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On This Day in Movie History, July 25, 2003: Director John Schlesinger Dies

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On this day, July 25, 2003, Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger died. After he suffered from complications of a stroke in December 2000, his life partner, Michael Childers, took him off life support, July 24, and he died the following day in Palm Springs, California. He was 77 years old.

Born in London, England on February 16, 1926, he was the eldest child born of a solidly middle-class Jewish family. Berbard Schlesinger, his father, was a pediatrician, and his mother Winifred was a musician.

After serving in the Army in the Far East during World War II, while attending Balliol College at Oxford, Schlesinger was involved with the Undergraduate Dramatic Society and developed an interest in photography. While at Oxford, he made his first short film, “Black Legend” in 1948. He took his degree in 1950 after reading English literature, and then went into television. From 1958 through 1961, he made documentaries for the British Broadcasting Corp.

Terminus (1961), his 1960 documentary, which was sponsored by British-Transport, won him a British Academy Award and the Gold Lion at the Venice Film Festival. He made the transition to feature films in 1962, with the drama A Kind of Loving (1962), a film earned him notice on both sides of the Atlantic.

His next film, the Northern comedy Billy Liar (1963) also proved a success. This film, which won Julie Christie the Best Actress Academy Award and international super-stardom. began his association with Christie. Schlesinger received his first Oscar nomination as Best Director with his next film, the Watershed Darling (1965), which dissected Swinging London. Subsequently, in 1967, Schlesinger and Christie collaborated on Far from the Madding Crowd , an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel. Although not a success with critics or at the box office at the time, it’s stature has grown over time.

In 1969, his next film, Midnight Cowboy earned him a place in cinema history. Not only was it a huge box office hit, it was widely acclaimed as a contemporary classic. It won the Oscar for Best Picture and garnered Schlesinger an Oscar for Best Director.

In 1971 Schlesinger earned his third, and last Oscar nomination for the highly acclaimed Sunday Bloody Sunday. He continued to operate at a high state of aesthetic and critical achievement with The Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976) and Yanks (1979), after which his run of luck seemed to end. In 1981 the comedy Honky Tonk Freeway was one of the notable flops of its time. It brought in only $2 million on a $24 million budget. Break-even was calculated as three-times the negative cost.

Although Schlesinger continued to work steadily as a director in movies and TV, he never again experienced the success that he had for over a decade.

After his movie career faded, Schlesinger directed for the stage and, specifically, opera. In 1964 he directed William Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). After Laurence Olivier was eased out in 1973, Schlesinger was named an associate director of the National Theater under Olivier’s successor, Sir Peter Hall of the RSC.

Birthdays
1894 – Walter (Andrew) Brennan (Academy Award-winning actor: Come and Get It [1936], Kentucky [1938], The Westerner [1940]; The Tycoon, To Rome with Love, The Real McCoys, The Guns of Will Sonnett; singer: Old Rivers, Dutchman’s Gold, Mama Sang a Song; died Sep 21, 1974)

1908 – Jack Gilford (Jacob Gellman) (actor: Cocoon series, Arthur 2: On the Rocks, Caveman, Wholly Moses!, Save the Tiger, Catch-22, Enter Laughing, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, The Duck Factory, The David Frost Revue, The Arrow Show; died June 2, 1990)

1923 – Estelle Getty (actress: Golden Girls, Golden Palace, Tootsie, Mask, Mannequin; workout video: Young at Heart Body Conditioning; died Jul 22, 2008)

1935 – Barbara Harris (actress: Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Peggy Sue Got Married, Plaza Suite, A Thousand Clowns)

1943 – Janet Margolin (actress: Annie Hall, The Game of Love, The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal; died Dec 17, 1993)

1955 – Iman (model, actress: The Human Factor, Out of Africa, L.A. Story, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Exit to Eden; married to singer David Bowie)1965 – Illeana Douglas (actress: The Perfect Woman, To Die for, Grace of My Heart, Chasing Amy, Picture Perfect, Weapons of Mass Distraction, Bella Mafia, Message in a Bottle, The Next Best Thing)

1967 – Matt LeBlanc (actor: Friends, TV 101, Reform School Girl, Ed, Lost in Space, Charlie’s Angels, All the Queen’s Men)

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