Robert Altman (1925–2006)Director | Producer | Writer
Date of Birth 20 February 1925, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Date of Death 20 November 2006, Los Angeles, California, USA (complications from leukemia)
Birth Name Robert Bernard Altman
Height 6' (1.83 m)
Robert Altman was born on February 20th, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri, to B.C. (an insurance salesman) and Helen Altman. He entered St. Peters Catholic school at the age six, and spent a short time at a Catholic high school. From there, he went to Rockhurst High School. It was then that he started exploring the art of exploring sound with the cheap tape recorders available at the time. He was then sent to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri where he attended through Junior College. In 1945, he enlisted in the Air Force and became a copilot of a B-24. After his discharge from the military, he became fascinated by movies and he and his first wife, LaVonne Elmer, moved to Hollywood, where Altman tried acting (appearing in the film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)), songwriting (he wrote a musical intended for Broadway, "The Rumors are Flying"), and screen-writing (he co-wrote the screenplay for the film Bodyguard (1948) and wrote the story (uncredited) for Christmas Eve (1947)), but he could not get a foot hold in Tinseltown. After a brief fling as publicity director with a company in the business of tattooing dogs, Altman finally gave up and returned to his hometown of Kansas City, where he decided he wanted to do some serious work in filmmaking. An old friend of his recommended him to a film production company in Kansas City, the Calvin Co., who hired him in 1950. After a few months of work in writing scripts and editing films, Altman began directing films at Calvin. It was here (while working on documentaries, employee training films, industrial and educational films and advertisements) that he learned much about film making. All in all, Altman pieced together sixty to sixty-five short films for Calvin on every subject imaginable, from football to car crashes, but he kept grasping for more challenging projects. He wrote the screenplay for the Kansas City-produced feature film Corn's-A-Poppin' (1955), he produced and directed several television commercials including one with the Eileen Ford Agency, he co-created and directed the TV series The Pulse of the City (1953) which ran for one season on the independent Dumont network, and he even had a formative crack at directing local community theater. His big-screen directorial debut came while still at Calvin with The Delinquents (1957) and, by 1956, he left the Calvin Co., and went to Hollywood to direct Alfred Hitchcock's TV show. From here, he went on to direct a large number of television shows, until he was offered the script for MASH (1970) in 1969. He was hardly the producer's first choice - more than fifteen other directors had already turned it down. This wasn't his first movie, but it was his first success. After that, he had his share of hits and misses, but The Player (1992) and, more recently, Gosford Park (2001) were particularly well-received.
Kathryn Reed (1 April 1959 - 20 November 2006) (his death) (2 children)
Lotus Corelli (21 November 1952 - 1959) (divorced) (2 children)
LaVonne Elmer (8 June 1946 - 1951) (divorced) (1 child)
His movies often contain overlapping dialogue, where several characters speak at once.
In his films, we often see and hear characters from outside a window, or from a distance.
Frequently directs large ensemble pieces
Social commentary themes
Using zoom lenses.
He came up with a scheme to "Identi-Code" pets. He would tattoo a number on the cat or dog. Somehow, he managed to tattoo President Harry S. Truman's dog.
He designed a watch called "Time to Reflect" for Swatch in 1995 to commemorate the centenary of the birth of cinema.
His son, Mike Altman, wrote the lyrics for "Suicide is Painless," the theme song for MASH (1970), when he was only 14 years old.
Stepdaughter, Konni Corriere (with Reed), born 1946.
Son, Robert Reed Altman, with Kathryn Reed, was born in 1960.
Son, Matthew R. Altman was adopted at birth in 1966.
Son, Stephen Altman, with Lotus Corelli, was born in 1957.
Son, Mike Altman, with Lotus Corelli, was born in 1955.
Daughter, Christine Altman, with LaVonne Elmer, was born in 1947.
Was voted the 17th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985". Pages 29-39. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.
Worked with (the late) Vic Morrow on the TV series Combat! (1962), with Vic's daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh in several films including Short Cuts (1993), and with Vic's ex-wife (and Jennifer's mother) Barbara Turner on The Company (2003).
Like the late Richard Hooker, author of the book "MASH" (on which his film MASH (1970) was based), Altman greatly disliked the TV series that followed and said that it didn't make the same anti-war point that his film made.
Directed 6 different actresses in Oscar-nominated performances: Sally Kellerman, Julie Christie, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith.
Close friends with actress Julie Christie and Sally Kellerman.
While working on McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), he and Warren Beatty hated each other so much that Beatty later admitted that, had he produced the film himself, he would have killed Altman.
He is a member of the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Advisory Board.
In the recent past, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards (founded in 1935) were second in prestige only to the Academy Awards (and some actors and filmmakers such as double Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson considered it a superior honor) and were a major influence on subsequent Oscar nominations. The Golden Globe Awards, which were plagued by scandals related to its small, unrepresentative voting body and to self-dealing with subsequent awardees, had been forced off the air by the Federal Communications Commission and were regarded as something of a joke by more serious cinephiles. During the 1976 presidential election year, Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville (1975) won Best Picture and Supporting Actress (Lily Tomlin), and Altman was named the top director by the NYFCC. All failed to repeat at the Academy Awards (though Keith Carradine won an Oscar for Best Song.) Altman -- discussing Nashville (1975)'s loss of the Best Picture Oscar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) earlier that year -- characterized the NYFCC Awards as the 'New York primary' leading up to the Oscar 'election'. Continuing with the metaphor in his August 1976 Interview with Bruce Williamson in "PLAYBOY Magazine" (Vol. 23, Iss. 8), Altman said that "Cuckoo's Nest" had had an inside advantage as it had won the 'California primary' (the Golden Globes). At the time, the Golden Globes, though a joke in terms of their integrity, were still a potent predictor of eventual Oscar success (and would come to be the second-most important bellwether of the Academy Awards by the 1980s and '90s).
Made his London theatrical debut in early 2006 directing Arthur Miller's play "Resurrection Blues" at the Old Vic under the aegis of Kevin Spacey, the Artistic Director of the venerable London company. Altman chose an eclectic cast for the Miller play featured, including Maximilian Schell, James Fox (who replaced John Wood before previews), and American movie actors Matthew Modine and Jane Adams. The English critics panned "Resurrection Blues", partly due to the clash in acting styles of the disparate cast. Adams walked out after a matinée on April 5, 2006, and was replaced by her understudy for subsequent performances. No explanation was given for her departure from the production. The play was scheduled to close a week early in mid-April due to poor ticket sales. Altman claimed after the poor debut of the play that he was not very familiar with the script, and didn't really understand the play. Critics said that his confusion obviously affected the cast, many of whom seemed not to understand the play, and some of whom seemed to have trouble remembering lines. While not an outright debacle, the play is another relative failure characterizing Spacey's troubled tenure as Old Vic chief.
Upon receiving an honorary Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards, Altman revealed that he had been the recipient of a heart transplant approximately 10 years prior, and hadn't gone public out of fear that it would hinder his ability to get work.
His episodes of Bonanza (1959) often starred the Hoss character played by Dan Blocker and frequently were humorous.
When directing episodes of the TV show Bonanza (1959), Altman became close friends with actor Dan Blocker, who portrayed Hoss. Altman wanted Blocker to play the Roger Wade character in his version of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (1973), but he died before the commencement of shooting. The movie was dedicated to Blocker.
It is said that Altman, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, was radicalized by a trip to Vietnam to shoot footage of the war in the 1960s. He has never talked about this episode in his life and career.
Helped Shelley Duvall and Gary Chason begin their careers by giving them jobs on Brewster McCloud (1970).
Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Directors Branch).
Paul Thomas Anderson was employed as a standby director for A Prairie Home Companion (2006) for insurance purposes, and in the event that ailing 80-year-old Altman was unable to finish shooting.
Has twice used a blonde woman in a white trench coat to symbolize death: Sally Kellerman in Brewster McCloud (1970) and Virginia Madsen in A Prairie Home Companion (2006).
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Profiled in "Conversations with Directors: An Anthology of Interviews from Literature/Film Quarterly", E.M. Walker, D.T. Johnson, eds. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.
Is the only director to win first prize at the three major European film festivals: he won the Palm D'Ore at the Cannes Film Festival for MASH (1970) in 1970, the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) in 1976 and Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Short Cuts (1993) in 1993.
Directed both Susannah York and Shelley Duvall to the Best Actress Award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. York winning for her role as Cathryn in Images (1972), and Duvall for her portrayal of Millie Lammoreaux in 3 Women (1977).
Being a great admirer of German actress-singer Ute Lemper, he planned to cast her in a remake of Mata Hari (1931), but the movie never came about. He instead gave her a (memorable) part in Ready to Wear (1994).
Uncle of Richard Sarafian Jr., Tedi Sarafian, Damon B. Sarafian, Deran Sarafian and Katherine Sarafian.
Was a Democrat.
Brother-in-law of Richard C. Sarafian, who married his sister, Joan Altman.
Was a mentor to Tim Robbins, Tom Skerritt, and Alan Rudolph.
Recommended Ned Beatty for the role of Arthur Jensen in Director Sidney Lumet's Network.
Five of Robert Alman's films, Nashville(1975), 3 Women(1977), Secret Honor(1984), Tanner '88(1988), and Short Cuts(1993), are in the Criterion Collection.
14 other film directors passed on directing M*A*S*H before it was offered to Robert Altman and he accepted.
Robert Altman was one of film critic Pauline Kael's favorite directors, and she was also a fan of many of his films.