Director John Frankenheimer dead at 72

He directed classic films of the 1960s, later won Emmys for his TV movies

July 07, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES - John Frankenheimer, one of the foremost directors of the 1960s with classic films such as The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Birdman of Alcatraz and The Train, died of a massive stroke yesterday from complications after spinal surgery. He was 72.

Mr. Frankenheimer, whose career stumbled badly in the late 1970s and 1980s because of personal problems and alcoholism, returned in the 1990s with significant television work that was flourishing at the time of his death. "It's a town with a short memory: It grinds people up and throws them away," Mr. Frankenheimer told a reporter in 1998.

More recently, Mr. Frankenheimer won four consecutive Emmys for best director for the television movies Against the Wall, The Burning Season, Andersonville and George Wallace. His last film, Path to War, an HBO drama about the Johnson administration's decisions to escalate the war in Vietnam, was shown in May to strong reviews.

On the set of the film, veteran actors such as Donald Sutherland, who played Clark Clifford, and Michael Gambon, who played former President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Frankenheimer's enthusiasm and energy amazed them. "He has more energy than someone half his age," Mr. Gambon remarked.

The director Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a longtime friend of Mr. Frankenheimer's, said: "John revolutionized everybody's way of looking at films. He had such a highly charged visual style, so full of energy; he brought us close up to things. Movies began to look different after John came along."

The actor Gary Sinise, who played the title role in Wallace and worked with Mr. Frankenheimer on two other films, called him "a giant."

A tall, rangy figure with a craggy face and a surprisingly open and blunt style, Mr. Frankenheimer sometimes looked back on his career without bitterness or rancor. He attributed his bleak years in part to a drinking problem that sometimes led to disastrous decisions in the 1970s. He said he stopped drinking in 1980.

Compounding his personal difficulties was the assassination in 1968 of Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Frankenheimer and Mr. Kennedy had developed a close friendship, and the filmmaker had spent that year traveling with him during his presidential campaign. On the last day of his life, Mr. Kennedy was staying at Mr. Frankenheimer's home in Malibu. Mr. Frankenheimer drove him to the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate his triumph in the California primary. It was there that Mr. Kennedy was killed.

Movie offers dwindled in the 1980s after several failures and a decline in his work. But his career revived in 1994, when he won an Emmy for HBO's searing prison drama Against the Wall, about the bloody 1971 riot at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

Mr. Frankenheimer was born in New York City on Feb. 19, 1930, the son of a stockbroker. He was active in theater at Williams College. During the Korean War, while he was in the Air Force making training films, he decided he wanted to direct movies. Soon afterward he was hired as an assistant director at CBS in New York, where he worked on weather and news broadcasts as well as shows such as Person to Person and You Are There.

This led to assignments directing 152 live television dramas between 1954 and 1960 - an average of one every two weeks. During the course of his television career, Mr. Frankenheimer was nominated for 14 Emmys.

Mr. Frankenheimer is survived by his wife of 41 years, Evans Frankenheimer, an actress; as well as two daughters, Elise Riggs of Lafayette, Calif., and Kristi Frankenheimer of Los Angeles; a grandson, Dylan Frankenheimer; his sister, Jean Hieber, and his brother, Richard Frankenheimer, both of New York City.

Frankenheimer filmography

Some of the film and television projects directed by John Frankenheimer:

The Young Savages, 1961

Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962

All Fall Down, 1962

The Manchurian Candidate, 1962

Seven Days in May, 1964

The Train,

1965

Seconds, 1966

Grand Prix, 1966

The Fixer, 1968

The Extraordinary Seaman,

1969

The Gypsy Moths, 1969

I Walk the Line, 1970

The Horsemen, 1971

Impossible Object, 1973

French Connection II, 1975

Black Sunday, 1977

The Holcroft Covenant, 1985

52 Pick-Up, 1986

Dead Bang, 1989

The Fourth War, 1990

Year of the Gun, 1991

Against The Wall (HBO),

1994

The Burning Season (HBO),

1994

Andersonville (TNT), 1996

The Island of Dr. Moreau,

1996

George Wallace (TNT), 1997

Ronin, 1998

Reindeer Games, 2000

Path to War (HBO), 2002

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