Director Robert Altman Dies in Los Angeles, Age 81Date: 21 November 2006
Director Robert Altman (pictured) – who made his UK stage debut with Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues at the Old Vic this past February (See News, 8 Sep 2005) – has died at the age of 81. He passed away last night (Monday 20 November 2006) at a Los Angeles hospital.
A Hollywood legend, Altman’s many screen classics over a long career included MASH, Brewster McCloud, Nashville, The Long Goodbye, The Player, Short Cuts, Prêt-à-Porter, Cookie’s Fortune and, more recently, 2001’s Gosford Park, which was filmed in Britain with an all-star thespian cast including Kristin Scott Thomas and Michael Gambon. A five-time Academy Award nominee for best director, including for Gosford Park, Altman never won a standard Oscar but was presented with a lifetime achievement accolade at this year’s 2006 ceremony.
Robert Altman was born in Kansas City, Missouri on 20 February 1925. He studied engineering at the University of Missouri and served as a bomber pilot during the Second World War. After an initial attempt to conquer showbusiness failed – he appeared in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and wrote an unproduced Broadway musical entitled The Rumors Are Flying – Altman moved from Hollywood back to his hometown and began producing industrial films.
The director made his feature film debut with 1957’s The Delinquents and moved back to Los Angeles to direct television series including Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1970, Altman had his first big commercial hit with MASH.
During a break from filmmaking in the 1980s, Altman made a rare foray into theatre, making his Broadway debut directing Ed Graczyk’s 1982 play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, with a cast including Cher and Kathy Bates. He later adapted it for the screen as well.
When Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey announced last year that he’d managed to lure Altman back to the theatre, to make his UK directing debut with the European premiere of Arthur Miller’s second-to-last play, it generated headlines around the world (See News, 8 Sep 2005). As with his films, Altman gathered an eclectic ensemble cast for Resurrection Blues - including Hollywood stars Neve Campbell and Matthew Modine, Australian-born Academy Award winner Maximilian Schell, Broadway’s Jane Adams and Britons James Fox and Peter McDonald (See News, 3 Jan 2006) – and it became one of the most hotly anticipated play openings of the year. After disparaging reviews, however, the production closed early before the Old Vic went dark for five months (See News, 5 Apr 2006).
- by Terri Paddock