American film director, producer and writer Robert Altman (born 1925, died 2006) is famous for receiving Academy Award nominations for his direction in “MASH” (1970), “Nashville” (1975), “The Player” (1992), “Short Cuts” (1993) and “Gosford Park” (2001). He also nabbed additional Oscar nominations for Best Picture for “Nashville” and “Gosford Park” as well as a Best Director Golden Globe Award for “Gosford Park.” His directing credits also include “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), “Images” (1972), “The Long Goodbye” (1973), “Thieves Like Us” (1974), “A Wedding” (1978), “Streamers” (1983), “Secret Honor” (1984), “Cookie's Fortune” (1999), “The Company” (2003) and “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006). Following a failed attempt in Hollywood in the late 1940s, Altman began gaining notice as a director and writer of industrial films for the Calvin Company in Kansas City, Missouri, before making a successful return to Hollywood in the late 1950s after the success of his first two features, “The Delinquents” (1957) and “The James Dean Story” (1957). He went on to build a successful career as a television director until he achieved mainstream success with “Mash.” From then until his death in 2006, he focused his career on feature films.
Childhood and Family:
Robert Bernard Altman was born on February 20, 1925, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Bernard Clement Altman, an affluent insurance salesman, and Helen Mathews. He was raised in a Catholic family and enrolled at St. Peters Catholic School at age 6. After a brief stint at a Catholic high school, he attended Rockhurst High School in Kansas City where he began looking into the art of exploring sound with tape recorders. He then attended the Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri, before joining the military at age 18. As a pilot of a B24, he flew more than 50 bombing missions in Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. He was discharged in 1946.
On June 8, 1946, Robert married LaVonne Elmer, but they divorced in 1949. The marriage produced daughter Christine (born 1947). He was then married to actress Lotus Corelli from 1950 to 1955 and the couple shared two sons, Michael (born 1954) and Stephen (born 1956). Robert married his third and last wife, Kathryn Reed, on April 1, 1959. The two had one biological son, Robert (born 1959), and an adopted son named Matthew (born 1966). Robert also had a stepdaughter named Konnie Corriere (born 1946), from wife Kathryn's previous relationship.
On November 20, 2006, at age 81, Robert died of complications from leukemia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife Kathryn Reed, his six children, twelve grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Robert Altman moved to Hollywood after his discharge from the army and landed an unaccredited part in the 1947 comedy “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” He also tried writing and worked on the 1947 film “Christmas Eve” (unaccredited) before contributing to the story of the film “Bodyguard” (1948), for director Richard Fleisher. With the hope of pursuing a career as a writer, he then relocated to New York City but found little success and moved back to Kansas City in 1949. A year later, he began working as a director and writer of industrial films for the Kansas City based Calvin Company. Altman also directed a number of short industrial films for the Calvin Co., before leaving the company in 1956.
While still with Calvin, Altman was approached by a local businessman to write and direct a motion picture in Kansas City on juvenile delinquency. The realized project, called “The Delinquents,” starring Tom Laughlin, Peter Miller and Richard Bakalyan, was made on a budget of $63,000 and later acquired by United Artists for $150,000. It was released in 1957. Altman then left Kansas City to return to Hollywood, where he co-produced, co-edited and co-directed (with George G. George) the documentary “The James Dean Story” (1957). He was next hired by legendary director/producer Alfred Hitchcock to direct his CBS anthology series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” but quit after two episodes (“The Young One,” 1957 and “Together,” 1958). Altman would go on to achieve a successful career on television with directing credits on shows like “Whirlybirds” (19 episodes, 1958-1959), “The Millionaire” (11 episodes, 1958-1959), “U.S. Marshal” (9 episodes, 1959-1960), “Troubleshooters” (14 episodes, 1959-1960), “The Roaring 20's” (9 episodes, 1960-1961), “Bonanza” (8 episodes, 1960-1961), “Bus Stop” (8 episodes, 1961-1962), “Combat” (10 episodes, 1962-1963), “Tanner '88” (11 episodes, 1988) and “Tanner on Tanner” (2004), among others.
Altman founded his own production company, Lions Gate Films, with Ray Wagner, in 1963 and directed his first television film, “Nightmare in Chicago,” the next year. Also known as “Once Upon a Savage Night,” “Nightmare in Chicago” was originally made for “Kraft Mystery Theater” but was edited for commercial release. Two years later, he was hired to direct the small budget science fiction film “Countdown,” an adaptation of Hank Searls' novel “The Pilgrim Project.” However, because he wouldn’t edit the film down to a controllable length, Altman was fired two days before the end of the project. Starring James Caan, Joanna Moore, Robert Duvall, Barbara Baxley, Michael Murphy and Ted Knight, “Countdown” was released by Warner Brothers/Seven Arts in February 1968 and marked Altman's first studio backed feature. He then returned to the director's chair to helm Sandy Dennis and Michael Burns in “That Cold Day in the Park” (1969), a flopped drama based on the novel of the same title by Peter Miles. The film was screened out of the main competition at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.
Altman's big breakthrough arrived when he directed the 1970 comedy film “Mash,” an adaptation of Richard Hooker's 1968 novel “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors.” Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Rene Auberjonois and Michael Murphy, the film grossed over $81million against a budget of $3.5 million and became one of Twentieth Century Fox's hit films of the early 1970s. Also a critical success, “Mash” was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Altman's first Oscar nomination, and won the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, among other awards and nominations. Altman also picked up a Golden Palm at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, a KCFCC for Best Director, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Director, a BAFTA Film nomination for Best Direction and a Directors Guild of America nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. The same year, he also directed the film “Brewster McCloud,” which starred Bud Cort and Sally Kellerman.
Altman next directed and co-wrote (with Brian McKay) the western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), an adaptation of the novel “McCabe” by Edmund Naughton. In 1972, he directed Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi and Cathryn Harrison in the psychological thriller “Images,” which he also wrote, and received a Golden Palm nomination at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival and a WGA nomination in the category of Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen for his work on the film. “Images” was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film, an Oscar for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and a BAFTA for Best Cinematography.
After directing the contemporary adaptation of Raymond Chandler's “The Long Goodbye” (1973, starred Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt and Sterling Hayden), “Thieves Like Us” (1974, starred Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall), which he also produced and co-scripted, and “California Split” (1974), which starred George Segal and Elliott Gould, Altman scored another success with “Nashville,” a musical he directed and produced that was written by Joan Tewkesbury. Featuring a cast that included Ned Beatty, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Henry Gibson, Michael Murphy and Lily Tomlin, the movie brought him a second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. In addition, he received a Bodil for Best Non-European Film, a David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film, a Golden India Catalina for Best Director at the 1976 Cartagena Film Festival, and a Kansas City Film Critics Circle for Best Director, to name a few awards and nominations. “Nashville” enjoyed success at the U.S. box office where it collected nearly $10 million domestically against a budget of $2 million.
In 1976, Altman directed, produced and co-wrote (with Alan Rudolph) the based on play “Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson,” which starred Paul Newman. The film was entered into the 26th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Bear. After a brief return to the small screen with a one episode directing gig on “Saturday Night Live,” Altman directed, produced and wrote “3 Women” (1977), which was nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival, “Quintet” (1978), a post-apocalyptic science fiction film starring Paul Newman, Brigitte Fossey, Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey and Vittorio Gassman, and the romantic comedy “A Perfect Couple” (1979). He also produced “Welcome to L.A.,” a 1976 drama written and directed by Alan Rudolph, the comedy “The Late Show” (1977) for director/writer Robert Benton, and Rudolph's thriller “Remember My Name” (1978). However, it was the dramatic comedy “A Wedding” (1978), which he directed, produced and co-wrote, that gained Altman BAFTA nominations for Best Direction and Best Screenplay, a Cesar nomination for Best Foreign Film and a WGA nomination for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
After directing the musical “Popeye” (starred Robin Williams) and the comedy “Health” (starred Carol Burnett and Glenda Jackson, both 1980), Altman made his debut as a stage director with “Precious Blood” and “Rattlesnake in a Cooler in Two By South” (both 1981). The same year, he also sold Lions Gate. In 1982, he directed the Broadway production of “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” which opened on February 8, 1982, at the Martin Beck Theater, where it ran for 52 performances. Later that same year, he directed the film adaptation of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” The reminder of the decade saw Altman directing such films as the movie adaptation of David Rabe's “Streamers” (1983), the one man drama “Secret Honor” (1984), which earned a FIPRESCI Prize, Forum of New Cinema at the 1985 Berlin International Film Festival, the film adaptation of Sam Shepard's play “Fool for Love” (1985), from which he netted a Golden Palm nomination and a Golden Dolphin at the Festróia - Tróia International Film Festival, “O.C. and Stiggs” (1985) and “Beyond Therapy” (1987). He also directed the television movies “The Laundromat” (HBO, 1985), “Basements” (ABC, 1987) and “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” (CBS, 1988) and was handed a 1989 Emmy in the category of Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for his work on “The Boiler Room,” an episode of the HBO series “Tanner 88.”
Entering the 1990s, Altman gained notice for directing “Vincent & Theo” (1990), a biography of the Van Gogh brothers that starred Tim Roth and Paul Rhys. However, it was “The Player” (1992) that earned him his third Best Director Oscar nomination. A satirical film adapted from the 1988 novel of the same name by Michael Tolkin, who also wrote the screenplay, the film brought Altman a BAFTA for Best Direction, a Bodil for Best Non-European Film, an Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists' Silver Ribbon for Best Director - Foreign Film, and a London Critics Circle Film's ALFS Award for Director of the Year, to name a few honors. Then, after staging William Bolcoms “McTeague” (1992), based on Frank Norris' 1899 novel of the same name, Altman took home an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for the drama “Short Cuts” (1993), which he co-wrote with Frank Barhydt, based on a short story by Raymond Carver. Outside of the Oscar, the highly praised film, starring Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Fred Ward and Anne Archer, amassed numerous awards and nominations, including Independent Spirit Awards for Best Film and Best Screenplay, a Bodil Award for Best American Film, a Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay, an Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Award for Best Foreign Director, a Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Film Festival, a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture and a César nomination for Best Foreign Film.
Next up for Altman, he directed such films as “Ready to Wear,” “Kansas City” (1996), “The Gingerbread Man” (1998) and the comedy “Cookie's Fortune” (1999), and produced “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (1994) and “Afterglow” (1997). He also executive produced, created and directed episodes of the ABC series “Gun” (1997).
Entering the new millennium, Altman produced and directed “Dr. T & the Women” (2000), a movie starring Richard Gere. The film received mixed reviews from critics but Altman was put back in the limelight with the film “Gosford Park,” a 2001 movie starring Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates and Michael Gambon. The film was nominated for Oscars for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (won), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mirren & Smith), in addition to other awards and nominations. Altman won a Golden Globe for Best Director - Motion Picture, BAFTA's Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film, a Robert for Best American Film, a AFI Film for AFI Director of the Year, and an Evening Standard British Film for Best Film, to name a few.
Before his death in 2006, Altman directed Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell and James Franco in “The Company” (2003), which he also co-produced, and executive produced and directed episodes of “Tanner on Tanner” (2004). He also directed the movie “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006), which was based on Garrison Keilor's long running radio show. For his work on the film, he received a Hochi Film award for Best Foreign Film, an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Director and a Bodil nomination for Best American Film.
Hochi Film: Best Foreign Film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” 2007
Academy Award: Honorary Award, 2006
Satellite: Auteur Award, “In Memoriam,” 2006
Berlin International Film Festival: Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” 2006
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Career Achievement Award, 2004
San Francisco International Film Festival: Film Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing, 2003
Robert Festival: Robert, Best American Film (Årets amerikanske film), “Gosford Park,” 2003
AFI Film: AFI Director of the Year, “Gosford Park,” 2002
BAFTA: Alexander Korda Award, Best British Film, “Gosford Park,” 2002
Berlin International Film Festival: Honorary Golden Berlin Bear, 2002
Evening Standard British Film: Best Film, “Gosford Park,” 2002
Golden Globe: Best Director - Motion Picture, “Gosford Park,” 2002
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists: Silver Ribbon, Best Director - Foreign Film (Regista del Miglior Film Straniero), “Gosford Park,” 2002
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Director, “Gosford Park,” 2002
New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC): Best Director, “Gosford Park,” 2001
Gotham: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000
American Society of Cinematographer: Board of the Governors Award, 1999
Berlin International Film Festival: Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas, “Cookie's Fortune,” 1999
São Paulo International Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Documentary, “Great Performances,” 1997
Venice Film Festival: Career Golden Lion, 1996
Bodil: Best American Film (Bedste amerikanske film), “Short Cuts,” 1995
Turia: Best Foreign Film, “Short Cuts,” 1995
Directors Guild of America: Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994
Film Society of Lincoln Center: Gala Tribute, 1994
Independent Spirit: Best Director, “Short Cuts,” 1994
Independent Spirit: Best Screenplay, “Short Cuts,” 1994
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists: Silver Ribbon, Best Director - Foreign Film (Regista del Miglior Film Straniero), “Short Cuts,” 1994
Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC): Best Screenplay, “Short Cuts,” 1993
Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion, “Short Cuts,” 1993
Joseph Plateau: Life Achievement Award, 1993
BAFTA: Best Direction, “The Player,” 1993
Bodil: Best Non-European Film (Bedste ikke-europæiske film), “The Player,” 1993
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists: Silver Ribbon, “Best Director - Foreign Film (Regista del Miglior Film Straniero), “The Player,” 1993
London Critics Circle Film: ALFS Award, Director of the Year, “The Player,” 1993
Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA): Best Director, “The Player,” 1993
Cannes Film Festival: Best Director, “The Player,” 1992
New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC): Best Director, “The Player,” 1992
Emmy: Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series, “Tanner '88,” 1989
Festróia - Tróia International Film Festival: Golden Dolphin, “Fool for Love,” 1986
Berlin International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, Forum of New Cinema, “Secret Honor,” 1985
Bodil: Best Non-European Film (Bedste ikke-europæiske film), “Nashville,” 1977
Berlin International Film Festival: Golden Berlin Bear, “Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson,” 1976
David di Donatello: David, Best Foreign Film (Miglior Film Straniero), “Nashville,” 1976
Cartagena Film Festival: Golden India Catalina, Best Director (Mejor Director), “Nashville,” 1976
Kansas City Film Critics Circle (KCFCC): Best Director, “Nashville,” 1976
National Board of Review (NBR): Best Director, “Nashville,” 1975
National Society of Film Critics (NSFC): Best Director, “Nashville,” 1975
New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC): Best Director, “Nashville,” 1975
Kansas City Film Critics Circle (KCFCC): Best Director, “MASH,” 1971
Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm, “MASH,” 1970