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Obituary: Ted Post, film and television director

Born: 31 March, 1918, in New York City. Died: 20 August, 2013, in Santa Monica, California, aged 95

Ted Post was never lauded as a Hollywood auteur or celebrated with high-profile festival retrospectives, but he was an old-school, no-nonsense, straight-talking director who made hundreds of television episodes and films and played a vital role in the career of Clint Eastwood both as an actor and as a would-be film-maker.

They first worked together in the late 1950s and early 1960s on Rawhide, the long-running Western television series with which Eastwood first made his name. Eastwood was drover Rowdy Yates and Post directed him in around two dozen episodes.

Eastwood’s big cinema breakthrough came in the mid-1960s with the Dollars “spaghetti Westerns”, Italian productions, shot in Spain.

Back in the US, he chose Post to direct his first actual American Western Hang ’Em High and he worked with him again on Magnum Force, the second Dirty Harry movie.

According to Eastwood, Ted Post was one the three most influential directors in his career, along with Sergio Leone, who directed the Dollars movies, and Don Siegel, another veteran action director who worked repeatedly with Eastwood from early days. Eastwood attributed his appreciation of technical precision and budgetary discipline to Post.

Post did not get on quite so well with another Hollywood legend, who he also knew before he was a big star.

On the back of Hang ’Em High, Post was offered the chance to direct Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to what was one of the biggest hits of 1968. It would include a brief appearance by Charlton Heston, who had starred in the first Planet of the Apes film.

Post first encountered Heston in the 1940s when the latter was a struggling actor in New York. I met Post in California a decade ago when I wrote a book about the Planet of the Apes films, and he made no secret of the fact that he never liked Heston.

Post amusingly recalled going to see another actor in his New York City apartment and Heston answered the door in his underwear. Despite the circumstances, Heston left Post in no doubt that he believed he was destined for stardom.

“I felt a very strong egotist, who was determined to become an important actor, an important star,” Post told me. “I felt that very strongly, and it offended me a little bit.”

More than 20 years later, Post was not particularly looking forward to working with him on Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it was a commercial proposition. Post reckoned Heston remembered the first meeting, but neither ever mentioned it.

Born in Brooklyn in New York City in 1918, Post loved movies from an early age and his first job in the film business was working weekends as an usher at a local cinema. Initially he planned on becoming an actor, but got the chance to direct in theatre and that determined the course of his future career in television and films.

During the Second World War he served in the US Army and subsequently he resumed his career as a theatre director. He actually directed Bela Lugosi in a revival of his most famous screen role, that of Dracula, in a stage version in Connecticut in the late 1940s.

In the 1950s and 1960s Post found regular employment in the developing medium of television, working fast and on tight budgets on a wide variety of shows, including one-off live plays and successful landmark series, including Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone and Combat! He directed around 100 episodes of the soap opera Peyton Place.

Westerns dominated television at the time, and, as well as Rawhide, Post had stints directing Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Laramie and The Virginian, establishing himself as one of the leading directors in the field.

He also made a couple of films in the 1950s, The Peacemaker and The Legend of Tom Dooley, both Westerns, neither particularly notable.

After A Fistful of Dollars and its sequels, Eastwood was already a sufficiently big name to launch his own production company, Malpaso, and set up a deal with United Artists, personally overseeing production of his next film Hang ’Em High and hiring his own director, turning to his old friend and mentor from Rawhide, Ted Post.

Hang ’Em High came out in 1968, Magnum Force five years later and both were hits. In the meantime Eastwood had become an even bigger star, an established producer with real clout, and he had made the leap to director himself. Post found Eastwood taking over at points during the making of of Magnum Force. The relationship became a little strained and it was their last work together.

During the 1970s Post also directed several other films, including The Harrad Experiment and the war film Go Tell the Spartans, with Burt Lancaster. But he still continued to work largely in television.

In the 1980s he directed the pilot episode of Cagney and Lacey and a television remake of Stagecoach, starring Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

He is survived by Thelma, to whom he was married for 72 years, a son, who is dean of Yale law school, and a daughter, who is a psychologist.

BRIAN PENDREIGH

 

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