Richard Donner

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Richard Donner
Richard-Donner.png
Donner in 2006
Born Richard Donald Schwartzberg
(1930-04-24) April 24, 1930 (age 88)
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Film director, Television director, Film producer
Years active 1957–present
Known for The Omen
Superman
The Goonies
Lethal Weapon
Spouse(s)
Lauren Shuler (m. 1985)
Awards

Richard Donner (born Richard Donald Schwartzberg, April 24, 1930) is an American director and producer of film and television. After directing the horror film The Omen (1976), Donner became famous for directing the first modern superhero film, Superman (1978), starring Christopher Reeve.

Donner later went on to direct such films as The Goonies (1985) and Scrooged (1988), while reinvigorating the buddy film genre with Lethal Weapon (1987) and its sequels. He and his wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, own the production company The Donner's Company, which is most well known for producing the X-Men film series. In 2000, he received the President's Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Film historian Michael Barson writes that Donner is "one of Hollywood's most reliable makers of action blockbusters".[1]

Early years[edit]

Richard Schwartzberg was born in the Bronx, to Jewish parents,[2] Hattie and Fred Schwartzberg.[3][4] His father owned a small furniture manufacturing business.[3] He has a sister, Joan.[3] Donner started his career with hopes of acting but quickly moved into directing commercials and making business films.

Television[edit]

He moved into television in the late 1950s, directing some episodes of the Steve McQueen western serial Wanted: Dead or Alive and the Chuck Connors western The Rifleman.[5] In his early career as a director he worked on TV commercials and over twenty-five television series including Have Gun Will Travel, The Fugitive, Combat!, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Gilligan's Island, Kojak, Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone (most notably the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner and "From Agnes—With Love" starring Wally Cox), as well as the serial Danger Island from the children's program The Banana Splits.[5]

Films[edit]

Donner directed his first feature film in 1961, X-15, which starred Charles Bronson and Mary Tyler Moore. It was not until seven years later, however, that he directed his next film, Salt and Pepper (1968), with Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford. His break-through film was The Omen (1976).[5] A supernatural thriller made in the wake of the success obtained by The Exorcist, the film stars Gregory Peck, David Warner and Lee Remick. It became the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1976.

Superman (1978)[edit]

In 1978, Donner directed Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve in the title role. The film became a hit worldwide, projecting both Reeve and Donner to international fame.[6] Co-stars included Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as archvillain Lex Luthor. It succeeded at the box office, grossing $134 million domestically.[1]

Principal photography of Superman included filming of its first sequel, Superman II. Donner filmed most of Superman II with the expectation he would complete the sequel after the release of Superman. Despite the first film's success, Donner was fired from Superman II. Throughout the filming of Superman and Superman II, Donner had a difficult relationship with executive producers Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler. The Salkinds refused Donner's demand that Spengler be fired; instead, the Salkinds replaced Donner as director of Superman II with Richard Lester, who had worked with the Salkinds on The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and as an uncredited producer on Superman. Following Donner's dismissal, Marlon Brando's scenes were removed from Superman II and much of the film was re-shot under Lester's direction. Gene Hackman refused to return for re-shoots; consequently, all the Lex Luthor scenes that appear in Superman II were filmed by Donner, although Donner received no onscreen credit for directing, because Donner refused to be on the credits.

Rotten Tomatoes' summary states that "Superman II meets, if not exceeds, the standard set by its predecessor". Donner continued to promote the view his contribution was superior to rest of the series. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on November 28, 2006, on the same date as the DVD release of the summer film, Superman Returns.[citation needed] This version of the film features the re-insertion of Marlon Brando's scenes as Jor-El, and relies on a minimum of footage shot by Richard Lester.

Post-Superman career[edit]

Donner has mixed commercial flops (The Toy, Inside Moves, Radio Flyer) and successes (The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon series, Scrooged and Conspiracy Theory). In the case of Superman, it was Donner who insisted the subject of the comic book superhero should be treated "straight" rather than "camp", an approach that strongly influenced later genre directors such as Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns), Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), who have made successful superhero films of their own. The influence of Superman can, to this day, be seen in superhero films outside the Superman storyline, and even outside the DC Comics universe[citation needed]. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man film is debatably one of the strongest examples of that influence[original research?]. In the early 1980s, Donner proposed to Warner Bros. a non-camp film version of Batman, to star Mel Gibson[citation needed].

Lethal Weapon (1987–1998)[edit]

Donner's next blockbuster film was Lethal Weapon, written by Shane Black. It starred Mel Gibson as a widowed narcotics detective with a suicidal bent "who breaks every rule for the sheer joy of it." It co-starred Danny Glover as a calm homicide detective with a loving family and consideration for retirement. The film's action sequences were considered "truly spectacular" and made the film one of the year's biggest hits.[1]

Donner directed six films starring Mel Gibson overall, creating a Lethal Weapon franchise with 3 sequels, the last one being Lethal Weapon 4, released in 1998. In an interview in 2000, Gibson described his impressions of Donner:

"Uncle Dick. He’s a great guy, just terrific. Extremely professional. He’s an old veteran and has an understanding of film that is the culmination of years of experience. He’s got his technical stuff down, his vision down. No matter what you say about Dick, it underrates him. He really loves what he’s doing, loves working with actors, and he allows you freedom to explore all kinds of areas. 'All right, kid,' he’ll say, and slap you on the back and let you try something, because even he doesn’t know sometimes. He’s just an extremely charming, talented, great fuckin’ guy. I love him."[7]

Richard Donner's cousin is actor Steve Kahan, who played a policeman tracking Otis in Superman: The Movie, and played Captain Ed Murphy in the Lethal Weapon movie franchise. Donner has cast Kahan in some of his other films too.

X-Men[edit]

He became the executive producer for the 2000 Marvel Comics film X-Men, then also an executive producer for the 2009 X-Men prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In addition, Donner's wife has produced all of the films in the X-Men film series under their Donners' Company brand.

On October 16, 2008, Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner received stars in a double ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their achievements in motion pictures, located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.[8][9][10]

Comic books[edit]

One of Donner's assistants in the late 1990s was comic book writer Geoff Johns. In October 2006, Donner, Johns and artist Adam Kubert became the new creative team on Action Comics, the publisher's most time honored publication and one of DC Comics' two main Superman titles. Together, Johns and Donner collaborated on the stories Last Son and Escape from Bizarro World, both of which have been released in collected book form. Donner and Johns also co-wrote a story for Action Comics #1000, released in April of 2018.

Book release[edit]

On November 10, 2010, Donner's authorized biography You're the Director... You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner by James Christie was published by BearManor Media.[11] The book features a foreword by actor Mel Gibson.

Script Magazine described the book as an "engaging portrait of a warm-hearted (if occasionally gruff) man who can justly be considered the modern equivalent of Victor Fleming and Michael Curtiz – a highly talented, professional director of motion pictures who has thrived in the studio system and made some pretty good pictures to boot."[12]

The Directors Guild of America called the book "a compelling study of an ebullient, ballsy risk-taker who was a director even before he was aware of it" that "ably captures Donner's joy in doing a job he loves."[13]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Director Producer Notes
1961 X-15 Yes
1968 Salt and Pepper Yes
1969 Lola aka "Twinky" Yes
1976 The Omen Yes
1978 Superman Yes
1980 Superman II Yes Uncredited;
with Richard Lester
Inside Moves Yes
1981 Omen III: The Final Conflict Yes
1982 The Toy Yes
1985 The Goonies Yes Yes
Ladyhawke Yes Yes
1987 Lethal Weapon Yes Yes
The Lost Boys Yes Directed by
Joel Schumacher
1988 Scrooged Yes Yes
1989 Lethal Weapon 2 Yes Yes
1991 Delirious Yes Directed by
Tom Mankiewicz
1992 Radio Flyer Yes
Lethal Weapon 3 Yes Yes
1993 Free Willy Executive Directed by
Simon Wincer
1994 Maverick Yes Yes
1995 Assassins Yes Yes
Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home Executive Directed by
Dwight H. Little
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight Yes Directed by
Ernest Dickerson
1996 Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood Yes Directed by
Gilbert Adler
1997 Conspiracy Theory Yes Yes
Free Willy 3: The Rescue Executive Directed by
Sam Pillsbury
1998 Lethal Weapon 4 Yes Yes
1999 Any Given Sunday Yes Directed by
Oliver Stone
2000 X-Men Executive Directed by
Bryan Singer
2002 Tales from the Crypt: Ritual Yes Directed by
Avi Nesher
2003 Timeline Yes Yes
2006 16 Blocks Yes
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut Yes
2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine Executive Directed by
Gavin Hood

Television[edit]

Year Title Notes
1960 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre 1 episode
The DuPont Show with June Allyson
1960-61 Wanted Dead or Alive 6 episode
1961 Letter to Loretta 5 episode
Route 66 1 episode
The Tall Man 2 episodes
Wagon Train 1 episode
1961-62 Have Gun – Will Travel 5 episodes
1962 The Detectives 1 episode
The Rifleman 7 episodes
1962-63 Sam Benedict 6 episodes
1963 The Eleventh Hour 2 episodes
Combat! 1 episode
The Nurses
1963-64 The Lieutenant 2 episode
The Twilight Zone 6 episodes
Mr. Novak 7 episodes
1964 The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters 1 episode
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 4 episode
1964-65 Gilligan's Island 3 episode
Perry Mason
1965 Twelve O'Clock High 4 episode
Get Smart 2 episodes
1966 The F.B.I. 1 episode
The Fugitive 2 episodes
It's About Time 1 episode
Jericho
The Wild Wild West 3 episode
The Felony Squad
1968-69 The Banana Splits Adventure Hour 6 episodes
1971 The Interns 1 episode
Sarge
Bearcats! 2 episodes
1971-72 Cade's County 3 episodes
1971-73 Cannon 4 episodes
1972 The Sixth Sense 1 episode
Ghost Story
Banyon
Ironside
The Bold Ones: The New Doctors 3 episodes
1973-74 Kojak
1974 The Streets of San Francisco 2 episodes
Sons and Daughters 3 episodes
Lucas Tanner 1 episode
Petrocelli
1975 Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic Television film
Bronk 2 episode
1989-92 Tales from the Crypt 3 episodes

Also executive producer

1992 Two-Fisted Tales Television film

with
Tom Holland
Robert Zemeckis

1993-94 Tales from the Cryptkeeper Executive producer
1997 Perversions of Science
1999 Made Men Producer

Television film

Bibliography[edit]

  • Action Comics (co-writer with Geoff Johns)
  • Last Son and Escape from Bizarro World (2009)
  • You're the Director... You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner (2010)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Barson, Michael. Who's Who of Hollywood Directors, Noonday Press (1995)
  2. ^ Vanity Fair: "The Rude Warrior" by Peter Biskind March 2011
  3. ^ a b c Variety Magazine: "Vet helmer’s long and boffo road" by Beverly Walker July 31, 1997
  4. ^ Haaretz: "Superman, Man of Schlemiel? - Superman, the invention of two U.S. Jews, is a profoundly Jewish character whose film history is entwined with that of American Jewry" by Nathan Abrams June 16, 2013
  5. ^ a b c Richard Donner on IMDb
  6. ^ "From The Archive: The Making Of Superman". Empire Magazine. January 2013. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  7. ^ Simon, Alex (June 29, 2015). "Great Conversations: Mel Gibson". HuffPost. 
  8. ^ "Richard Donner | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2017-05-07. 
  9. ^ "Lauren Shuler Donner | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2017-05-07. 
  10. ^ "Richard Donner - Hollywood Star Walk - Los Angeles Times". projects.latimes.com. Retrieved 2017-05-07. 
  11. ^ "You're the Director... – Amazon". Amazon.com. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
  12. ^ Morton, Ray (October 7, 2011). "Meet the Reader: Bookshelf". Script Magazine. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
  13. ^ Christie, James (2012). "You're the Director...You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner – Review". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 

External links[edit]