|Born||Robert Burgess Aldrich
August 9, 1918
Cranston, Rhode Island
|Died||December 5, 1983
Los Angeles, California
|Occupation||Film director, film producer|
(m. 1941–1965; divorced)
(m. 1966–1983; his death)
Robert Burgess Aldrich (August 9, 1918 – December 5, 1983) was an American film director, writer and producer, notable for such films as Vera Cruz (1954), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Big Knife (1955), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Longest Yard (1974).
Film critic John Patterson summarized his career in 2012: "He was a punchy, caustic, macho and pessimistic director, who depicted corruption and evil unflinchingly, and pushed limits on violence throughout his career. His aggressive and pugnacious film-making style, often crass and crude, but never less than utterly vital and alive, warrants — and will richly reward — your immediate attention."
Aldrich was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of Lora Elsie (Lawson) and newspaper publisher Edward Burgess Aldrich. He was a grandson of U.S. Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and a cousin of U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. He was educated at the Moses Brown School in Providence, and studied economics at the University of Virginia where he also was a letterman on the 1940 football team.
In 1941, he dropped out of college for a minor, $50-a-week clerical job at RKO Radio Pictures. In doing so, he was also dropped by his family, and lost a potential stake in Chase Bank he would have inherited. Indeed, it's been said that "No American film director was born as wealthy as Aldrich — and then so thoroughly cut off from family money."
He quickly rose in film production as an assistant director, and worked with Jean Renoir (in The Southerner (1945)), William A. Wellman (The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)), Abraham Polonsky, Robert Rossen, Joseph Losey, Max Ophüls (Caught (1949)), and Charlie Chaplin, with the latter as an assistant on Limelight.
Aldrich had worked on crews for films starring Burt Lancaster and Lancaster hired him to direct Apache (1954). It was a big hit and Aldrich's next movie, also for Lancaster, Vera Cruz (1954), did even better.
The success of these movies enabled Aldrich to turn producer for his next movies. Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was a film noir based on a novel by Mickey Spillane. The Big Knife (1955) was based on a play by Clifford Odets.
Aldrich worked on The Garment Jungle (1957), but was fired during filming. He was unable to get a job until he had an offer from Hammer Films and Seven Arts to make Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) in Germany. While there, he was head of the jury at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival. He stayed in Europe to make The Angry Hills (1959) for MGM in Greece.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Aldrich optioned the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and turned it into a film featuring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as spiteful sisters and faded child-actresses. It was a massive hit and restored Aldrich's commercial reputation.
He made a comic Western with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, 4 for Texas (1963), then did a follow up to Baby Jane, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), with Bette Davis as a Southern woman who lives in a mansion and thinks she is going insane (both Joan Crawford and Davis were to appear, but Crawford left the film).
He made the all-male action film The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).
Aldrich had his biggest hit to date with The Dirty Dozen (1967). The success of The Dirty Dozen allowed him to establish his own film production studio for some time.
The Longest Yard
From his marriage to Harriet Foster (1941–1965), Robert Aldrich had four children, all of whom work in the film business — Adell, William, Alida and Kelly. In 1966, after divorcing Harriet, he married fashion model Sibylle Siegfried.
Death and legacy
Aldrich died of kidney failure on December 5, 1983 in a Los Angeles hospital.
In 2012, John Patterson of The Guardian commented that Aldrich is "a wonderful director nearly 30 years dead now, whose body of work is in danger of slipping over the horizon." Japanese film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa noted Aldrich's influence on him.
- The Southerner (1945) (assistant director)
- The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) (assistant director)
- Caught (1949) (uncredited director of reshoots)
- When I Grow Up (1950) (assistant director)
- Limelight (1952) (assistant director)
- Big Leaguer (1953) (director)
- World for Ransom (1954) (uncredited director, producer)
- Apache (1954) (director)
- Vera Cruz (1954) (director)
- Kiss Me Deadly (1955) (director, producer)
- The Big Knife (1955) (director, producer)
- Autumn Leaves (1956) (director)
- Attack (1956) (director, producer)
- The Gamma People (1956) (story)
- The Garment Jungle (1957) (uncredited director)
- Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) (director, writer)
- The Angry Hills (1959) (director)
- The Last Sunset (1961) (director)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) (director)
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (director, producer)
- 4 for Texas (1963) (director, writer, producer)
- Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) (director, producer)
- The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) (director, producer)
- The Dirty Dozen (1967) (director)
- The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) (director, producer)
- The Killing of Sister George (1968) (director, producer)
- The Greatest Mother of Them All (short film) (1969) (director, producer)
- What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) (producer)
- Too Late the Hero (1970) (director, writer, producer)
- The Grissom Gang (1971) (director, producer)
- Ulzana's Raid (1972) (director)
- Emperor of the North (1973) (director)
- The Longest Yard (1974) (director)
- Hustle (1975) (director, producer)
- Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) (director)
- The Choirboys (1977) (director)
- The Frisco Kid (1979) (director)
- ...All the Marbles (1981) (director)
- Rebellion (late 1960s) — a Western
- The Crowded Bed (early 1970s)
- The Greatest Mother of Them All (1969) — film about a broken down director living with a young girl – Aldrich made a 30-minute short with Peter Finch, trying to raise funding
- Rage of Honor (1970s) — Western set in 1929 about an aging cowboy
- Coffee, Tea or Me? (early 1970s) — comedy about virginal air stewardess
- Patterson, John (December 7, 2012). "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane should remind us of the talent of Robert Aldrich". The Guardian.
- virginiasports.com "All Time Letter Winners"
- Thomson, David (2010). "Iconoclasts/ Robert Aldrich:Going for Broke". DGA Quarterly (Spring): 57. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
- mr. film noir stays at the table Silver, Alain. Film Comment8.1 (Spring 1972): 14-23.
- "9th Berlin International Film Festival: Juries". berlinale.de. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
- Gonzalez, Ed (February 10, 2005). "Bright Future – DVD Review – Slant Magazine". Slant Magazine.
- Robert Aldrich biography and credits at the British Film Institute's Screenonline Entry written by Robert Shail.
- Arnold, Edwin T. (1986). The Films and Career of Robert Aldrich. University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 9780870495045. Unavailable online.
- "Aldrich & Associates special section". Screening the Past (10). 2000. A special issue of a film journal that emerged from a symposium devoted to Aldrich & Associates on August 2, 1998 in Melbourne.
- Silver, Alain (1995). What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?: His Life and His Films. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780879101855. A book on Aldrich's career by a critic and filmmaker.
- Silver, Alain (May 2002). "Robert Aldrich". Senses of Cinema (20). Silver's contribution to the journal's "Great Directors" series.
- Williams, Tony (2004). Body and Soul: The Cinematic Vision of Robert Aldrich. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810849938.
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