Obituary: Peter Bogdanovich,  Oscar-nominated director of The Last Picture Show

Peter Bogdanovich helped initiate a golden age of ’70s Hollywood moviesPeter Bogdanovich helped initiate a golden age of ’70s Hollywood movies
Peter Bogdanovich helped initiate a golden age of ’70s Hollywood movies
Peter Bogdanovich, film director. Born: 30 June, 1939 in Kingston, New York State. Died: 6 January, 2022 in Los Angeles, aged 82

Peter Bogdanovich was a film critic turned director who helped initiate a golden age of Hollywood movies in the 1970s before his career was caught up in a mess of scandal, murder and that unforgivable sin of repeated box-office failure.

He made Cybill Shepherd a star with a leading role in The Last Picture Show and then cast her in a couple of big-budget duds. They were partners on screen and off for much of the 1970s before Bogdanovich took up with former Playboy pin-up Dorothy Stratten and cast her alongside Audrey Hepburn in They All Laughed.

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But nobody was laughing by the time the film came out. At a meeting to discuss finances, Stratten’s estranged husband shot her dead and then killed himself. 20th Century-Fox cancelled the film’s release, Bogdanovich tried to distribute it himself and ended up bankrupt.

Despite a 30-year age difference he married Stratten’s half-sister. “She was like a contact with Dorothy,” he said. There were suggestions that he tried to style her to look like Dorothy, in an echo of the plot of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo. The marriage ended in divorce.

Bogdanovich struggled to get backing for projects after They All Laughed. He was however a trained actor and became familiar to a new generation in the recurring role of Dr Kupferberg, Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist’s psychiatrist in The Sopranos in the 2000s.

Bogdanovich was born into a Jewish family upstate New York, though he grew up largely in Manhattan. His father was an artist from Serbia, his mother came from a wealthy Austrian family. They arrived in the US in May 1939, Bogdanovich was born in July and war broke out in Europe in September.

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Films provided one of the few points of contact between Bogdanovich and his father. “I was born. And then I liked movies,” Bogdanovich said. He studied at Stella Adler’s acting studio in New York and had a few small roles in film and television.

He also began writing about films for various publications, including the hugely influential French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. He programmed old movies for MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, and interviewed some of cinema’s legendary directors, including Hitchcock, John Ford and Orson Welles.

These meetings were also essentially his film school and producer Roger Corman gave him a chance to put what he had learned into practice.

Corman was the undisputed master of low-budget exploitation movies, anything from surf to horror, aimed at young drive-in audiences. But he provided early breaks for many actors and directors, including Jack Nicholson, giving them relatively free reign as long as they delivered on tight budgets and made money.

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Targets was directed and co-written by Bogdanovich. He developed the story with his first wife Polly Platt, a writer, producer and designer, whom he married in 1962. Inspired by a real-life spree killing, Targets attracted glowing reviews, particularly for the way in which Bogdanovich handled suspense.

Bogdanovich’s second and final Corman feature Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, directed under the pseudonym Derek Thomas, did not excite much critical fervour. But his next film The Last Picture Show brought him Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and delivered acting Oscars for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman.

An elegiac drama set in a dusty, little, one-horse town in Texas and shot in glorious monochrome, it invited comparisons with Orson Welles and Citizen Kane, it was a critical and commercial success and helped empower a new generation of young auteur Hollywood directors that included Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas.

Little did anyone realise how closely Bogdanovich’s screen career would come to resemble that of Welles, with Kane and The Last Picture Show proving their highpoints. Fallen on hard times, Welles lived for a time in Bogdanovich’s Bel Air mansion, just as the bankrupt Bogdanovich would later stay in Tarantino’s guest house.

There was further success with the comedy What’s Up Doc?, with Barbra Streisand, and Paper Moon, which made history when Tatum O’Neal won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at the age of ten.

Then came three big-budget flops, an adaptation of Henry James’s Daisy Miller and the musical At Long Last Love, both of which starred Cybill Shepherd, for whom Bogdanovich left his first wife and young family, and Nickelodeon, which reunited Paper Moon’s father and daughter team of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal.

Suddenly the public were ignoring him, the critics turned on him and studio doors were closing. It did not help that Bogdanovich had developed a reputation for arrogance.

With his hangdog expression, big glasses, receding hairline and trademark cravat, he was not exactly a matinee idol but glamour model Dorothy Stratten left her husband for him, with tragic consequences.

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After Stratten’s murder, Bogdanovich took four years out from film-making and wrote a book called The Killing of the Unicorn, which suggested Playboy boss Hugh Heffner was culpable for the way in which he commodified her.

Heffner responded by accusing Bogdanovich of seducing Dorothy Stratten’s half-sister Louise not long after Dorothy’s murder, when Louise was only 13. He denied it, though they married in 1988, when she was 20, and divorced in 2001.

In 1985 Mask, a film about a digfigured teenager, starring Cher and Eric Stoltz, marked Bogdanovich’s return to favour with Hollywood and audiences. He would direct another six feature films over the next 30 years. He is survived by two daughters from his first marriage.


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