Saturday, July 26, 2003

Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times

John Schlesinger, Oscar winner, dies

John Schlesinger, the British director who first gained acclaim in the 1960s with films such as "Billy Liar" and "Darling" and capped the decade by winning a best director Oscar for "Midnight Cowboy," his first American film, died Friday. He was 77.

Schlesinger had suffered a debilitating stroke in December 2000. He had been in and out of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif., over the past 90 days. He was admitted again on Monday and was taken off life support on Thursday.

In a feature film directing career that began in 1962 with "A Kind of Loving," starring a relatively unknown Alan Bates, and ended in 2000 with "The Next Best Thing," starring Madonna and Rupert Everett, Schlesinger amassed a relatively short but diverse filmography of 19 films.

His best-known movies, which range from the offbeat to the commercial and which met with varying degrees of success in a long career, include "Far From the Madding Crowd," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," 'The Day of the Locust," "Marathon Man," "Yanks," "The Falcon and the Snowman" and "Pacific Heights."

Over the years between film assignments, Schlesinger directed theater, opera and British television productions, including "An Englishman Abroad," an award-winning 1983 BBC production starring Alan Bates as British spy Guy Burgess.

Schlesinger, whose directing credits included a Paul McCartney music video, also was one of eight directors who contributed to the official 1972 Munich Olympics film "Visions of Eight," for which he covered the marathon.

A former British stage and film actor who began making documentary films in the 1950s, Schlesinger earned a reputation as an actor's director.

He guided Julie Christie to Oscar-winning stardom in "Darling," the 1965 drama about a disillusioned London model, which earned him a best director Oscar nomination.

And perhaps most memorably, in the 1969 film "Midnight Cowboy," he directed Jon Voight in his career-making role as Joe Buck, the naive, pretty-boy Texas dishwasher who moves to New York City to become a gigolo and befriends Dustin Hoffman's tubercular, gimpy con man from the Bronx, Ratso Rizzo.

Schlesinger not only won an Academy Award for his direction, but the film won Oscars for best picture, the only "X"-rated film to receive the award, and for Waldo Salt's screenplay.

"It had an enormous impact," Richard Schickel, Time magazine film critic and film historian, told the Los Angeles Times this week. "It was extremely well performed and sort of unblinking in terms of its view of an ugly side of urban life: It was tough-minded, but, of course, went pretty sentimental at the end."

In 1994, when "Midnight Cowboy" was re-released, Schlesinger told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was happy to see that the film had held up.

"The great thing about 'Midnight Cowboy,"' he said, "is that we didn't question what we were doing, we just did it with a total feeling of confidence and freedom."

© Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Created: January 8, 2004
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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