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Peter Bogdanovich - An Obituary

Peter Bogdanovich – Film director, actor, writer

 Born July 30, 1939; died January 6, 2022


Peter Bogdanovich, who has died aged 82 from complications of Parkinson’s Disease, was a film director who was at the centre of the rise of new American cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s. His best-known films were steeped in his devotion to old Hollywood, with early successes The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973) on one level lovingly realised pieces of fantasy wish fulfilment.


The Last Picture Show, adapted from Larry McMurtry’s novel, was a dead-end town rites of passage that won Oscars for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman. What’s Up, Doc? was a riotous update of screwball comedies. One of its stars, Ryan O’Neal, also appeared in Paper Moon (1973) as a depression era conman who hits the road with a ten-year-old girl that may or may not be his daughter. 


The child was played by O’Neal’s own daughter, Tatum O’Neal, who became the youngest actor to win an Oscar. Like much of Bogdanovich’s work, Paper Moon was a rose tinted elegy to a black and white world brought to life with a mix of ennui and understated warmth.


Films that followed, from Daisy Miller (1974) onwards, never lived up to critical or box office expectations. A mercurial mesh of his personal and professional life arguably also affected Bogdanovich’s standing. He nevertheless returned to form with crime drama, Saint Jack (1979), and continued to make films such as Mask (1985).


In the 1990s, Bogdanovich directed TV movies and wrote books. As an actor, he became best known for his recurring role as psychiatrist Dr. Kupferberg in The Sopranos. Late period features included The Cat’s Meow (2001), and She’s Funny That Way (2014). It is his early films, however, that define him.  


Peter Bogdanovich was born in Kingston, New York, to Herma (nee Robinson) and Borislav Bogdanovich, and raised in Manhattan. His mother was an Austrian born Jew, and his father a Serbian Orthodox Christian, who arrived in New York on visitors’ visas the year of their son’s birth. Aged eight, he discovered an elder brother had died as a baby after a pot of boiling soup was accidentally spilled on him.


Bogdanovich’s first exposure to film came through watching silent movies with his father at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Aged twelve, he began evaluating each film he saw using index cards. He kept this up until he was thirty, by which time he had amassed a file of 5000 cards.


After attending Collegiate School in 1957, he studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory, and started appearing in small roles in Off-Broadway plays and on TV. He began writing about film for Esquire, and influential French magazine, Cahiers du Cinema, and wrote a series of monographs on his directorial heroes for the Museum of Modern Art. His studies of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles and others laid the groundwork for several books. These included This is Orson Welles (1992), co-credited to both men; and Who the Devil made It?: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors (1997).


Moving to Hollywood with his production designer first wife, Polly Platt, Bogdanovich fell in with B movie producer Roger Corman, whose production line of bandwagon jumping genre flicks became a breeding ground for the American new wave. With a story co-devised by Platt, who worked on all his early hits, Bogdanovich directed his first feature, Targets (1968). The film starred a cannily cast Boris Karloff as an old horror movie star confronting a crazed killer at a drive-in movie show. 


Bogdanovich formed a partnership with Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin as The Directors Company, which produced Paper Moon. He subsequently split from the company, and cast Cybill Shepherd in the title role of Daisy Miller. Shepherd had appeared in The Last Picture Show, and the pair were romantically involved for eight years. Shepherd starred in Cole Porter musical, At Long Last Love (1975), before Bogdanovich reunited Ryan and Tatum O’Neal onscreen in Nickleodeon (1976).


They All Laughed (1981) saw an appearance from Playboy model turned actress Dorothy Stratten. She and Bogdanovich were an item, before Stratten was shot dead by her estranged husband. Bogdanovich wrote a book about her, The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten (1960-1980) (1984). He later married her younger sister, Louise Stratten.


Other films included Mask (1985); Texasville (1990), a sequel to The Last Picture Show; and a big screen adaptation of Michael Frayn’s play, Noises Off (1992). His TV films included To Sir With Love II (1996), starring Sidney Poitier, who also died last week.


As an actor, Bogdanovich frequently appeared in his own work, from Targets onwards. He made several uncredited voice cameos, an idea picked up on by Quentin Tarantino, who hired him to play an unseen disc jockey in Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 (2003-2004). He appeared as himself in several TV shows, and played a psychologist in an episode of The Simpsons (2007).


The same year, he directed Runnin’ Down A Dream (2007), a four-hour documentary about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In 2014, he oversaw She’s Funny That Way, co-written with his now ex wife, Louise Stratten. Four years later, he directed The Great Buster – A Celebration, a documentary tribute to silent movie star, Buster Keaton. It was Bogdanovich’s final love letter to Hollywood.


He is survived by two daughters, Antonia and Alexandra, both to his first wife, Polly


The Herald, January 10th 2022




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