Cineguild with Noel Coward, Ronald Neame 1nd Anthony Havelock-Allan

1944

First film as solo director and first film as co-adaptor (with Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan), "This Happy Breed"

1974

Subject of British TV documentary, "David Lean: A Life in Film"

1979

TV directing debut: Lean directed and hosted a documentary on explorer Capt. James Cook, "The Story of Cook's Anchor" for New Zealand TV

1991

Production of "Nostromo", his 17th film, halted when Lean became ill with throat cancer (February)

Photo Collections

Lawrence of Arabia - Movie Poster
Here is the Roadshow version one-sheet movie poster for Lawrence of Arabia (1962), starring Peter O'Toole and directed by David Lean. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Doctor Zhivago - Program Book
Here is the souvenir Program Book sold at Roadshow engagements for the 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago.
In Which We Serve - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for the British film In Which We Serve (1942), starring Noel Coward. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) - Aqaba Peter O'Toole (title character) has intimated that he and colleagues (Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn) were less-than sober for the glorious raid on Aqaba, Jordan, actually shot in Spain, in David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia, 1962.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - My Name Is For My Friends Remarkable tension and photography by Freddie Young, as Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) and Tafas (Zia Mohyeddin) meet Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) in a famous scene from David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia, 1962.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) - Did You Know Him Well? Joining director David Lean’s opening after credits, Peter O’Toole (title character) meets his end, then shooting a soundstage interior but real exterior of St. Paul’s, London, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins and Arthur Kennedy among the mourners, from Lawrence Of Arabia, 1962.
Ryan's Daughter (1970) - Good Luck To All Irishmen In Ireland during the First World War, widower schoolteacher Charles (Robert Mitchum) returning from Dublin, at the pub with Father Collins (Trevor Howard), Ryan (Leo McKern), McArdle (Archie O'Sullivan) and Brit soldiers, early in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter, 1970.
Ryan's Daughter (1970) - Is No One Going To Kiss The Bride? At their wedding party in rural Ireland, 1916, the bride Rosy (Sarah Miles) is overwhelmed by attention, especially outcast Michael (John Mills), rescued by Charles (Robert Mitchum) her widower husband, her father (Leo McKern) and the priest (Trevor Howard) monitoring, in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, 1970.
In Which We Serve (1942) - The Story Of A Ship Heady titles, dedication and credits, from creator Noel Coward and his colleague, sharing his first directing credit, David Lean, the technical and naval opening from In Which We Serve, 1942.
In Which We Serve (1942) - What A Bitter Blow Kinross (the writer, producer and co-director Noel Coward) addressing his crew, including John Mills, Michael Wilding and Bernard Miles, then hearing Prime Minister Chamberlain's announcement, from the government-backed propaganda hit In Which We Serve, 1942.
Passionate Friends, The (1949) - The Restrictions Imposed Near soliloquy by Claude Rains as banker Howard, alarmed because his wife and her supposedly platonic friend left their tickets for the theater behind, Betty Ann Davies his assistant, outwardly calm but with intense double-entendre in the language, from H.G. Wells’ novel and Eric Ambler’s script, in director David Lean’s The Passionate Friends, 1949.
Madeleine (1950) - Many Eyes Are Upon Her At a Glasgow society ball, Mrs. Smith (Barbara Everest) chats while her daughter (Ann Todd, title character) dances first with her father (Leslie Banks) then with Minnoch (Norman Wooland), spurned lover L'Angelier (Ivan Desny) observing, in director David Lean's fact-based Madeleine, 1950.
Madeleine (1950) - We Are Quite Alone Affluent Ann Todd (title character) has lured her lover from Glasgow (Ivan Desny) to her family’s country estate, joining him outside the grounds for an encounter overlooking the neighboring village, Todd’s husband, the director David Lean, engaging in some exhilarating cutting, in Madeleine, 1950, based on a famous 1857 murder case.
Oliver Twist (1948) - Rather More No Than Yes The Dodger (Anthony Newley) is confronting criminal Fagin (Alec Guinness) when their boss Sykes (Robert Newton) arrives, his girlfriend Nancy (Kay Walsh, the director's wife!) catching up, all this over the title character who's been grabbed by the cops, in David Lean's Oliver Twist, 1948.
Oliver Twist (1948) - Do You Want Him? John Howard Davies (Charles Dickens' orphan title character) has just wandered into London, spied by young Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger, then designer John Bryan and director David Lean with spectacle leading to the introduction of Fagin (Alec Guinness) in Oliver Twist, 1948.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Francis William le Blount Lean
Father
Chartered accountant. Married 1904, separated before 1927; Quaker; senior partner of accounting firm of Viney, Price and Goodyear in London.
Helena Annie Lean
Mother
Married 1904, separated before 1927; Quaker.
Edward Tangye Lean
Brother
Born c. 1911.
Peter Lean
Son
Mother Isabelle Lean.

Companions

Isabelle Lean
Wife
First wife; mother of Lean's only child.
Kay Walsh
Wife
Actor. Married 1940, divorced 1949; appeared in Lean's "In Which We Serve" and "This Happy Breed".
Ann Todd
Wife
Actor. Married 1949, divorced 1957; appeared in Lean's "The Passionate Friends", "Madeleine" and "The Sound Barrier".
Leila Devi
Wife
Married in Paris 1960, divorced 1978.
Sandra Hotz
Wife
Divorced 1985.
Sandra Cooke
Wife
Interior designer. Born c. 1939; married December, 1990; met in 1985 at frozen-food department of Harrods.

Bibliography

"David Lean: A Biography"
Kevin Brownlow, St. Martin's Press (1996)
"David Lean"
Stephen M Silverman, Harry N. Abrams Inc. (1989)
"David Lean and His Films"
Alain Silver and James Ursini (1974)

Notes

Lean's films earned 56 Oscar nominations and 28 Oscars. He was nominated as Best Director seven times and won twice.

"He wrote with light and composition until each of his films was the visual equivalent of great novels. His genius rests in the fact that his characters were never diminished by his epic action." --Steven Spielberg in The Hollywood Reporter, April 17, 1991.

"David can't wait to finish shooting a picture so he can begin cutting the actors out of it." --Trevor Howard, quoted in Lean's Variety obituary, April 22, 1991.

"I had very strong feelings about his work, because I am a longer-is-better kind of guy. ... He was willing to let the stories and scenes play out. He liked you to hear information. ... [His films] are not so plot-oriented, they are like the journeys of people." --Kevin Costner to New York Post, April 17, 1991.

"David is sweet--simple and straight--and strong and savage, and he is the best movie director in the world." --Katharine Hepburn in 1989, quoted in Lean's obituary in The New York Times, April 17, 1991.

"Lean was a meticulous craftsman noted for technical wizardry, subtle manipulation of emotions, superb production values, authenticity and taste. He was one of the very few directors who edited his own films, and he also adapted or co-adapted half a dozen of them." --Peter B. Flint in Lean's The New York Times obituary, April 17, 1991.

Lean left orders that his ashes be strewn over the three areas he loved most: India, Tahiti and Tuscany (where he planned to retire).

Named Commander of the British Empire Award for services to cinema in 1953.

Awarded L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1968 by the French government

He was an honorary life member of the DGA.

He was made Fellow of the British Film Institute (1983).

He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1984.