John Schlesinger


Director
John Schlesinger

About

Birth Place
London, England, GB
Born
February 16, 1926
Died
July 24, 2003
Cause of Death
Debilitating Heart Attack

Biography

John Schlesinger was celebrated for his ability to elicit sensitive performances from his actors, a skill which drew on his own experience on the British stage in the 1950s. His style was also influenced by techniques he developed while directing TV documentaries--a period of his career characterized by extensive location shooting, tight production schedules and an emphasis on the role o...

Family & Companions

Noel Davis
Companion
Casting director.

Notes

Made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his contributions to British cinema; awarded by Queen Elizabeth II (c. 1970)

Underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2000.

Biography

John Schlesinger was celebrated for his ability to elicit sensitive performances from his actors, a skill which drew on his own experience on the British stage in the 1950s. His style was also influenced by techniques he developed while directing TV documentaries--a period of his career characterized by extensive location shooting, tight production schedules and an emphasis on the role of editing in shaping narrative structure.

Schlesinger first became interested in film at the age of 11, when he received a 9.5 mm movie camera as a gift. While serving with the Royal Engineers during WWII he made an amateur film, "Horrors," and performed as a magician in the Combined Services Entertainment Unit. When he resumed his education in 1945 he immersed himself in the theater, joining the Oxford University Dramatic Society and soon becoming president of the Oxford Experimental Theatre Company. (He would continue to direct for the stage, in between movie assignments, throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s.)

From 1952 to 1957, Schlesinger worked in England, Australia and New Zealand, appearing in five feature films, acting in nearly 20 plays with various repertory companies and performing on TV and radio. During this period, a chance meeting with director/producer Roy Boulting catalyzed his interest in photography and filmmaking and led to the creation, with theatrical agent Basil Appleby, of a 15-minute documentary, "Sunday in the Park" (1956). The film brought Schlesinger a series of documentary assignments for the BBC. After a stint as a second unit director, he was commissioned to make an industrial documentary of daily life in London's Waterloo Station. The poignant result, "Terminus" (1961), achieved nationwide commercial distribution and earned him a Venice Festival Gold Lion and a British Academy Award.

Motivated in part by the festival success of "Terminus," producer Joseph Janni offered Schlesinger his first shot at a feature film with "A Kind of Loving" (1962). The result was a critical and financial success which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Festival and propelled its director into the front rank of young British filmmakers. In "Billy Liar" (1963), Schlesinger continued to examine the themes of inarticulate ambition and frustrated tenderness he had explored in "A Kind of Loving." Both films showed the influence of the British Free Cinema movement, with its emphasis on the constraints and restrictions of working-class life. Schlesinger then moved into very different terrain with "Darling" (1965), a flashy satire of "swinging London" that certified its lead actress, Julie Christie, as an international star when she won the Academy Award for best actress.

"Midnight Cowboy" (1969) was perhaps Schlesinger's greatest success commercially and critically, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and launching a long but rather turbulent Hollywood career for the director. Films such as "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (1971), "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976) all bear witness to Schlesinger's remarkable ability to weave meticulously observed, realistic backgrounds into his complex studies of human relationships.

Schlesinger's later films have included "The Believers" (1987), a gripping contemporary horror story starring Martin Sheen and Helen Shaver, "Madame Sousatzka" (1988), about a London piano teacher (Shirley MacLaine) and her gifted young student, "Pacific Heights" (1990), possibly the first thriller to weave its plot around the problems faced by landlords in their attempt to evict a bad tenant, and "The Innocent" (1993), an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Cold War psychological thriller. He directed "Cold Comfort Farm" for British TV (shown at film festivals in 1995), a period comedy about an orphan who take refuge with her cousins. Schlesinger also directed the minor revenge thriller "Eye for an Eye" (1996), which pitted Sally Field against Kiefer Sutherland, before tackling a major television adaptation of "The Tale of Sweeney Todd" (1998), a straight, non-musical version of the famed British folk tale starring Ben Kingsley as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

His final directotial outing was at the helm of the mild comedy "The Next Best Thing" (2000) which starred Madonna as a middle-aged woman whose biological clock has ticked so loud she conceives a baby with her gay pal (Rupert Everett) and then struggles to raise the child with him. Although a fairly minor work in his otherwise bold canon, it was appropriate that in his last film effort before his death in 2003, Schlesinger, who was gay, again tackled the issues of homosexual life and love that had characterized his keenest work.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Next Best Thing (2000)
Director
The Tale of Sweeney Todd (1998)
Director
Eye for An Eye (1996)
Director
Cold Comfort Farm (1995)
Director
The Innocent (1993)
Director
Pacific Heights (1990)
Director
Madame Sousatzka (1988)
Director
The Believers (1987)
Director
The Falcon And The Snowman (1985)
Director
Separate Tables (1983)
Director
An Englishman Abroad (1983)
Director
Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)
Director
Yanks (1979)
Director
Marathon Man (1976)
Director
The Day of the Locust (1975)
Director
Visions of Eight (1973)
Director
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Director
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Director
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)
Director
Darling (1965)
Director
Billy Liar (1963)
Director
A Kind of Loving (1962)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Twilight of the Golds (1997)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Himself
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Himself
The Last Man to Hang (1956)
Dr. Goldfinger
Oh... Rosalinda! (1955)
The Divided Heart (1955)
Ticket Collector

Writer (Feature Film)

Madame Sousatzka (1988)
Screenplay
Darling (1965)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

The Believers (1987)
Producer
The Falcon And The Snowman (1985)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Other
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Other
Terror in the Aisles (1984)
Other
Privileged (1982)
Consultant Director

Director (Special)

A Question of Attribution (1992)
Director

Cast (Special)

American Film Institute Salute to Dustin Hoffman (1999)
Performer
Placido Domingo: A Musical Life (1995)
Living in America (1991)
The Lost Language of Cranes (1991)
Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey (1990)

Director (Short)

Terminus (1961)
Director

Cast (Short)

Location: FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1967)
Himself

Life Events

1948

Formed Mount Pleasant Productions with Alan Cooke

1948

Made 16mm short, "Black Legend"

1951

Worked with Ngaio Marsh's theater company in Australia and New Zealand and with British repertory companies

1952

Film acting debut in "Singlehanded"

1958

Began working for BBC-TV news show, "Tonight"

1961

Directed first theatrical documentary, "Terminus"

1962

Directed first feature, "A Kind of Loving"

1965

Directed the Oscar-winning Julie Christie in "Darling"

1968

Directed first American film, "Midnight Cowboy"

1972

Contributed "The Longest," a short film, to the official Munich Olympic film, "Visions of Eight"

1980

Directed Offenbach centenary production opera, "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" at London's Royal Opera House

1989

Directed Verdi's opera, "Un Ballo in Maschera," (featuring Placido Domingo) at the Salzburg Festival in July

1998

Helmed non-musical Showtime movie "The Tale of Sweeney Todd", starring Ben Kingsley in the title role

2000

Directed the feature "The Next Best Thing", starring Rupert Everett and Madonna

Photo Collections

Billy Liar - Movie Poster
Here is the original British One-sheet movie poster for Billy Liar (1963), starring Tom Courtnay and Julie Christie.

Videos

Movie Clip

Midnight Cowboy (1969) - Open, Everybody's Talkin' From director John Schlesinger, from Waldo Salt’s screenplay and the James Leo Herlihy novel, the captivating opening, shot on location in Big Spring, Texas, introducing Jon Voight as Joe Buck, and Fred Neil’s song performed by Harry Nilsson, in the 1969 Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, also starring Dustin Hoffman.
Midnight Cowboy (1969) - Terrific Shirt Joe (Jon Voight) failing further as a hustler in New York, counting his dwindling money and meeting Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman, Voight’s fellow Best Actor nominee, in his first scene), his sticky nickname provided by Jonathan Kramer, followed by the famous mostly accidental taxi scene, in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, 1969.
Billy Liar (1963) - Open, Good Morning Housewives Fascinating opening title sequence from John Schlesinger's Billy Liar, 1963, starring Tom Courtenay, built around a radio program (Godfrey Winn the DJ) and shot primarily around Bradford, West Yorkshire, England.
Billy Liar (1963) - Count Five And Tell The Truth Again ducking his two fianceès (Gwendolyn Watts, Helen Fraser) Tom Courtenay (title character), finds Liz (Julie Christie), then claims a song-writing credit, John Schlesinger shooting on location outside the Locarno Ballroom, Bradford, England, in Billy Liar, 1963.
Billy Liar (1963) - A Day Of Big Decisions Ignoring his Mum, Dad and Gram (Mona Washbourne, Wilfred Pickles and Ethel Griffies) Billy (Tom Courtenay) enjoys a waking dream (featuring Julie Christie) of the Republic of Ambrosia in the first narrative scene from Billy Liar, 1963, directed by John Schlesinger.
Billy Liar (1963) - She's Been All Over With pal Arthur (Rodney Bewes), Billy (Tom Courtenay), having just dodged his two fianceès, glimpses preferred friend Liz (Julie Christie, her first scene in her breakthrough film), turning heads in Bradford, West Yorkshire, John Schlesinger directing on location, in Billy Liar, 1963.
Billy Liar (1963) - Genius Or Madman? Hiding his un-mailed calendars from his parents (Mona Washbourne, Wilfred Pickles) , Billy (Tom Courtenay) imagines himself a crusading writer under-cover in prison, emerging (from the real Wormwood Scrubs, London) to universal acclaim, in John Schlesinger's Billy Liar, 1963.
Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) -- Since I've Beheld You Bathsheba (Julie Christie) is overseeing her would-be suitor, and neighbor-turned-employee Oak (Alan Bates) when gentleman landowner Boldwood (Peter Finch) arrives, having taken her Valentine jest seriously, in John Schlesinger's Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967.
Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) -- Everyday Sort Of Man Nicolas Roeg shooting the Dorset countryside, farmer Oak (Alan Bates), disguising his purpose, visiting the aunt (Alison Leggatt) of neighbor Bathsheba (Julie Christie) who's eavesdropping, early in director John Schlesinger's Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967.
Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) -- It's Unwillingly Shown! Bathsheba (Julie Christie) is patrolling her recently inherited farm when she meets recently spurned soldier Troy (Terence Stamp) for the first time, in Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967, from the Thomas Hardy novel.
Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) -- When Will What Be? First scenes for Terence Stamp ("Sergeant Troy," in extravagant military headgear), waylaid by Fanny (Prunella Ransome), in John Schlesinger's Far From The Madding Crowd, 1967, from the Thomas Hardy novel.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) - I've Got To Be Sure Director John Schlesinger jumps right in to practice with London physician Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch), with a patient (Richard Pearson) then the answering service lady (Bessie Love) who will play a significant role, in Sunday Bloody Sunday, also starring Glenda Jackson.

Trailer

Family

Bernard Schlesinger
Father
Pediatrician. Jewish.
Winifred Schlesinger
Mother
Jewish.
Wendy Schlesinger
Sister
Roger Schlesinger
Brother
Twin of Hilary.
Hilary Schlesinger
Sister
Twin of Roger; converted to Catholicism.
Susan Maryott
Sister
Actor. Committed suicide in 1963 at age 30.

Companions

Noel Davis
Companion
Casting director.

Bibliography

Notes

Made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his contributions to British cinema; awarded by Queen Elizabeth II (c. 1970)

Underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2000.

In January 2001, Schlesinger suffered a stroke.