NEW YORK, NY.-
Peter Bogdanovich, who parlayed his ardor for Golden Age cinema into the direction of acclaimed films like The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, only to have his professional reputation tarnished in one of Hollywoods most conspicuous falls from grace, died early Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82.
His daughter Antonia Bogdanovich confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.
Originally trained as a stage actor (he was also a producer, a screenwriter, a film historian, a programmer and a critic, as well as a theater and television director), Bogdanovich was long recognizable by his soulful basset-hound face, outsize horn-rimmed glasses and trademark neckerchief.
As a filmmaker, he was hailed for his ability to coax nuanced performances from actors, and for the bittersweet luminosity of movies that conjured a bygone past bygone in American cinema, bygone in America itself.
Reviewing The Last Picture Show only Bogdanovichs second film and widely considered his foremost on its release in 1971, Newsweek's critic called it a masterpiece, adding, It is the most impressive work by a young American director since Citizen Kane.
Before the end of the 70s, however, Bogdanovich had been transformed from one of the most celebrated directors in Hollywood into one of the most ostracized. His career would be marred for years to come by critical and box-office failures, personal bankruptcies, the raking of his romantic life through the press and, as it all unspooled, an orgy of film-industry schadenfreude.
It isnt true that Hollywood is a bitter place, divided by hatred, greed and jealousy, director Billy Wilder once observed. All it takes to bring the community together is a flop by Peter Bogdanovich.
What was more, Bogdanovichs life and work would be affected by violent, almost unimaginable personal loss.
Yet in a business that rarely grants second acts, he enjoyed a professional renaissance, both behind the camera and in front of it, in the 21st century. To television viewers of the period, he was probably best known for his recurring role on the HBO drama The Sopranos. He portrayed Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, the psychiatrist who treats Tony Sopranos psychiatrist, played by Lorraine Bracco.
Bogdanovichs film career had seemed almost foreordained, for he was nothing short of a cinematic prodigy. I was born, he liked to say. And then I liked movies.
As a writer and critic, a calling he pursued in the 1960s, he was the author of influential monographs on Hollywood directors before he was out of his 20s.
As a director, he blazed to fame in the early 70s as the auteur of three critically acclaimed films: The Last Picture Show, based on Larry McMurtrys novel of small-town Texas life; Whats Up, Doc? (1972), a contemporary twist on 1930s screwball comedies, starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan ONeal; and Paper Moon (1973), starring ONeal and his daughter, Tatum, about a Depression-era confidence man.
Bogdanovichs life, it turned out, was bracketed by loss. For as he would discover, he had been born to a family defined by absence.
A Son of Immigrants
The son of Borislav and Herma Robinson Bogdanovich, Peter Bogdanovich was born on July 30, 1939, in upstate Kingston, New York, and reared on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His parents were recent immigrants to the United States, his father a Serbian painter, his mother a member of a well-to-do Austrian Jewish family.
The Bogdanovich home, Bogdanovich recalled long afterward, was pervaded by melancholy. His father was silent and withdrawn. Throughout Peters boyhood, their rare moments of camaraderie came when the elder Bogdanovich took his son to silent films at the Museum of Modern Art.
When Peter was about 8, he learned the source of the family sorrow: He had had an older brother, who died as a baby after a pot of boiling soup was accidentally spilled on him.
By this time Peter was irretrievably in love with motion pictures sound and silent alike. From the age of 12 to about 30 he kept a file of index cards, one per picture, evaluating every movie he saw. In the end, he had amassed some 5,000 cards.
Pictures from the heyday of Hollywoods studio system by directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock, starring actors like John Wayne, Cary Grant and James Stewart beckoned to him above all.
I just wanted to be like those people on the screen, Bogdanovich told the Los Angeles Times in 1972. I wanted to look like Bill Holden, because I wanted to be a real American boy and do all those wonderful things. And with a name like Bogdanovich there wasnt much of a chance.
As a teenager, Peter studied with famed acting teacher Stella Adler. Leaving the Collegiate School, a Manhattan prep school, a failed algebra examination shy of a high school diploma, as The New York Times wrote in 1971, he played small roles in summer stock, off-Broadway and on television.
At 20, he directed an off-Broadway revival of Clifford Odets drama The Big Knife. (The cast included a young Carroll OConnor.) Around this time, he began writing on film for publications like Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He helped program Golden Age pictures for the New Yorker Theater, a Manhattan revival house, and for MoMA.
For MoMA, Bogdanovich wrote his series of monographs on great directors, including Ford, Hawks, Hitchcock and Orson Welles. It was a mission undertaken, he cheerfully confessed, so that he could meet and interview his idols.
Those sessions, he said, were his de facto film-school education. (Bogdanovich would spend the rest of his career, interviewers often carped, dropping his teachers names. Jack flicked out conversationally denoted Ford. Hitch and Orson were self-explanatory.)
He would become most closely involved with Welles, recording scores of hours of oral history before Welles death in 1985. The seminal book that resulted, This Is Orson Welles (1992), edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and with Bogdanovich and Welles as co-authors, is the closest well ever come to a Welles autobiography, the Orlando Sentinel said in 2002.
Though Bogdanovich repeatedly disavowed the connection, critics liked to point out affinities between Welles career and his own: Both men began as directorial wunderkinds. (Citizen Kane, released in 1941, was Welles first full-length feature.) Both were later expelled from the Eden of A-list directors. (In the 1970s, a down-and-out Welles lived for a time in Bogdanovichs mansion in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles.)
Bogdanovich struck out for Hollywood in 1964, accompanied by his wife, Polly Platt, a production designer he had married two years before. He was hired as a second-unit director and rewriter by producer Roger Corman, whose movies among them Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) and Teenage Cave Man (1958) strove for maximal shock value at minimal expense.
For Corman, Bogdanovich directed his first feature, Targets, released in 1968. Inspired by the Charles Whitman Texas tower shootings of 1966, it was nominally a thriller about a troubled young man who embarks on a killing spree.
But it was really a paean to, and an elegy for, the Hollywood films that Bogdanovich cherished. An aging, elegant Boris Karloff plays an aging, elegant version of himself. Scenes of Tim OKelly, who played the young man, scaling heights from which to shoot random strangers a gas storage tank, a drive-in theater screen are vivid homages to James Cagneys last stand, high up in a gas plant, in White Heat, Raoul Walshs celebrated 1949 film.
For its stylish direction and brisk screenplay, by Bogdanovich and Platt, Targets drew wide critical praise. His triumph led him to be hired to direct The Last Picture Show for Columbia Pictures.
That film, with screenplay by Bogdanovich and McMurtry, centers on life and love in a down-at-the-heels town in the early 1950s. Shot in stark black and white in McMurtrys hometown, Archer City, Texas, the movie, designed by Platt, portrays a world of boarded-up storefronts and blowing dust.
The cast featured relative unknowns, among them Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms and Cybill Shepherd, a 19-year-old model whom Bogdanovich had discovered staring seductively at him from the cover of Glamour magazine while he waited in a supermarket checkout line.
It also included veterans like Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson, who at midcentury had been a member of Fords stock company.
The Last Picture Show, too, is a valentine to old Hollywood. At the towns fading movie house, Vincente Minnellis 1950 comedy, Father of the Bride, is playing. When the theater is forced to close, the last picture shown there is Hawks Red River (1948), starring the indomitable Wayne.
Nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture, The Last Picture Show won two, for the performances of Leachman and Johnson.
The film catapulted Bogdanovich to the first rank of Hollywood directors. It also upended his personal life. He left Platt and their two young children for Shepherd, embarking on an eight-year relationship that furnished ceaseless grist for Hollywood gossip columns.
His professional success continued with Whats Up, Doc?, a reworking of Hawks 1938 comedy, Bringing Up Baby, and again with Paper Moon.
Set in dust-blown 1930s Kansas, Paper Moon brought an Oscar to 10-year-old Tatum ONeal for her performance as a scrappy girl who may or may not be the con mans daughter. (Despite her divorce from Bogdanovich, Platt designed this film and Whats Up, Doc?)
After the Hits, Duds
But after the wild success of the early 1970s came a string of creative debacles. Two vehicles Bogdanovich conceived to star Shepherd incurred critical vitriol: Daisy Miller, his 1974 adaptation of Henry James 1870s novella, and the musical At Long Last Love (1975), also starring Burt Reynolds.
Produced for $15 million, this musical was Cole Porter sung by the tone deaf, danced by the afflicted, the Chicago Tribune wrote in 1990. Critics compared leading man Burt Reynolds to a wounded buffalo and Shepherd to an orphan trying to play Noël Coward. The picture, which lost $6 million, was Bogdanovichs Heavens Gate.
His next film, Nickelodeon (1976), an overt homage to early cinema starring Ryan ONeal and Reynolds, was also critically derided. But there was far worse to come.
In the late 1970s, after his romance with Shepherd had ended, Bogdanovich met Playboy model Dorothy Stratten at Hugh Hefners Playboy Mansion. They fell in love, and Stratten, who was married, left her husband to move in with him.
Bogdanovich gave her a small role in his caper They All Laughed, starring Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara. But in August 1980, before it was released, her estranged husband, Paul Snider, shot her to death before taking his own life. (The murder of Stratten, 20 at her death, would be the subject of a 1983 feature film, Star 80, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Mariel Hemingway.)
Afterward, Bogdanovich was reported to have watched They All Laughed which preserves Strattens last film performance over and over, as if communing with a ghost.
Released in 1981, the film was a critical and box-office failure. Dissatisfied with its promotion, Bogdanovich bought the rights and tried to distribute it himself. It proved a disastrous decision, costing him some $5 million.
In 1985, with $21.37 in the bank and $25.79 in his pocket, according to court papers, he declared bankruptcy, a move that further marginalized him in Hollywood. In the years that followed, he became, by his own account, addicted to prescription drugs.
I made an enormous number of mistakes, Bogdanovich said in a 2004 interview. You dont do rational things when somebody blows up an atom bomb at your feet.
One thing he did that he said he came to regret was to write a biography of Stratten, The Killing of the Unicorn, which was equal parts adoration and accusation. Published in 1984, it contended that Hefner, in commodifying her, had been partly responsible for her death.
Hefner retaliated with a bombshell of his own: He publicly accused Bogdanovich of having seduced Strattens younger half sister, Louise, shortly after the murder, when Louise was 13.
Bogdanovich denied the accusation. But it was a matter of record that he paid for Louises education; arranged for her to have corrective surgery on her jaw an act, his detractors said, that was intended to make her look more like her dead sister and, in 1988, when Louise was 20, married her, causing a frenzy of tabloid opprobrium.
Louise Stratten, billed as L.B. Stratten, appeared in several films and TV movies directed by Bogdanovich. They divorced in 2001.
She was like a contact with Dorothy, as far as I was concerned, Bogdanovich, speaking of the marriage, told The New York Times the next year. There was garbage talk that I made Louise have facial surgery to look like Dorothy. Vertigo stuff.
Im Not Bitter
Bogdanovich seemed to return to directorial form in 1985 with Mask, a well-received picture starring Cher as the mother of a boy with a facial deformity.
But he alienated the Hollywood establishment once more by filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the studio, Universal Pictures, and the producer, Martin Starger, for cutting two scenes and substituting music by Bob Seger for the Bruce Springsteen soundtrack that Bogdanovich favored. (The suit was later withdrawn.)
Several critical failures followed, including Illegally Yours (1988), a romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe; Texasville (1990), a sequel to The Last Picture Show; and The Thing Called Love (1993), a comedy-drama about country music.
In the late 1990s, after declaring bankruptcy again, the down-and-out Bogdanovich lived for a time in the guesthouse of young director Quentin Tarantino.
From the mid-90s through the first years of the 21st century, Bogdanovich resorted to directing for television. His credits include the TV movies Prowler (1995) and Naked City: A Killer Christmas (1998) and an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney.
But the medium, he said, taught him economy and speed. He returned to the big screen in 2001 with The Cats Meow, his first feature in nearly a decade. Made for just $6 million, it was shot in only 24 days.
That film, too, is a paean to old Hollywood. It tells the story based on a long-suppressed incident that for years ran through the industry in whispers of a fatal shooting in 1924 aboard the yacht of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
The Cats Meow starring Edward Herrmann as Hearst; Kirsten Dunst as his mistress, silent-film star Marion Davies; and Eddie Izzard as her lover Charlie Chaplin earned mostly favorable notices.
Bogdanovichs luster was also restored with his publication of two acclaimed books: Who the Devil Made It (1997), a collection of his interviews with eminent directors, and Who the Hells in It (2004), about great actors and actresses.
Later features he directed include Shes Funny That Way (2014) and The Great Buster, a documentary about Buster Keaton, in 2018.
In addition to his daughter Antonia, he is survived by another daughter, Alexandra (both from his marriage to Platt); a sister, Anna Bogdanovich; and three grandchildren.
Among Bogdanovichs other films as a director are Saint Jack (1979), starring Gazzara as an American who aims to open a bordello in Singapore; Noises Off ... (1992), an adaptation of a play by Michael Frayn; and the documentary Directed by John Ford (1971).
In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, Bogdanovich offered a cleareyed appraisal of his career.
Im not bitter, he said. I asked for it. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think youre infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.
But when it came to one of his detractors, at least, Bogdanovich appeared to have the last laugh. His later-life acting roles included two appearances, in 2005 and 2007, on the NBC series Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
In both episodes, Bogdanovich, always a wicked mimic, played to the hilt a sybaritic, smoking-jacket-clad, thinly veiled incarnation of Hefner.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times