Monthly Archives: January 2022

THE MANY VISIONS OF LORRAINE HANSBERRY ·

(Blair McClendon’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 1/17/22; Photo:  With “A Raisin in the Sun,” Hansberry became an emblem of American progress. Photograph by David Attie / Getty.)

She’s been canonized as a hero of both mainstream literature and radical politics. Who was she really?

It is a lonely, wild, and often fatal thing to be Black and brook no compromise. Lorraine Hansberry was rigorous and unyielding in her life, but she was gone too soon and claimed too quickly by those who thought they understood her. Like many other Black giants of her time, her image proved pliable in death. She was turned into a saint so that her life could be turned into a moral. Yet she struggled beneath the weight of her own complexities and sorrows. She achieved literary celebrity but called herself a “literary failure,” was supported in a marriage that ultimately collapsed, resisted her family but didn’t denounce it, became an icon of the civil-rights movement that she relentlessly criticized, and wrote a masterpiece only to watch as it was widely misunderstood.

When I first encountered “A Raisin in the Sun,” I treated the play with suspicion. I was in high school, and thought that any Black writer who received such universal praise must have, in some way, sold out. I followed Hansberry’s protagonist, Walter Younger, Jr., as he confronted the future, “a big, looming blank space—full of nothing.” I watched him try to fill that space, begging and plotting and raging and falling into the abyss of deferred dreams that still swallows people whole. Despite my best efforts, I was moved. Perhaps I had succumbed; perhaps I would sell out, too.

But I had misread Hansberry. She knew all about Black success in America—its rewards, its costs, its limits—and her vision of it was murkier and more unsettling than she is given credit for. “A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play written by a Black woman to appear on Broadway—in 1959, when Hansberry was twenty-eight. It was an instant hit, and Hansberry’s age, race, and gender made her an emblem of American progress. “Raisin” follows the rise and fall and rise again of the Youngers, a Black mid-century family trying to turn its loss into a legacy. Walter Younger, Sr., has died, and the payout from his life-insurance policy promises to transform his family: five people across three generations squeezed into a kitchenette on Chicago’s South Side. Walter’s widow, Lena, uses part of the windfall for a down payment on a home in a white neighborhood. Against her better judgment, she entrusts another part to Walter Younger, Jr., to open up a liquor store, instructing him to set aside enough for his sister Beneatha’s medical-school education.

It is very nearly a tragedy. Walter believes so deeply in the American Dream that he cannot see the traps laid in his path. His business partners swindle him, and he loses everything. He is offered a devil’s bargain to gain a small portion of it back: a white man from the Youngers’ new neighborhood offers to pay them to relinquish their house. Things can be set right if they will give in. But Walter, who has considered his whole life a failure, refuses to say “yes, sir” yet again. The curtain closes as the family prepares to move into their new home.

On its surface, “Raisin” was the perfect play for its time. The Youngers are dignified, working-class folk, hemmed in by injustice, demanding nothing more than their fair share of the national bounty. For liberal white audiences, the play suggested an uplifting moral about universal humanity. For liberal Black audiences, it was consistent with the messaging of the civil-rights movement.

But Hansberry was more radical than her broad appeal would suggest. This was the same playwright who would later insist that it was quite reasonable for Black people to “take to the hills if necessary with some guns and fight back.” As Charles J. Shields writes in his new biography, “Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ ” (Henry Holt), Hansberry’s ex-husband and longtime collaborator “wept with disappointment” over the early reviews. They struck him, Shields explains, as “too mild, and none of the themes or ideas were touched on about Black family life, the stresses of poverty, the conflict of the generations—nothing.”

In recent years, the puzzling paradox of how a Black lesbian Communist became a darling of mainstream America has been explored in multiple biographies, including Imani Perry’s “Looking for Lorraine” and Soyica Diggs Colbert’s “Radical Vision,” and in Tracy Heather Strain’s documentary “Sighted Eyes / Feeling Heart.” Shields’s portrait is the latest attempt to expand our sense of the personal struggle behind the public figure, and to illuminate the many contradictions that she sought to live and work through.

Hansberry was not raised to be a radical. She was born in Chicago in 1930, the child of an illustrious family that was well regarded in business and academic circles. Lorraine’s father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, was a real-estate speculator and a proud race man. When Lorraine was seven years old, the family bought a house in a mostly white neighborhood. Faced with eviction by the local property owners association, Carl fought against racially restrictive housing covenants in court. Shortly before the case was argued, a crowd of white neighbors gathered outside the Hansberry home. Nannie, Lorraine’s mother, stood watch with a gun. Someone hurled a brick through the window, narrowly missing Lorraine’s head. When the police finally arrived, one officer remarked, “Some people throw a rock through your window and you act like it was a bomb.” It was 1937. The bombing of Black families would come.

Carl Hansberry’s fight wound up before the Supreme Court, where he won his suit; Lorraine, perhaps, learned something about the need to stay and fight for what you deserve. Or at least that’s the neatest version of the story. Shields’s biography lays out a more complex narrative of political inheritance. Carl was not just a warrior against housing segregation. He was also, Shields says, the “king of kitchenettes,” a businessman who spotted an opportunity in Chicago’s rapidly growing Black population. Urban housing was scarce, in part because white landlords refused to rent apartments to Black families. Carl, through a few intermediaries, set about “blockbusting”—getting white families to sell cheaply by moving Black residents into their neighborhoods. He’d buy a building, then erect flimsy, flammable partitions dividing the apartments into cramped kitchenettes—like the one that the Youngers yearn to escape. “When a decent return on rental property was 6 percent, Hansberry was making 40,” Shields writes. This unseemly fact has been glossed over by some biographers, who have described Carl Hansberry as an entrepreneur. The complaints from his renters make clear that “slumlord” is a more accurate description.

For Lorraine, being the daughter of a kitchenette king was a problem from the start. Shields describes her being sent to kindergarten in an expensive white ermine coat, then shoved to the ground by her classmates, leaving the fur stained. As she grew up, she drifted away from the politics of her parents, who remained committed Republicans even as most Black voters were shifting their party allegiance; at the University of Wisconsin, she began campaigning for Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party. After the police turned up at a local protest that Hansberry attended, her parents forbade her to continue supporting the insurgent candidate. “I am quite sick about it,” she wrote to a close friend. “They are afraid Little Lorraine will call up one night from the police station and ask for her pajamas.” She kept volunteering for Wallace.

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‘IT TOOK FOUR MEN AND A FIRE EXTINGUISHER TO GET THE TIGER OFF HIM’: THE TRAGEDY OF VEGAS MAGICIANS SIEGFRIED AND ROY ·

(Alexi Duggins’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/17; ‘No one has ever properly examined their story – or the attack – in depth’ … Siegried, left, and Roy onstage with one of their jungle cats. Photograph: Willi Schneider/REX/Shutterstock.)

Their exotic animal show was a Sin City sensation – until one of their white tigers attacked. But why were counter-terrorism police called? New podcast Wild Things tackles an enduring mystery

Where do you start with a story that involves counter-terrorism police doing background checks on a tiger, has its roots in the mental health problems of Nazi soldiers, and features an investigation into whether a beehive hairdo can be used as a weapon? What’s more, weaving in and out of all of this, there are two German magicians in mullets and shiny suits seemingly capable of floating around in the air, one of whom nearly dies on stage after a white tiger bites clean through his neck.

This was the problem facing Emmy-winning film-maker Steven Leckart, who had long felt that the extraordinary story of Siegfried and Roy, whose performances with exotic animals electrified Las Vegas, deserved a proper telling. The result is Wild Things, an eight-part podcast detailing how Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn rose to international stardom with a whole zoo’s worth of performing jungle cats, then had their live career effectively ended when a tiger called Montecore attacked Roy on stage, nearly killing him.

“As a child of the 80s,” says Leckart, speaking via Zoom from his Los Angeles home, “Siegfried and Roy have always loomed large for me. And no one has ever properly examined their story – or the attack – in depth.” To do so was a mighty undertaking: over the course of 50 years, Siegfried and Roy performed 30,000 shows to 50 million people, generating over $1bn in ticket sales. Their act fused gigantic, mind-boggling illusions with the most exotic animals on earth, sparking an explosion in families coming to Vegas shows, at a time when bills were dominated by topless showgirls.

The duo suspended tigers above crowds on flaming disco balls and made elephants vanish into thin air. After their shows, they would hang out with their jungle cats in their suite at the Mirage hotel, before returning to their $10m Moroccan-style villa the Jungle Palace, or their 100-acre residence Little Bavaria, where German marching music played through concealed speakers.

Their celebrity acquaintances included Michael Jackson (who wrote them a theme song), David Lee Roth (who gifted them goats) and Pope John Paul II (who gave them a fragment of Saint Francis of Assisi’s shinbone). In 1998, the then US President Bill Clinton joined them after a show, his secret service sharpshooters training their weapons on the tigers. A Saturday Night Live spoof had them introducing a special Night of a Thousand Tigers.

“They were hyperbole manifested,” says Leckart. “Everything about them was bigger, was louder, was dialled up to 11, which is a deliberate Spinal Tap reference. But what kept them going for so many years was their incredible skill and the way they progressed their show.”

Wild Things takes listeners through this journey, which has surprisingly sad origins in Germany. Both Siegfried and Roy’s fathers were violent, rage-filled alcoholics, scarred by years of fighting as Nazi soldiers. Roy’s lifelong love of animals started when he adopted a stray dog that protected him and his mother from his father’s fists. Siegfried sought refuge in magic, teaching himself tricks from books after watching an entertainer swallow razor blades in a town square.

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O’NEILL’S ‘A TOUCH OF THE POET’ COMING TO IRISH REP, 2/26-4/17 (NY) ·

MOLIÈRE AT 400 ·

(FRANCE IN FOCUS © FRANCE 24 By: Monte FRANCIS|Stéphanie CHEVAL|Camille FEVRIER|Sonia BARITELLO/ France24; Photo: Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy.) 

He’s known as the father of French theatre, but the influence of Molière goes well beyond France. His impact is still felt today all over the world. To mark the 400th anniversary of the famed playwright’s birth, we speak to Georges Forestier, professor at the Sorbonne and a specialist in the works of Molière. We also take you on a tour of Molière’s Paris.

France launches Saturday 15th, a year of events to mark the 400th anniversary of Moliere, the nation’s most illustrious and ever popular master of the stage and satire. Aurélien Pornet, tour guide in Paris, tells Moliere’s story through a walk in the capital.

LIZA MINNELLI–WITH JANE PAULEY ON CBS ·

(via Pam Green; Photo: Frank Beacham’s Journal.)

The legendary Liza Minnelli

The EGOT-winning entertainer sits down with “Sunday Morning” host Jane Pauley, and with her friend and accompanist Michael Feinstein, to talk about a life in the spotlight; the influence of French singer Charles Aznavour on her Oscar-winning performance in “Cabaret”; and how, at 75, she still continues to honor the works of Gershwin – and the life of her mother, Judy Garland.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING REVIEW: A MAGICAL, UPLIFTING SHOW (IRELAND) ·

(Sara keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 1/13; photo: With an implacable smile, Conroy encourages and supports even the most reluctant of audience members to join her on stage.)

It is hard to imagine anyone not falling for its gentle inclusivity and charm

EVERY BRILLIANT THING

Abbey Theatre on the Peacock Stage
★★★★☆

Before the start of Every Brilliant Thing, a soul-stirring play by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, performer Amy Conroy circles the auditorium, greeting the audience and enlisting their assistance. Each audience member is handed a numbered index card with a short statement on it. When the time comes, Conroy entreats us, would we be so kind as to share that statement with the rest of the theatre? Yes, the fundamental thrust of this magically uplifting show about mental health is interactive, but it is hard to imagine anyone not falling for its gentle inclusivity and for Conroy’s easy charm.

Every Brilliant Thing tells the story of a young girl confronted with her mother’s depression (in the original version the child was a boy). Her instinct is to try and cure her mother. With this in mind, she starts curating a list of all the amazing things that the universe has to offer. She starts with simple things (ice-cream, kung-fu films) but as it grows the list encompasses more personal pleasures, including the family’s shared love of music. While her mother seems immune to her daughter’s interventions, the daughter herself is transformed: the list changes how she sees the world, providing her with an emotional literacy and resilience that will eventually save her from her mother’s fate. he similarity seemed to me uncanny

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PARIS’S ‘HOUSE OF MOLIÈRE’ WISHES HAPPY 400TH BIRTHDAY TO FRENCH THEATRE LEGEND ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/10;  Gift for improvisation … painting of Molière reading from Tartuffe at the home of Ninon de L’Enclos. Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy.)

The Comédie-Française is celebrating the 17th-century dramatist by recreating Tartuffe, the play that outraged the Catholic church and almost ended his career

French theatre is gearing up to pay tribute to one of its founding fathers: Molière, the 17th-century playwright whose biting comedies still form many French schoolchildren’s introduction to drama. On 15 January, 400 years after his baptism (the exact date of his birth is unknown), the venerable Comédie-Française company will open this anniversary year with the play that came perilously close to sinking Molière’s career: Tartuffe.

While the first version of the play got the approval of Louis XIV himself in 1664, its satire of Catholic zealots drew the ire of the Catholic church. At the time, accusations of impiety could send a playwright to the stake, and Tartuffe was swiftly forbidden. Yet Molière persisted, switching gears and rewriting the play to suggest that his target wasn’t religion or true believers – but rather the hypocrisy of those who feign virtue. (The word “tartuffe” came to describe such characters in life, too.)

It worked. By 1669, a new, longer version of the play – in five rather than three acts – was allowed and met with acclaim, and researchers now see Molière’s political and social acumen as a key factor in his rise to classic status, even before his death. “Molière was brilliant at this: he had this sense of opportunity, a gift for improvisation,” says Georges Forestier, a Molière specialist and professor emeritus at Sorbonne Université in Paris.

And this month, thanks to Forestier and his colleague Isabelle Grellet, the Comédie-Française’s audience will be able to experience the original Tartuffe again – or at least a text as close to it as possible. While the 1664 play didn’t survive, the duo used a method that Forestier calls “theatrical genetics” to recreate it. It relies on sources the era’s playwrights drew heavily on, such as commedia dell’arte scenarios and existing short stories, to piece together a play’s original plot.

The result is a tighter, more streamlined Tartuffe, focused on the eponymous antihero – a religious beggar who is welcomed into a well-to-do family – and his hosts, Orgon and his wife Elmire. Some characters, such as the young beau Valère, have disappeared entirely along with the second and fifth acts, identified as later additions.

The prominent Belgian director Ivo van Hove will direct what is set to be a curious event – a “new” Molière play at the House of Molière, as the Comédie-Française has long been known. The opening night will be relayed live in cinemas in seven countries, and marks the start of a yearlong celebration for the French company, which was born of the fusion of Molière’s troupe and another, in 1680: its entire 2022 lineup will be dedicated to Molière.

Van Hove originally considered tackling Tartuffe years ago, after staging Molière’s The Misanthrope and The Miser in other countries, but he was discouraged by the standard five-act version. “It’s so artificially made up, due to the pressure from the church,” he says between rehearsals. “I never liked it, and I didn’t know how to solve it.”

Forestier and Grellet’s three-act version convinced him. “It’s what he intended it to be,” Van Hove says of this old-new Tartuffe, presented under its original title (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite, changed in 1669 to The Impostor). The director has added a prologue and epilogue to set the scene, and sees the play as a “social drama”.

Ever the pragmatist, Molière knew when to back down – and when to take risks, too

“This Tartuffe is invited into their home, and then the whole family, every individual, starts to change,” he says. Forestier stresses, however, that while Van Hove sees Tartuffe’s relationship with Elmire, the lady of the house, as a love story, the text doesn’t necessarily support this idea.

Ever the pragmatist, Molière knew when to back down – and when to take risks, too. As Tartuffe and the ensuing controversy demonstrate, he was the first comic playwright in France to leave stock comedy characters behind and tap into zeitgeisty themes, including the education of women, freedom within marriage, fanaticism and fashion. And while conservatives disapproved, he found an eager audience in Louis XIV and his court. “When his career takes off, the king is in his 20s,” says Marine Souchier, a postdoctoral researcher who studied the playwright’s career trajectory. “Molière speaks to a pretty young crowd at court and among the bourgeoisie, and is rather progressive for this era.”

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JULIAN FELLOWES TURNS HALF A SIXPENCE REWRITE KIPPS INTO WINNING FUN ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardisn 12/30; via Pam Green; Photo:  Comic parable … Charlie Stemp in the title role of Kipps: the New Half a Sixpence Musical. Photograph: Sky Arts.)

In a surprisingly class-conscious stage adaptation of the HG Wells-inspired musical from the Downton Abbey creator on Sky, Charlie Stemp radiates kindly innocence

What’s in a name? Quite a lot in the case of the musical Kipps, which aired on Sky Arts on Wednesday night. The title comes from the 1905 HG Wells novel, but the show itself is a radical rewrite of an earlier musical version of the story, Half a Sixpence, which starred Tommy Steele on stage and film in the 1960s. Julian Fellowes wrote the fresh book, which he titled Half a Sixpence, in 2016, while George Stiles and Anthony Drewe added seven new numbers to the original David Heneker score. What we saw on screen was a filmed performance at London’s Noël Coward theatre in 2017.

So what’s the difference between the original Half a Sixpence and Kipps? I would say that the former – especially in the 1967 film version where Julia Foster co-starred with Steele – was essentially a romantic tale about how Artie Kipps finally finds true love with his childhood sweetheart, Ann. Kipps is closer to Wells’s original in that it is a comic parable about the English class system. I even wonder whether the novel influenced Shaw’s Pygmalion, which dates from 1912, in that it shows how in a rigidly stratified society accent determines status.

Given Fellowes’s creation of Downton Abbey, what is most surprising about Kipps is its portrayal of the English upper class as brutally snobbish predators. Artie himself is a Kentish draper who comes into a fortune and finds himself, despite his avowals to Ann, falling for the do-gooding Helen Walsingham. But it is made abundantly clear that Helen is being used as bait by her upper-crust family to hook the wealthy Kipps.

Two artfully juxtaposed numbers demonstrate how money can be used for ill or good. In one, Ann’s criminal brother tempts Kipps with capital gains. In another, the raffishly thespian Chitterlow hymns “the joy of the theatre” and asks Artie to invest in his new play.

But I’ve long argued that any musical needs a moment of ecstasy where song, dance and story combine to spirit-lifting effect. In Half a Sixpence, it comes in the number Flash, Bang, Wallop, which is a pub knees-up with its roots in English music-hall. In Kipps, it comes in a new song, Pick Out a Simple Tune, where Artie galvanises a starchy musical evening by playing on his banjo: “Just keep plucking with your plectrum / make new friends across the spectrum,” he jovially sings as Folkestone’s finest rattle spoons, whirl, twirl and even swing from the chandeliers.

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SIDNEY POITIER, WHO PAVED THE WAY FOR BLACK ACTORS IN FILM, DIES AT 94 ·

(William Grimes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/7/22; via Pam Green; Photo: Sidney Poitier’s Academy Award for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field” made him the first Black performer to win in the best-actor category. He rose to prominence when the civil rights movement was beginning to make headway in the United States.Credit…Sam Falk/The New York Times.)

The first Black performer to win the Academy Award for best actor, for “Lilies of the Field,” he once said he felt “as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made.”

Sidney Poitier, whose portrayal of resolute heroes in films like “To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” established him as Hollywood’s first Black matinee idol and helped open the door for Black actors in the film industry, has died at 94.

His death was confirmed by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas, where Mr. Poitier grew up. No other details were immediately provided.

Mr. Poitier, whose Academy Award for the 1963 film “Lilies of the Field” made him the first Black performer to win in the best-actor category, rose to prominence when the civil rights movement was beginning to make headway in the United States. His roles tended to reflect the peaceful integrationist goals of the struggle.

Although often simmering with repressed anger, his characters responded to injustice with quiet determination. They met hatred with reason and forgiveness, sending a reassuring message to white audiences and exposing Mr. Poitier to attack as an Uncle Tom when the civil rights movement took a more militant turn in the late 1960s.

“It’s a choice, a clear choice,” Mr. Poitier said of his film parts in a 1967 interview. “If the fabric of the society were different, I would scream to high heaven to play villains and to deal with different images of Negro life that would be more dimensional. But I’ll be damned if I do that at this stage of the game.”

At the time, Mr. Poitier was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and a top box-office draw, ranked fifth among male actors in Box Office magazine’s poll of theater owners and critics; he was behind only Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and John Wayne. Yet racial squeamishness would not allow Hollywood to cast him as a romantic lead, despite his good looks.

“To think of the American Negro male in romantic social-sexual circumstances is difficult, you know,” he told an interviewer. “And the reasons why are legion and too many to go into.”

Mr. Poitier often found himself in limiting, saintly roles that nevertheless represented an important advance on the demeaning parts offered by Hollywood in the past. In “No Way Out” (1950), his first substantial film role, he played a doctor persecuted by a racist patient, and in “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1952), based on the Alan Paton novel about racism in South Africa, he appeared as a young priest. His character in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955), a troubled student at a tough New York City public school, sees the light and eventually sides with Glenn Ford, the teacher who tries to reach him.

In “The Defiant Ones” (1958), a racial fable that established him as a star and earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor, he was a prisoner on the run, handcuffed to a fellow convict (and virulent racist) played by Tony Curtis. The best-actor award came in 1964 for his performance in the low-budget “Lilies of the Field,” as an itinerant handyman helping a group of German nuns build a church in the Southwestern desert.

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PETER BOGDANOVICH, NEW HOLLYWOOD AUTEUR OF ‘PAPER MOON,’ ‘LAST PICTURE SHOW,’ DEAD AT 82 ·

(Jon Blistein’s article appeared in Rolling Stone, 1/6;  Photo: American director and screenwriter Peter Bogdanovich, UK, 20th February 1973. He directed the film ‘Paper Moon’ that year. Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)

The celebrated filmmaker broke-out with his 1968 thriller Targets and also scored a box office smash with the 1972 screwball classic, What’s Up, Doc?

Peter Bogdanovich, the celebrated, Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind classics like The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, as well as a frequent actor, died Thursday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 82.

Bogdanovich’s daughter, Antonia Bogdanovich, confirmed his death, saying the director died of natural causes. 

Bogdanovich actually began his career as a film critic and reporter before meeting the producer Roger Corman, who’d been so impressed with some of his work that he enlisted him to help out on some of his films. Despite this ostensibly unconventional path into the film industry, success came quickly for Bogdanovich: He earned praise for his first film, the 1968 thriller Targets, and his follow-up, 1971’s The Last Picture Show, earned eight Oscar nominations (including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and arguably remains his signature film.

The filmmaker’s stellar opening run continued the next year with What’s Up, Doc?, a wildly succesful screwball romcom starring Barbra Streisand — in a character so molded after Bugs Bunny she’s eating a carrot in her first scene — and Ryan O’Neal. O’Neal starred Bogdanovich’s next film as well, the Depression-era dramedy, Paper Moon, in which he and his real-life daughter, Tatum O’Neall, played a father-daughter grifting duo (Tatum O’Neal famously won an Oscar for her performance at the age of 10).

But the rest of Bogdanovich’s career would be tumultuous, marred by major flops, financial troubles and personal tragedy. In 1980, Dorothy Stratten — an actress and Playboy Playmate Bogdanovich had begun an affair with while directing her in the romcom They All Laughed — was murdered by her husband, Paul Snider, who then killed himself. While Bogdanovich managed to self-release They All Laughed in 1981, it performed poorly. Three years later, he published the book,The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980, which was deeply critical of Playboy and Hugh Hefner, and effectively blamed both for Stratten’s death.

“I destroyed him,” Bogdanovich said of Hefner in a 2019 Vulture interview. “I destroyed the whole Playboy myth — which, by the way, was a myth. The so-called sexual revolution of the late ’50s and ’60s was just another way of making it easier for guys to get laid. They weren’t feminists. It was just another way of getting laid faster.”

Bogdanovich was born in Kingston, New York in 1939 and fell in love with movie at an early age. As a teenager, he studied acting, but eventually decided he’d rather direct. His earliest work was in the theater, but Bogdanovich’s maintained his love of movies in the reviews and features he wrote for Esquire in the late Fifties and early Sixties. After moving to Hollywood and meeting Corman, the producer tapped him to help on the 1966 Peter Fonda biker movie, The Wild Angels; Bogdanovich rewrote the script and directed the end of the movie, which became one of Corman’s biggest box office hits at the time. 

Targets — which was inspired by the Charles Whitman’s 1966 mass shooting at the University of Texas in August 1966 — followed in 1968 (that same year Bogdanovich directed another movie, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, under the pseudonym Derek Thomas). With the film’s success and Corman’s backing, Bogdanovich could have easily made a career in such genre flicks, but as he explained to The Dissolve in 2013: “As it turned out, I never made another film like it, really. I thought I would make a series of films like it, because it did well enough that I thought it would be the sort of film I would make. But then I read Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show, and I fell in love with the idea of making that as a film, mainly because I didn’t know how to do it. I’m always challenged when I don’t know how to do something. I figure, ‘There must be a way.’ And Last Picture Show made my career.”

While the early Seventies were arguably Bogdanovich’s heyday, his fortunes changed halfway through the decade with a string of duds like Daisy MillerAt Long Last Love and Nickelodeon. After a few years away, he returned with the 1979 crime comedy Saint Jack, which earned high praise, but failed to perform at the box office. Around the same time, Bogdanovich’s long relationship with Cybill Shepherd — which began when he directed her in The Last Picture Show — ended too, and Stratten’s tragic death followed shortly after. 

After publishing The Killing of the Unicorn, Bogdanovich returned to filmmaking with the 1985 Cher-starring drama, Mask. In 1990, he released a Last Picture Show sequel, Texasville, though the film wasn’t nearly as succesful as the first. Following 1993’s The Thing Called Love, Bogdanovich took another long break from filmmaking before returning in 2001 with The Cat’s Meow; the last scripted feature he directed was 2014’s She’s Funny That Way. After making a documentary about the director John Ford early in his career, Bogdanovich returned to the form later in life, directing the 2007 Tom Petty doc Runnin’ Down a Dream, and a 2018 film about Buster Keaton, The Great Buster: A Celebration.

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