Peter Bogdanovich, the influential director of films including The Last Picture Show and a star of the TV gangster drama The Sopranos, died from complications of Parkinson’s disease at his home in Los Angeles on January 6, 2022, at the age of 82.
Bogdanovich emerged as one of the most exciting directors in Hollywood during the early 1970s but his career tapered off amid a string of poorly reviewed films and tabloid scandal.
He was one of the most successful directors of his era. Responsible for three great hits in a row: The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and What’s Up, Doc?
The Last Picture Show (1971)
A drama film directed and co-written by Bogdanovich, adapted from a semi-autobiographical 1966 novel The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.
In 1951, a group of high kids come of age in a bleak, isolated, atrophied North Texas town that is slowly dying, both culturally and economically.
In tiny Anarene, Texas, in the lull between World War Two and the Korean Conflict, Sonny and Duane are best friends. Enduring that awkward period of life between boyhood and manhood, the two pass their time the best way they know how – with the movie house, football, and girls. Jacy is Duane’s steady, wanted by every boy in school, and she knows it. Her daddy is rich and her mum is good looking and loose. It’s the general consensus that whoever wins Jacy’s heart will be set for life. But Anarene is dying a quiet death as folks head for the big cities to make their livings and raise their kids. The boys are torn between a future somewhere out there beyond the borders of town or making do with their inheritance of a run-down pool hall and a decrepit movie house – the legacy of their friend and mentor, Sam the Lion. As high school graduation approaches, they learn some difficult lessons about love, loneliness, and jealousy. Then folks stop attending the second-run features at the movie house and the time comes for the last picture show. With the closure of the movie house, the boys feel that a stage of their lives is closing. They stand uneasily on the threshold of the rest of their lives.
The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards – winning 2.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
A romantic screwball comedy film directed by Bogdanovich and starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, and Madeline Kahn. It is intended to pay homage to comedy films of the 1930s, especially Bringing up baby and Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Streisand stars as the zany dropout with her eyes on absent-minded professor O’Neal in this hilarious homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930s by Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges. The tone is set by the wacky title, a reference to the scene when Streisand meets O’Neal for the first time – she’s chomping on a carrot à la Bugs Bunny. There’s also brilliant support from Madeline Kahn as O’Neal’s fiancée. O’Neil stars as a timid professor in San Francisco for a conference bumps into an eccentric, disaster-prone woman whose antics throw his carefully ordered life into upheaval – while a case of mistaken identity involving a jewel thief and a government whistle-blower only adds to his woes.
The film was a success, and became the third-highest grossing film of 1972.
A comedy-drama film directed by Bogdanovich. The film, shot in black-and-white, is set in Kansas and Missouri during the Great Depression. It stars the real-life father and daughter pairing of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal as protagonists Moze and Addie.
Continuing a run of Seventies smash-hits for director Bogdanovich after the enormous success of his The Last Picture Show and What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon saw the filmmaker sustaining his collaboration with actor Ryan O’Neal, and introduced the world to the precocious talent of the star’s daughter Tatum, then 10, who for her performance was the youngest-ever actress to be awarded an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
After meeting a newly orphaned girl named Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), con man Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal), who may or may not be Addie’s father, is enlisted to deliver the newly orphaned Addie to her aunt in Missouri. Shortly after however, the two realise that together they make an efficient scam-artist duo. Adventure ensues as the pair blaze through the American Midwest, stealing, swindling, and selling the moon…With its stunning black-and-white cinematography shot by the great László Kovács and its superb evocation of Depression-era locales, Paper Moon endures as one of the key American comedies of the 1970s.
The film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards – winning 2.
Bogdanovich felt that The Godfather, The Exorcist and Chinatown were directing assignments he could refuse. Cybill Shepherd was the lover for whom he should abandon his wife and newborn child. And only time seemed to separate him from legendary status in Hollywood. But then he fell.
Bogdanovich was born in Kingston, New York, the son of Herma and Borislav Bogdanovich, a painter and pianist. His Austrian-born mother was Jewish, while his father was a Serbian Orthodox Christian; the two arrived in the U.S. in May 1939. He graduated from New York City’s Collegiate School in 1957 and studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory.
In the early 1960s, Bogdanovich was known as a film programmer at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. An obsessive cinema-goer, seeing up to 400 movies a year in his youth, Bogdanovich showcased the work of American directors such as Orson Welles, John Ford and Howard Hawks. Bogdanovich kept a card file of every film he saw between 1952 and 1970, with complete reviews of every film.
Bogdanovich was influenced by the French critics of the 1950s who wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, especially critic-turned-director François Truffaut. Before becoming a director himself, he built his reputation as a film writer with articles in Esquire. These articles were collected in Pieces of Time (1973).
In 1966, following the example of Cahiers du Cinéma critics Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer who had created the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) by making their own films, Bogdanovich decided to become a director. With his wife Polly Platt, he headed for Los Angeles.
Intent on breaking into the industry, Bogdanovich would ask publicists for movie premiere and industry party invitations. At one screening, Bogdanovich was viewing a film and the legendary director Roger Corman was sitting behind him. The two struck up a conversation when Corman mentioned he liked a cinema piece Bogdanovich wrote for Esquire. Corman offered him a directing job, which Bogdanovich accepted immediately. He worked with Corman on Targets, which starred Boris Karloff, and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, under the pseudonym Derek Thomas. Bogdanovich later said of the Corman school of filmmaking: “I went from getting the laundry to directing the picture in three weeks. Altogether, I worked 22 weeks – preproduction, shooting, second unit, cutting, dubbing – I haven’t learned as much since.”
Returning to journalism, Bogdanovich struck up a lifelong friendship with Orson Welles while interviewing him on the set of Mike Nichols’s Catch-22 (1970). Bogdanovich played a major role in elucidating Welles and his career with his writings on the actor-director, most notably his book This is Orson Welles (1992).
In 1970, Bogdanovich was commissioned by the American Film Institute to direct a documentary about John Ford for their tribute, Directed by John Ford (1971). The resulting film included candid interviews with John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, and was narrated by Orson Welles. Out of circulation for years due to licensing issues, Bogdanovich and TCM released it in 2006, featuring newer, pristine film clips, and additional interviews with Clint Eastwood, Walter Hill, Harry Carey Jr., Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
Three big hits
Much of the inspiration which led Bogdanovich to his cinematic creations came from early viewings of the film Citizen Kane.
Critics hailed the 32-year-old Bogdanovich as a “Wellesian” wunderkind when his best-received film, The Last Picture Show, was released in 1971. The film earned eight Academy nominations, including Best Director, and won two statues, for Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson in the supporting acting categories. Bogdanovich co-wrote the screenplay with Larry McMurtry, and it won the 1971 BAFTA award for Best Screenplay. Bogdanovich cast the 21-year-old model Cybill Shepherd in a major role in the film and fell in love with her, an affair that eventually led to his divorce from Polly Platt, his long-time artistic collaborator and the mother of his two daughters.
Bogdanovich followed up The Last Picture Show with the popular comedy What’s Up, Doc? (1972). Starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, a screwball comedy indebted to Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). While he relied on homage to bygone cinema, Bogdanovich solidified his status as one of a new breed of A-list directors that included Academy Award winners Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin, with whom he formed The Directors Company. The Directors Company was a generous production deal with Paramount Pictures that essentially gave the directors carte blanche if they kept within budget limitations. It was through this entity that Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) was produced.
Paper Moon, a Depression-era comedy starring Ryan O’Neal that won his 10-year-old daughter Tatum O’Neal an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress, proved the high-water mark of Bogdanovich’s career. Forced to share the profits with his fellow directors, Bogdanovich became dissatisfied with the arrangement. The Directors Company subsequently produced only two more pictures, Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), which was nominated for Best Picture in 1974 alongside The Godfather, Part II, and Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller, which had a lacklustre critical reception.
Three big flops
Daisy Miller (1974) was a disappointment at the box office. At Long Last Love (1975) and Nickelodeon (1976) were critical and box office disasters, severely damaging his standing in the film community.
He took a few years off then returned to directing with a lower budgeted film, Saint Jack (1979), which was a critical success although not a box office hit. The making of this film marked the end of his romantic relationship with Cybill Shepherd.
Dorothy Stratten and They All Laughed
Bogdanovich’s next film was the romantic comedy They All Laughed (1981), which featured Dorothy Stratten, a former model who began a romantic relationship with Bogdanovich. Her estranged husband murdered Stratten shortly after filming completed.
Bogdanovich turned back to writing as his directorial career sagged, beginning with The Killing of the Unicorn – Dorothy Stratten 1960 – 1980, a memoir published in 1984. Teresa Carpenter’s Death of a Playmate article about Dorothy Stratten’s murder was published in The Village Voice and won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize, and while Bogdanovich did not criticize Carpenter’s article in his book, she had lambasted both Bogdanovich and Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, claiming that Stratten was a victim of them as much as of her husband, Paul Snider, who killed her and himself. Carpenter’s article served as the basis of Bob Fosse’s film Star 80 (1983), in which Bogdanovich, for legal reasons, was portrayed as the fictional director “Aram Nicholas,” a sympathetic but possibly misguided and naive character.
On December 30, 1988, the 49-year-old Bogdanovich married 20-year-old Louise Stratten, Dorothy’s younger sister. The couple divorced in 2001.
Mask and Texasville
In the early 80s, Bogdanovich wanted to make I’ll Remember April with John Cassavetes and The Lady in the Moon written with Larry McMurtry. He made the film Mask instead, released in 1985.
Bogdanovich’s 1990 sequel to The Last Picture Show, Texasville, was a critical and box office disappointment. Around the time of the release of Texasville, Bogdanovich also revisited his earliest success, The Last Picture Show, and produced a slightly modified director’s cut. Since that time, his recut has been the only available version of the film.
Bogdanovich directed two more theatrical films in 1992 and 1993, but their failure kept him off the big screen for several years. One, Noises Off…, based on the Michael Frayn play, has subsequently developed a strong cult following, while the other, The Thing Called Love, is better known as one of River Phoenix’s last roles before his untimely death.
Bogdanovich, drawing from his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, authored several critically lauded books, including Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week, which offered the lifelong cinephile’s commentary on 52 of his favourite films, and Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors and Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors, both based on interviews with directors and actors.
In 2001, Bogdanovich resurfaced with The Cat’s Meow. Returning once again to a reworking of the past, this time the supposed murder of director Thomas Ince by Orson Welles’s bête noire William Randolph Hearst, The Cat’s Meow was a modest critical success but made little money at the box office.
In addition to directing some television work, Bogdanovich returned to acting with a recurring guest role on the cable television series The Sopranos, playing Dr. Melfi’s psychotherapist, also later directing a fifth-season episode. He also voiced the analyst of Bart Simpson’s therapist in an episode of The Simpsons, and appeared as himself in the Robots Versus Wrestlers episode of How I Met Your Mother.
Quentin Tarantino also cast Bogdanovich as a disc jockey in Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2.
In 2006, Bogdanovich joined forces with ClickStar, where he hosted a classic film channel, Peter Bogdanovich’s Golden Age of Movies. In 2003, he appeared in the BBC documentary, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and in 2006, he appeared in the documentary Wanderlust.
In 1998, the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress named The Last Picture Show to the National Film Registry, an honour awarded only to culturally significant films.
Bogdanovich’s latest documentary about Buster Keaton, The Great Buster (2018), is a match made in movie heaven.
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Paper Moon (1973)
Daisy Miller (1974)
At Long Last Love (1975)
Saint Jack (1979)
They All Laughed (1981)
Illegally Yours (1988)
Noises Off (1992)
The Thing Called Love (1993)
The Cat’s Meow (2001)
Runnin’ Down a Dream (2007)
She’s Funny That Way (2014)
The Great Buster (2018)
Source: Jason Kerrigan, Mark Fleetwood www.theguardian.com, en.wikipedia.org, and www.rottentomatoes.com
Image: Barbara Streisand with Bogdanovich on the set of What’s Up, Doc?