Peter Bogdanavich 30/7/1939 to 6/1/2022

Peter Bogdanovich, who has died aged 82, was a big figure in Hollywood, his influence extending beyond the 17 films he directed himself.  He acted in numerous films and TV series and was a prolific writer on films and actors, initially in Esquire magazine.

As a director he is best known for The Last Picture Show (1971), adapted from the Larry McMurtry novel about a group of young people coming of age in a small town, which brought to prominence Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms and Ellen Burstyn. That itself is an achievement, but the film also won two Oscars, three BAFTAs and a series of other awards. Pauline Kael said the picture was one that ‘even President Nixon would like’. When Bogdanovich subsequently met Nixon, it turned out the President had seen the film at Camp David and liked it, though he had to be reminded that Cybill Shepherd (also present) was ‘the one who stripped on the diving board’. 

Last Picture Show was followed by successes with What’s Up Doc and Paper Moon, for which Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar, though others such as Texasville, a sequel to Last Picture Show, Mask and At Long Last Love, did not garner the same critical or commercial success.  

Bogdanovich was an early film fan and a stage actor from the age of 15, in the course of which he met and was influenced by Charles Laughton, Sylvia Sidney, Edward Everett Horton and Signe Hasso, among others. By 1958 though, he decided acting would not be his main career and turned to directing.  An early bond was formed with Carroll O’Connor (from All in the Family), whom he directed in Clifford Odets’s The Big Knife and whom he told not to smoke a cigar while speaking on stage. This became a running joke between them in later years. 

The first film he directed was Targets, under the tutelage of Roger Corman, and he said ‘I went from getting the laundry to directing the picture in three weeks’.

He was close to many figures in the industry, being particularly friendly with Orson Welles. He was a great admirer of Citizen Kane, describing it as ‘the first modern film: fragmented, not told straight ahead, jumping around’.  He was also influenced by the French New Wave directors: Chabrol, Godard, Rohmer and Truffaut. He felt Jean Renoir was the greatest director of all.

Bogdanovich’s personal life was fraught: his first marriage ended when he became involved with Cybille Shepherd, who appeared in a number of his subsequent films, and a relationship with model Dorothy Stratton ended when she was murdered by her estranged husband. Bogdanovich wrote about this in a book called ‘The Killing of the Unicorn‘. Stratton’s death became the subject of the Bob Fosse film Star 80. Bogdanovich subsequently married her sister Louise, who was 12 at the time of the murder. They subsequently divorced.

Though his directing grew more rare, Bogdanovich put his energies into writing, acting (including playing Dr Kupferberg, the supervisor analyst to Dr Melfi, who is the mob boss’s shrink in The Sopranos), teaching and hosting a classic film channel. Among his publications were books about Welles, Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Fritz Lang in America’ and ‘Who the Hell’s In It: Conversations with Legendary Hollywood Actors’.  

Though undoubtedly a Hollywood stalwart, Bogdanovich made a unique and atypical contribution to the industry, and what seems most evident from his work is his love of films and the people associated with them.

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