RSS
 Add News     Print  
Article List
‘I want to be remembered as a storyteller’ Actor-director Attenborough dies at 90

 LOS ANGELES, Aug 25, (Agencies): Richard Attenborough, who was honored for his helming and production of the 1982 Oscar best picture “Gandhi” but was best known to American audiences for his role in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and its first sequel as park creator John Hammond, died on Sunday, his son tells BBC News. He was 90. The stocky British filmmaker was awarded a life peerage by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993 for his stage work and for his efforts behind and in front of the camera to promote British cinema. While Attenborough had been a prominent character actor in his native country since the early 1940s, he also achieved much as a producer, motion picture executive and cultural impresario. At various times he was chairman of the British Film Institute, Channel 4, Goldcrest Films, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Capital Radio and a director of the Young Vic and the British Film Institute. In the late ‘70s, he helped preserve and restore London’s Duke of York Theater.

A career in film directing began in 1969 with an adaptation of Joan Littlewood’s biting musical satire “Oh! What a Lovely War.” Few of his directing efforts achieved the stature of “Gandhi,” which he had championed for more than 20 years. But there were noteworthy attempts to deal with historical and biographical subjects including “Cry Freedom,” about South African apartheid; “Chaplin,” a biography of the immortal screen comic; and “Shadowlands,” based on William Nicholson’s play focusing on British writer C.S. Lewis.
 
Creative
“I have no interest in being remembered as a great creative filmmaker,” he once said. “I want to be remembered as a storyteller.” Despite more than 50 years as a stage and screen actor — including supporting roles in adventure pics “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965) and “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) and “Doctor Dolittle” (1967) — it was only in 1992 that Attenborough achieved widespread international recognition for his starring role in “Jurassic Park,” the largest-grossing film ever at the time. (Later acting credits included Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” and the Cate Blanchett starrer “Elizabeth.”) In the late 1950s, in an effort to enhance the quality of his movie assignments, Attenborough united with writer-director Bryan Forbes to create Beaver Films. Their first effort, 1960’s “The Angry Silence,” was a sharply defined working-class drama, part of the new generation of realistic British films. In addition, Beaver produced “The League of Gentlemen,” “Whistle Down the Wind,” “The L-Shaped Room” and “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” between 1961 and 1964. The last film, in which Attenborough co-starred with Kim Stanley, brought him the British Academy Award along with his work in “Guns at Batasi.” The positive reception for “Seance” in the US coupled with his supporting role in hit WWII actioner “The Great Escape” in 1963 led to a career as a Hollywood character actor starting with “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965) and “The Sand Pebbles” (1966).
 
In 1967 he appeared in the big-budget musical “Doctor Dolittle,” which brought him a Golden Globe for supporting actor. With the help of British actors including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, John Mills and Michael Redgrave, Attenborough was able to persuade Paramount Pictures to bank his debut directing effort, an adaptation of Joan Littlewood’s WWI fantasia “Oh What a Lovely War.” Though not a financial success in the US, the film was honored with a Golden Globe and six British Academy Awards. Attenborough continued to act in films through the early ‘70s in such efforts as “David Copperfield,” “A Severed Head,” “Loot” and the chilling “10 Rillington Place,” in which he played a mass murderer. By 1972 he had the money to shoot biographical adventure “Young Winston,” based on the early life of Winston Churchill. The pic was well received, but his next film, 1977’s “A Bridge Too Far,” sported an international name cast but was a $25 million flop.
 
To produce and direct his next film, a biography of the life of Indian pacifist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, Attenborough beat the bushes for 20 years and redoubled his efforts only after Lean abandoned a similar project. He turned down an offer to be associate director of Britain’s National Theater, mortgaged his house, sold his cars, pawned his paintings, took on a number of subpar roles in films such as “Brannigan,” “Rosebud” and “Ten Little Indians” and made a poor directing choice in “Magic” for producer Joseph E. Levine, basically done as a favor to interest Levine in financing “Gandhi.”
With the help of Goldcrest Films and Indian’s National Film Development Corp., Attenborough had financing in hand by the end of the 1970s. He passed on several prominent actors such as Alec Guinness and Dustin Hoffman to cast a highly regarded Royal Shakespeare Company actor, Ben Kingsley, who was part Indian.
The film copped eight Oscars, including two for Attenborough as best director and for producing the best picture. Attenborough detailed his struggle to make the film in a book, “In Search of Gandhi,” published in 1982.
In 1985, he was named chairman of Goldcrest just after he completed work on a failed film adaptation of the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line.” His next film, also a personal project, was “Cry Freedom,” the story of British journalist Donald Woods (played by Kevin Kline) and South African activist-martyr Steven Biko (a role for which Denzel Washington received a supporting actor Oscar nomination).
His 1992 biopic “Chaplin” was less successful, though Robert Downey Jr. drew a deserved Oscar nomination for best actor. The following year Attenborough directed Anthony Hopkins and Oscar nominated Debra Winger in “Shadowlands,” which proved both a commercial and critical success.
Familiar
That was the same year Attenborough’s face finally become familiar across America (and the world) in “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg’s monumental blockbuster based on Michael Crichton’s novel. It was his first acting assignment in 13 years and led to further work in front of the camera: He played Kris Kringle in John Hughes’ remake of “The Miracle on 34th Street” for the Fox Network, and over the next several years appeared in roles in Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet,” the Cate Blanchett starrer “Elizabeth” and telepic “The Railway Children” (2000). In 2006 he appeared in “Welcome to World War One,” a documentary about the making of “Oh! What a Lovely War.”
Attenborough was still directing, too. In 1996 he helmed “In Love and War,” starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock in the story of the young Ernest Hemingay and a nurse he loved after he was injured in WWI. His 1999 film “Grey Owl” starred Pierce Brosnan as a Canadian fur trapper who became a conservationist. Attenborough attempted a film that, like “Gandhi,” carried a sociopolitical message, but Variety called the direction “old fashioned.”After an absence of eight years, Attenborough directed the sentimental tale “Closing the Ring” (2007), starring Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine.
In May 2012 Attenborough teamed with Martin Scorsese and Anthony Haas to develop the film “Silver Ghost,” a drama based on the true story of the founding of Rolls Royce. Attenborough was to direct, but he was in rapidly declining health after suffering a stroke in 2008 that left him in a wheelchair.
The oldest son of an Anglo-Saxon scholar and university administrator, Attenborough was the eldest of three sons. (Brother David is a naturalist behind many acclaimed BBC documentary series). His mother, the former Mary Clegg, was the daughter of art historian Samuel Clegg.
Born in Cambridge, he was already involved in amateur theatrics by his teens. In 1940 Attenborough won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, making his professional debut while still a student in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah Wilderness!” In 1942 he made his screen debut in Noel Coward’s “In Which We Serve,” directed by David Lean.
RADA honored him with the Bancroft Medal for fine acting in 1942 and, upon leaving school, he made his West End debut in Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing.” Significant roles in productions of “Twelfth Night” and “Brighton Rock” followed before Attenborough enlisted in the Royal Air Force, becoming part of its film unit. He also flew film reconnaissance missions over Germany during the war.
In 1946 he signed a contract with producers John and Ray Boulting. He reprised his stage role in the film version of “Brighton Rock,” followed by “The Guinea Pig” in 1948 and “The Gift Horse” in 1952.
His film career sputtered in the 1950s: Projects like “Eight O’Clock Walk” and “The Baby and the Battleship” were abysmal. So he returned to the stage in “To Dorothy, a Son,” “Double Image” and Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” (appearing in the original cast as Detective Sergeant Trotter), which became England’s longest-running show.
Beginning in 1956, the film side picked up when he appeared for the Boultings in a series of social satires including “Private’s Progress” and “I’m All Right, Jack.”
His autobiography “Entirely Up to You, Darling” was published in 2008.
Attenborough was married in early 1945 to actress Sheila Sim, with whom he had three children, Jane, Charlotte and Michael, all of whom worked in the performing arts.
Upon hearing about his death, Steven Spielberg issued the following statement about Attenborough: “Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life — family, friends, country and career. He made a gift to the world with his emotional epic “Ghandi” and he was the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life as John Hammond in ‘Jurassic Park.’ He was a dear friend and I am standing in an endless line of those who completely adored him.”
A product of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Attenborough made his screen debut in the patriotic 1942 World War II film “In Which We Serve.” He served, too, in the Royal Air Force, and afterward became one of the best-known actors of post-War Britain.
Attenborough was a constant advocate for the British film industry as well as other humanitarian causes, including his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. He was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize in 1983.
He was knighted in 1976, and 17 years later received a life peerage, becoming Baron Attenborough of Richmond upon Thames.
The son of a university principal, Attenborough was born Aug. 29, 1923, into a family with strong liberal views and a tradition of volunteer work for humanitarian concerns. One of his younger brothers is naturalist David Attenborough, whose nature documentaries have reached audiences around the world.
A small, energetic man with a round face that remained boyish even in old age, he was perfectly cast at the start of his career as the young sailor or airman of British movies during and after World War II.
In his 1942 film debut as a terrified warship’s crewman in “In Which We Serve,” a 19-year-old Attenborough made a small part into one of the most memorable roles in the movie, which won the Best Picture Oscar.
 
In 1947, Attenborough gave one of the best performances of his career as the teenage thug Pinkie in “Brighton Rock,” the film version of Graham Greene’s novel. His youthful appearance nearly cost him the lead role in the original cast of “The Mousetrap,” because its author, Agatha Christie, didn’t think he looked like a police detective. But he starred with his wife, actress Sheila Sim, when the hit play opened in November 1952 and stayed for 700 performances. In 1959, Attenborough joined fellow actor Bryan Forbes in film production. “The Angry Silence” in 1960 was their successful debut, with Attenborough playing a strike-breaking factory worker. It was one of the first of the gritty, working-class films that heralded Britain’s “new realism” of the 1960s.
 
Together, Forbes and Attenborough produced “Whistle Down the Wind” in 1961 and “The L-Shaped Room” in 1962. Their last film, 1964’s “Seance on a Wet Afternoon,” won Attenborough Best Actor awards from the London Film Critics and British Film Academy. In the meantime, he had appeared as a prisoner of war in 1963’s “The Great Escape”  —  known for its classic ensemble cast, including Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson  —  and starred in “Guns at Batasi,” for which he won another British Film Academy award. In 1967, he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in “The Sand Pebbles.” In 1969, Attenborough turned to directing with “Oh What a Lovely War,” a lampoon of World War I, which won a Golden Globe award as best English-language foreign film. Three years later, he made “Young Winston,” the story of Winston Churchill’s early life.
 
In between, in 1971, he turned in a chilling performance as 1950s mass murderer John Reginald Christie in “10 Rillington Place.” His return to directing in the 1977 war movie “A Bridge Too Far” was an expensive disaster, despite its cast of international stars. The following year, the heavy-handed 1978 thriller “Magic” with Anthony Hopkins, also fared poorly. “A Chorus Line,” Attenborough’s 1985 film of the long-running stage musical, also took a critical beating. And, more recently, 1996’s “In Love and War,” failed to win much critical support. “The people I want to reach are those who have never even considered the whole question of South Africa. In order to do that, you have to make a film that is fundamentally entertaining. I’m in the entertainment business; I’m not a politician,” he told The Associated Press at the time. “I make movies for millions of people all over the world.”
 
Debra Winger was nominated for an Oscar and Anthony Hopkins gave one of his best performances in “Shadowlands,” a small, subtle film that won Attenborough perhaps his greatest critical praise. Attenborough’s later years were marked by a personal tragedy when he lost his daughter Jane and granddaughter in the tsunami that hit Thailand the day after Christmas in 2004. The heart-broken Attenborough said he was never able to celebrate the Christmas holidays after that. Attenborough had been in frail health since a fall at his house in 2008, and spent his last years in a nursing home with his wife. He is survived by his wife, their son and a daughter.

Read By: 1219
Comments: 0
Rated:

Comments
You must login to add comments ...
About Us   |   RSS   |   Contact Us   |   Feedback   |   Advertise With Us