JOHN FRANKENHEIMER Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: John Michael Frankenheimer                                                               
Born: 19 February 1930 New York City, New York                                                 
Died: 6 July 2002 Los Angeles, California                                                       
John Michael Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) was an American                 
film director.                                                                                 
Frankenheimer was born in New York, the son of a German-born Jewish father and                 
an Irish-American Roman Catholic mother. He was graduated from Williams College,               
in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1951. He became a film maker while serving as               
a U.S. Air Force lieutenant during the Korean War, directing service films for                 
the Air Force and became interested in directing after his military service.                   
Frankenheimer began his directing career in live television shortly after the                   
service. He recalled after being discharged, he had an interview with CBS and                   
had a conversation with the hiring manager. The manager had also been a member                 
of the armed forces and told Frankenheimer that while they had no openings at                   
the time, he would call when needed. According to the director in an interview                 
with The Directors Series, he had spent two weeks in his hotel room waiting for                 
a phone call as the hotel didn't provide a messaging service. At the end of this               
period, Frankenheimer did receive a phone call and was put to work as a live                   
television director. Throughout the 1950s he directed over 140 episodes of shows               
like Playhouse 90, Climax, and Danger, including The Comedian, written by Rod                   
Serling and starring Mickey Rooney as a ragingly vicious television comedian.                   
His first theatrical film was 1957's The Young Stranger, starring James                         
MacArthur as a rebellious teenager. Frankenheimer helmed the production, based                 
on a Climax episode called "Deal a Blow", at the age of 26.                                     
He returned to television through the rest of the 1950s, only moving to film                   
permanently in 1961 with The Young Savages, which teamed him for the first time                 
with Burt Lancaster in a story of a young boy murdered by a New York gang.                     
His next film Birdman of Alcatraz, shot in 1961, came to him after production                   
had already begun under another director. Burt Lancaster, who was producing, as                 
well as starring, asked Frankenheimer to take over the film. As Frankenheimer                   
describes in Charles Champlin's interview book, he told Frankenheimer the script               
was too long, but was told he had to shoot everything that was written.                         
Sure enough, the first cut of the film was four and a half hours long, the                     
length Frankenheimer had predicted. Moreover, as he had said at the beginning,                 
the film was constructed so that it couldn't be cut and still be coherent.                     
Frankenheimer said the film would have to be rewritten and partly reshot.                       
Lancaster was committed to star in Judgment at Nuremberg, so he made that film                 
while Frankenheimer prepared the reshoots. The finished film, released in 1962,                 
was a huge success and was nominated for four Oscars, including one for                         
Lancaster's performance.                                                                       
Frankenheimer was next hired by producer John Houseman to direct All Fall Down,                 
a family drama starring Eva Marie Saint and Warren Beatty. Because of the                       
production difficulties with Birdman of Alcatraz, All Fall Down was actually                   
released before that film.                                                                     
He followed this with his most iconic film, The Manchurian Candidate.                           
Frankenheimer and producer George Axelrod bought Richard Condon's 1959 novel                   
after it had already been turned down by many Hollywood studios. After getting                 
Frank Sinatra to commit to the film, they secured backing from United Artists                   
and shot the film in 1962.                                                                     
The story of a Korean War vet, brainwashed by the Communist Chinese to                         
assassinate the candidate for President co-starred Laurence Harvey and Janet                   
Leigh. The film also starred Angela Lansbury as Harvey's evil mother.                           
Frankenheimer had to fight to cast the actress, who had worked with him on All                 
Fall Down, and was just two years older than Harvey. Sinatra's choice had been                 
Lucille Ball. The film was nominated for two Oscars, including one for Lansbury.               
The film was unseen for many years. Urban legend has it that the film was pulled               
from circulation due to the similarity of its plot to the death of President                   
Kennedy the following year, but Frankenheimer states in the Champlin book that                 
it was pulled because of a legal battle between producer Sinatra and the studio                 
over Sinatra's share of the profits. In any event, it was re-released to great                 
acclaim in 1988.                                                                               
'On the Set of Seven Days in May: Directing Fredric March.                                     
He followed this up with another hugely successful political thriller, Seven                   
Days in May (1964). He again bought the rights to a bestselling book, this time                 
by Charles Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, and again produced the film with his                 
star, this time Kirk Douglas.                                                                   
Douglas intended to play the role of the General who attempts to lead a coup                   
against the President, who is about to sign a disarmament treaty with the                       
Soviets. Douglas then decided he wanted to work with Burt Lancaster, with whom                 
he had just costarred in another film. To entice Lancaster, Douglas agreed to                   
let him play the General, while Douglas took the less showy lead role of the                   
General's aide, who turns against him and helps the President.                                 
The film, written by Rod Serling, and costarring Frederic March as the President               
and Ava Gardner was a great success and was nominated for two Oscars.                           
Frankenheimer's next film was again taken over from another director. The Train                 
had already begun shooting in France when star Burt Lancaster had the original                 
director fired and called in Frankenheimer to save the film. As he recounts in                 
the Champlin book, Frankenheimer used the production's desperation to his                       
advantage in negotiations. He demanded and got the following: his name was made                 
part of the title, "John Frankenheimer's The Train"; the French co-director,                   
demanded by French tax laws, was not allowed to ever set foot on set; he was                   
given total final cut; and a Ferrari.                                                           
Again saddled with an unfilmably long script, Frankenheimer threw it out and                   
took the locations and actors left from the previous film and began filming,                   
with writers working in Paris as the production shot in Normandy. Although the                 
poorly chosen locations caused endless weather delays, the finished film was an                 
enormous success and the script was nominated for an Oscar.                                     
Seconds (1966), starring Rock Hudson as an elderly man given the body of a young               
man through experimental surgery, was poorly received on its release, but has                   
come to be one of the director's most respected and popular films in the decades               
since. The film is an expressionistic, part-horror, part-thriller, part-science                 
fiction film about the obsession with eternal youth and misplaced faith in the                 
ability of medical science to achieve it.                                                       
He followed this with his most spectacular production, 1966's Grand Prix. Shot                 
on location at the Grand Prix races throughout Europe, on 65mm Cinerama cameras,               
the film starred James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. Introducing methods of                       
photographing high-speed auto racing that had never been seen before, mounting                 
cameras on the cars, at full speed and putting the stars in the actual cars,                   
instead of against rear-projections, the film was an international success and                 
won three Oscars, for editing, sound and sound effects.                                         
His next film, 1967's all-star anti-war comedy The Extraordinary Seaman starred                 
David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda and Mickey Rooney. The film was a failure                 
at the box office and critically, and Frankenheimer calls it in the Champlin                   
book, "the only movie I've made which I would say was a total disaster."                       
1968's The Fixer, about a Jew in Tsarist Russia, was shot in Communist Hungary.                 
The film, starring Alan Bates, was not a major success, but Bates was nominated                 
for an Oscar.                                                                                   
Frankenheimer was a close friend of Senator Robert Kennedy and in fact drove him               
to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night he was assassinated in June                   
Immediately after this, he filmed The Gypsy Moths, a romantic drama about a                     
troupe of barnstorming skydivers and the impact they have on a small midwestern                 
town. The celebration of Americana starred Frankenheimer regular Burt Lancaster.               
reuniting him with From Here to Eternity co-star Deborah Kerr, and also featured               
Gene Hackman. The film failed to find an audience, but Frankenheimer always                     
stated that it was one of his personal favorites.                                               
He followed this film with I Walk the Line in 1970. The film, starring Gregory                 
Peck and Tuesday Weld, about a Tennessee sheriff who falls in love with a                       
moonshiner's daughter, was set to songs by Johnny Cash.                                         
Frankenheimer's next project took him to Afghanistan. The Horsemen focused on                   
the relationship between a father and son, played by Jack Palance and Omar                     
Sharif. Sharif's character, an expert horseman, played the Afghan national sport               
of buzkashi.                                                                                   
His next film Impossible Object, also known as Story of a Love Story, suffered                 
distribution difficulties, and was not widely released.                                         
He followed this in 1973 with a four-hour film of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh,                 
starring Lee Marvin and the San Francisco-set 99 and 44/100 Per Cent Dead a                     
crime black comedy starring Richard Harris.                                                     
With his fluent French and knowledge of the culture, Frankenheimer was next                     
asked to direct French Connection II, set entirely in Marseille. Starring Gene                 
Hackman, the film was a major success and got Frankenheimer his next job, Black                 
Sunday in 1976.                                                                                 
Black Sunday, author Thomas Harris's only non-Hannibal Lecter novel, involves an               
Israeli Mossad agent (Robert Shaw), chasing a Palestinian terrorist (Marthe                     
Keller) and a disgruntled Vietnam vet (Bruce Dern) who plan to blow up the                     
Goodyear blimp over the Super Bowl. It was shot on location at the actual Super                 
Bowl X in January 1976 in Miami, with the use of a real Goodyear blimp. The film               
tested very highly, and Paramount and Frankenheimer had high expectations for it.               
When it failed to become the hit that was expected, Frankenheimer has admitted                 
he developed a serious problem with alcohol.                                                   
He says in Charles Champlin's biography that his alcohol problem caused him to                 
do work that was below his own standards on his next film, 1979's Prophecy, an                 
ecological monster movie about a mutant grizzly bear terrorizing a forest in                   
Maine. The directors output lessened considerably after this film. In the next                 
fifteen years, he only directed seven films. He was even forced to direct a                     
lowbrow cop film called Dead Bang in 1989 starring Don Johnson. In 1990,                       
Frankenheimer returned to his forte of the cold war political thriller when he                 
made The Fourth War. This film starred Roy Scheider as a loose cannon Army                     
colonel drawn into a dangerous personal war with a Russian officer.                             
Frankenheimer was able to make a comeback in the 1990s by returning to                         
television. He directed two films for HBO in 1994: Against the Wall and The                     
Burning Season that won him several awards and renewed acclaim. The director                   
also helmed two films for Turner Network Television in 1996 and 1997,                           
Andersonville and George Wallace that were highly praised. He even acted for the               
first time, playing a desperate U.S. General in The General's Daughter (1999) in               
a crucial cameo appearance.                                                                     
His 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which he took over a few weeks into                     
production from another director, was the cause of countless stories of                         
production woes and personality clashes, and received scathing reviews. It was                 
said that the veteran director could not stand Val Kilmer, the young star of the               
film. When Kilmer's last scene was completed it was reported that Frankenheimer                 
said "Now get that bastard off my set". In an interview, Frankenheimer refused                 
to discuss the film saying only that he had a miserable time making it. However,               
his next film, 1998's Ronin, starring Robert de Niro, was a return to form,                     
featuring Frankenheimer's now trademark elaborate car chases woven into a                       
labyrinthine espionage plot.                                                                   
His last theatrical film, 2000's Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck,                         
underperformed, but his final film, Path to War for HBO in 2002, brought him                   
back to his strengths - political machinations, 60's America and character-based               
drama, and was nominated for numerous awards.                                                   
He was scheduled to direct a prequel to The Exorcist but died suddenly in Los                   
Angeles, California, from a stroke due to complications following spinal surgery               
at the age of 72, shortly before filming started.                                               
Despite the many celebrated films he directed, many of which won Academy Awards                 
in various categories, Frankenheimer was never nominated for a Best Director