John Guillermin

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John Guillermin
John Guillermin.jpg
John_Guillermin in 1970
Born (1925-11-11)11 November 1925
London, England, UK
Died 27 September 2015(2015-09-27) (aged 89)
Topanga, California, US
Cause of death Heart attack
Occupation Film director
Years active 1947–1988
Spouse(s) Maureen Connell (m. 1956)
Mary Guillermin (m. 1999–2015)
Children Two

John Guillermin (11 November 1925 – 27 September 2015) was a British film director, writer, and producer who was most active in big budget, action adventure films throughout his lengthy career.

His more well-known films include I Was Monty's Double (1958), Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959), Never Let Go (1960), Tarzan Goes to India (1962), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), The Blue Max (1966), The Bridge at Remagen (1969), The Towering Inferno (1974), King Kong (1976), Death on the Nile (1978), Sheena (1984) and King Kong Lives (1986). From the 1980s he worked on much less prestigious projects, and his final films consisted of lower budgeted theatrical releases and made-for-TV films.


Guillermin was born in London to French parents. He attended the University of Cambridge. After mustering out of the Royal Air Force at the age of 22, Guillermin's directorial career began in France with documentary filmmaking. He moved to Hollywood in 1950 to study film-making methods. Town on Trial (1957) showed his early craftsmanship, with Guillermin managing to obtain a menacing performance from the usually benign John Mills. Guillermin in time became known more as a general entertainment director than as an auteur director, and in his later career as a director for films with big budgets and spectacular effects. He also became known as a pipe smoking exacting perfectionist, filming and refilming scenes to get exactly what he was looking for. Unusual camera angles and hand held camera shots were among his preferred options.

Memoirs of actors, editors and producers indicate that Guillermin was a difficult man to work with. He is described in Norma Barzman's book where he is mentioned in connection with the shooting of The Blue Max (1966) as having a "cold, stiff-lipped manner."[1] Elmo Williams, producer of The Blue Max, described Guillermin as a "demanding director, indifferent to people getting hurt as long as he got realistic action . . . he was a hard-working, overly critical man whom the crew disliked. However, Guillermin was a master at camera setup."[2]

Producer David L. Wolper wrote that Guillermin was "the most difficult director with whom I'd ever worked." Wolper further described Guillermin as "a real pain in the ass." Guillermin was directing Wolper's The Bridge at Remagen (1969). When some members of the Czech crew were late for the first day of filming in 1968, Guillermin screamed at them. He was told by a crew member if he did this again, the entire crew would walk off the set. Guillermin later told Wolper he could not set foot on the set one day because of the complexity of the filming. Wolper told Guillermin he was therefore sacked. Guillermin apologised and was re-employed immediately.[3]

Ralph E. Winters was employed as editor for King Kong (1976) after a nice conversation with Guillermin. Winters described the director as "A skinny guy, dark, with very sharp features." In the screening room, Winters witnessed a frustrated Guillermin kicking the seat in front until it broke; Winters got an apologetic phone call the next day. Twenty-three years after the film was released, Guillermin called to compliment him on his work on King Kong.[4]

Charlton Heston described Guillermin as an "imaginative and skillful director" with an "irascible streak."[5]

Before filming started on Midway (1976), producer Walter Mirisch replaced Guillermin with Jack Smight after Guillermin requested more time and equipment, particularly aeroplanes, than the budget allowed.[6] Guillermin was also replaced as director on Sahara (1983) by Andrew V. McLaglen.

Novelist James Dickey, who worked with him on the unfilmed Alnilam project in 1989, wrote that Guillermin was "one of those megalomaniacal directors who have to be given the gates of Heaven before they consider doing a project."

In the late 1970s, he was attached to make The Godfather Part 3 and worked on a script with Dean Reisner and Mario Puzo.[7]

Personal life and death[edit]

On 20 July 1956, Guillermin married actress and author Maureen Connell. They had two children, Michelle and Michael-John, the latter of whom died in 1983 in a car accident in Truckee, California. They resided in the Los Angeles area beginning 1968. On 27 September 2015, Guillermin died in Topanga, California, from a heart attack. In addition to his daughter, Guillermin was survived by his second wife, Mary.[8][9] He was 89.


Selected filmography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • American Cinematographer, 1977, vol. 58.
  • Dickey, James. The One Voice of James Dickey: His Letters and Life 1970–1997. University of Missouri, 2005. pp. 435–436.
  • ”Maureen Connell” in Contemporary Authors Online. (includes marriage date and names of children with Guillermin)
  • Plain, Gill. John Mills and British Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. p. 156.
  • Quinlan, David. The Illustrated Guide to Film Directors. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. pp. 124–125.
  • Wood, Susan. "A Feminist Tale of Two Continents" Washington Post, 5 June 1981, page D2 (includes information about Maureen Connell Guillermin)


  1. ^ Barzman, Norma. The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003. p. 394.
  2. ^ Williams, Elmo. Elmo Williams: A Hollywood Memoir. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2006. p. 199
  3. ^ Wolper, David. Producer: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2003. p. 169
  4. ^ Winters, Ralph E. Some Cutting Remarks: Seventy Years as a Film Editor. Lanham, Massachusetts: Scarecrow Press, 2001. pp. 105–6.
  5. ^ Heston, Charlton. In the Arena: An Autobiography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. pp. 464–5.
  6. ^ Mirisch, Walter. I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. pp. 332–333.
  7. ^ FILM CLIPS: LIFE ON THE NILE WITH GUILLERMIN Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 September 1978: f14
  8. ^ Burchette, John (30 September 2015). "John Guillermin, Director of 'The Towering Inferno,' Dead at 89". TheWrap. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  9. ^ Barnes, John (30 September 2015). "John Guillermin, Director of 'The Towering Inferno,' Dies at 89". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Evening Standard British Film Awards 1980 at IMDB

External links[edit]