Michael Ritchie (film director)

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This article is about the film director. For the artistic director of Center Theatre Group, see Michael Ritchie (artistic director).
Michael Ritchie
Born Michael Brunswick Ritchie
(1938-11-28)November 28, 1938
Waukesha, Wisconsin
Died April 16, 2001(2001-04-16) (aged 62)
New York City, New York

Michael Brunswick Ritchie (November 28, 1938 - April 16, 2001) was an American film director of distinguished and often experimental films with comical and/or satirical leanings like The Candidate (one of Robert Redford's formative works) and Smile. He scored notable commercial successes directing sports films like The Bad News Bears and Chevy Chase's Fletch comedies.

Personal life[edit]

Ritchie was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the son of Patricia (née Graney) and Benbow Ferguson Ritchie. His family later moved to Berkeley, California, where his father was a professor of experimental psychology at the University of California at Berkeley[1] and his mother was the art and music librarian for the city. He attended Berkeley High School before becoming interested in film, and was accepted at Harvard University following high school. He told Redford's biographer, author Michael Feeney Callan, that academic interest in film culture was the basis and drive for his career. In 1994, Ritchie purchased the hacienda-style house at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles, where Marilyn Monroe died in 1962. He bought the property for $995,000 and it became his Los Angeles family base. Also in 1994, Ritchie moved to Manhattan with his wife, Jimmie B. Ritchie, and daughters, Lillian (b. 1986) and Miriam (b. 1988). His additional children include a son, Steven (b. 1973); daughters Lauren (b. 1966) and Jessica (b. 1973), and two stepchildren, Nelly Bly and Billy Bly. His sister, Elsie Ritchie, acted in two of his films: (The Candidate and Smile).


Ritchie attracted attention in his senior year at Harvard in 1960 by directing the original production of the Arthur Kopit play, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His work on Kopit's play led to a job offer from Robert Saudek, the producer of the Omnibus television series. Ritchie also directed episodes of Profiles in Courage and such TV series as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Dr. Kildare and Felony Squad prior to making his Hollywood feature-film debut in 1969 with Downhill Racer.

As a director, Ritchie's output was highly varied, alternately ironic and comedic. In his sports films like Downhill Racer, Semi-Tough, Wildcats, and arguably his most famous work, The Bad News Bears, he demonstrated a kinetic style, but his wry wit was evident in the Fletch films, starring Chevy Chase. He also had a great love of satire, as demonstrated by the likes of The Candidate and Smile, jabbing at politics and beauty pageants respectively, as well as later efforts like Student Bodies (he was uncredited due to a strike at the time) and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.[2]

Death and legacy[edit]

Ritchie died on April 16, 2001 in New York City from complications related to prostate cancer. Though respected and regarded as a significant auteur in his own right, Ritchie did not achieve the high profile celebrity of more media-friendly contemporaries like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, in part due to such a wildly varied career, never again enjoying the acclaim he had received in the early 70s and often attached to panned failures like The Island, Cops & Robbersons, and even his own passion project, The Fantasticks, was delayed and re-edited before release.[3] However, according to Jean-Pierre Coursodon, his films were recognized as "unpretentious, closely observed, finely textured works...there comes a point when, looking back, one sees that their consistency itself - consistent excellence - is telling us something: something about the way that cinema itself is able to move out and look around." [4]



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