Altman, Robert 1925-2006

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Altman, Robert 1925-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born February 20, 1925, in Kansas City, MO; died of complications from cancer, November 20, 2006, in Los Angeles, CA. Film and television director and author. Altman was an award-winning filmmaker best known for such movies as M*A*S*H, Nashville, and The Player. After attending Wentworth Military Academy, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943. He served as a B-24 pilot, flying almost four dozen missions in the South Pacific theater. After World War II, Altman moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make his way into Hollywood. Attempting to break into show business by acting, he was under contract with 20th Century-Fox. Acting in Hollywood did not pan out for him, however, so he wrote lyrics for a Broadway musicals and helped write the story for what later became the 1948 film Bodyguard. Still finding little luck in show business, Altman left Hollywood for his home town, where he joined industrial film company Calvin Co. in 1950. He worked there through 1957, learning the various aspects of film production. Eventually, Calvin Co. promoted him to director. Altman began branching out into mainstream films, and in 1957, he wrote and directed his first feature-length movie, The Delinquents, and codirected a documentary on actor James Dean. On the strength of The Delinquents, Alfred Hitchcock hired Altman to direct episodes of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Altman thus built a steady career in television until the late 1960s, when he returned to filmmaking. After the movies Countdown (1968) and That Cold Day in the Park (1969), Altman directed and cowrote his breakthrough movie, M*A*S*H (1970), a project that over a dozen other directors had rejected. The film, a black comedy about the Korean War, was a huge success and earned Altman a Golden Palm Award from the Cannes Film Festival, as well as his first Academy Award nomination. As a director and sometime screenwriter, he went on to create other successful films, including McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975). After Nashville, however, Altman's popularity began to decline, and the panned 1980 movie Popeye seemed to punctuate his fall from critical favor. For Altman, the 1980s were rebuilding years, during which he worked in television and off Broadway. He did score a hit with the HBO miniseries Tanner '88, though, which earned him an Emmy Award for directing. Then, in 1990, Altman reclaimed his reputation with the successful film Vincent & Theo, which was followed two years later by another hit, The Player. Despite his occasionally rocky career, Altman always had steady work. He continued directing films until his final months. More recent projects include Cookie's Fortune (1999), Gosford Park (2001), and A Prairie Home Companion (2006). Over his long career, Altman earned five Academy Award nominations for directing, but he did not win until 2006, when he was presented with an honorary Oscar. Often thought of as an actor's director because of his desire to work closely with his cast members, Altman steadfastly refused to film big budget productions designed to be blockbuster hits. Instead, he always sought to produce quirky films of quality, gaining him the respect of peers and audiences alike.



Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2006, pp. A1, A20-21.

New York Times, November 22, 2006, pp. A1, C11; November 25, 2006, p. A2; November 28, 2006, p. A2.

Times (London, England), November 22, 2006, p. 67.

Washington Post, November 22, 2006, p. B7.