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Frankenheimer was born in New York, the son of a German-born Jewish father and an Irish-American Roman Catholic mother. He was raised in the Catholic faith, which he abandoned as an adult.
He graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1951. While serving as an Air Force Lieutenant during the Korean War, Frankenheimer directed service films for the Air Force and became interested in directing. Read Full Bio >>
Frankenheimer began his directing career in live television. Throughout the 1950s he directed over 140 episodes of shows like Playhouse 90, Climax, and Danger.
His first theatrical film was 1957's The Young Stranger, starring James MacArthur as a rebellious teenager. Frankenheimer helmed the production, based on a Climax episode called "Deal a Blow", at the age of 26.
He returned to television through the rest of the 1950s, only moving to film permanently in 1961 with The Young Savages, which teamed him for the first time with Burt Lancaster in a story of a young boy murdered by a New York gang.
His next film Birdman of Alcatraz, shot in 1961, came to him after production had already begun under another director. Burt Lancaster, who was producing, as well as starring, asked Frankenheimer to take over the film. As Frankenheimer describes in Charles Champlin's interview book, he told Frankenheimer the script was too long, but was told he had to shoot everything that was written.
Sure enough, the first cut of the film was four and a half hours long, the length Frankenheimer had predicted. Moreover, as he had said at the beginning, the film was constructed so that it couldn't be cut and still be coherent. Frankenheimer said the film would have to be rewritten and partly reshot. Lancaster was committed to star in Judgment at Nuremberg, so he made that film while Frankenheimer prepared the reshoots. The finished film, released in 1962, was a huge success and was nominated for four Oscars, including one for Lancaster's performance.
Frankenheimer was next hired by producer John Houseman to direct All Fall Down, a family drama starring Eva Marie Saint and Warren Beatty. Because of the production difficulties with Birdman of Alcatraz, All Fall Down was actually released before that film.
He followed this with his most iconic film, The Manchurian Candidate. Frankenheimer and producer George Axelrod bought Richard Condon's 1959 novel after it had already been turned down by many Hollywood studios. After getting Frank Sinatra to commit to the film, they secured backing from United Artists and shot the film in 1962.
The story of a Korean War vet, brainwashed by the Communist Chinese to assassinate the candidate for President co-starred Laurence Harvey and Janet Leigh. The film also starred Angela Lansbury as Harvey's evil mother. Frankenheimer had to fight to cast the actress, who had worked with him on All Fall Down, and was just two years older than Harvey. Sinatra's choice had been Lucille Ball. The film was nominated for two Oscars, including one for Lansbury.
The film was unseen for many years. Urban legend has it that the film was pulled from circulation due to the similarity of its plot to the death of President Kennedy the following year, but Frankenheimer states in the Champlin book that it was pulled because of a legal battle between producer Sinatra and the studio over Sinatra's share of the profits. In any event, it was re-released to great acclaim in 1988.
He followed this up with another hugely successful political thriller, Seven Days in May (1964). He again bought the rights to a bestselling book, this time by Charles Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, and again produced the film with his star, this time Kirk Douglas.
Douglas intended to play the role of the General who attempts to lead a coup against the President, who is about to sign a disarmament treaty with the Soviets. Douglas then decided he wanted to work with Burt Lancaster, with whom he had just costarred in another film. To entice Lancaster, Douglas agreed to let him play the General, while Douglas took the less showy lead role of the General's aide, who turns against him and helps the President.
The film, written by Rod Serling, and costarring Frederic March as the President and Ava Gardner was a great success and was nominated for two Oscars.
Frankenheimer's next film was again taken over from another director. The Train had already begun shooting in France when star Burt Lancaster had the original director fired and called in Frankenheimer to save the film. As he recounts in the Champlin book, Frankeheimer used the production's desperation to his advantage in negotiations. He demanded and got the following: his name was made part of the title, "John Frankenheimer's The Train"; the French co-director, demanded by French tax laws, was not allowed to ever set foot on set; he was given total final cut; and a Ferrari.
Again saddled with an unfilmably long script, Frankenheimer threw it out and took the locations and actors left from the previous film and began filming, with writers working in Paris as the production shot in Normandy. Although the poorly chosen locations caused endless weather delays, the finished film was an enormous success and the script was nominated for an Oscar.
Seconds (1966), starring Rock Hudson as an elderly man given the body of a young man through experimental surgery, was poorly received on its release, but has come to be one of the director's most respected and popular films in the decades since. The film is an expressionistic, part-horror, part-thriller, part-science fiction film about the obsession with eternal youth and misplaced faith in the ability of medical science to achieve it.
He followed this with his most spectacular production, 1966's Grand Prix. Shot on location at the Grand Prix races throughout Europe, on 65mm Cinerama cameras, the film starred James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. Introducing methods of photographing high-speed auto racing that had never been seen before, mounting cameras on the cars, at full speed and putting the stars in the actual cars, instead of against rear-projections, the film was an international success and won three Oscars, for editing, sound and sound effects.
His next film, 1967's all-star anti-war comedy The Extraordinary Seaman starred David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda and Mickey Rooney. The film was a failure at the box office and critically, and Frankenheimer calls it in the Champlin book, "the only movie I've made which I would say was a total disaster."
1968's The Fixer, about a Jew in Tsarist Russia, was shot in Communist Hungary. The film, starring Alan Bates, was not a major success, but Bates was nominated for an Oscar.
Frankenheimer was a close friend of Senator Robert Kennedy and in fact drove him to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night he was assassinated in June 1968.
Immediately after this, he filmed The Gypsy Moths, a romantic drama about a troupe of barnstorming skydivers and the impact they have on a small midwestern town. The celebration of Americana starred Frankenheimer regular Burt Lancaster. reuniting him with From Here to Eternity co-star Deborah Kerr, and also featured Gene Hackman. The film failed to find an audience, but Frankenheimer always stated that it was one of his personal favorites.
He followed this film with I Walk the Line in 1970. The film, starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld, about a Tennessee sheriff who falls in love with a moonshiner's daughter, was set to songs by Johnny Cash.
Frankenheimer's next project took him to Afghanistan. The Horsemen focused on the relationship between a father and son, played by Jack Palance and Omar Sharif. Sharif's character, an expert horseman, played the Afghan national sport of buzkashi.
His next film The Impossible Object, also known as The Story of a Love Story, suffered distribution difficulties, and was not widely released.
He followed this in 1973 with a four-hour film of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, starring Lee Marvin and the San Francisco-set 99 and 44/100 Per Cent Dead a crime black comedy starring Richard Harris.
With his fluent French and knowledge of the culture, Frankenheimer was next asked to direct French Connection II, set entirely in Marseille. Starring Gene Hackman, the film was a major success and got Frankenheimer his next job, Black Sunday in 1976.
Black Sunday, author Thomas Harris's only non-Hannibal Lecter novel, involves an Israeli Mossad agent (Robert Shaw), chasing a Palestinian terrorist (Marthe Keller) and a disgruntled Vietnam vet (Bruce Dern) who plan to blow up the Goodyear blimp over the Super Bowl. It was shot on location at the actual Super Bowl X in January 1976 in Miami, with the use of a real Goodyear blimp. The film tested very highly, and Paramount and Frankenheimer had high expectations for it. When it failed to become the hit that was expected, Frankenheimer has admitted he developed a serious problem with alcohol.
He says in Charles Champlin's biography that his alcohol problem caused him to do work that was below his own standards on his next film, 1979's Prophecy, an ecological monster movie about a mutant grizzly bear terrorizing a forest in Maine. The directors output lessened considerably after this film. In the next fifteen years, he only directed seven films. He was even forced to direct a lowbrow cop film called Dead Bang in 1989 starring Don Johnson. In 1990, Frankenheimer returned to his forte of the cold war political thriller when he made The Fourth War. This film starred Roy Scheider as a loose cannon Army colonel drawn into a dangerous personal war with a Russian officer.
Frankenheimer was able to make a comeback in the 1990s by returning to television. He directed two films for HBO in 1994: Against the Wall and The Burning Season that won him several awards and renewed acclaim. The director also helmed two films for Turner Network Television in 1996 and 1997, Andersonville and George Wallace that were highly praised. He even acted for the first time, playing a desperate U.S. General in The General's Daughter (1999) in a crucial cameo appearance.
His 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which he took over a few weeks into production from another director, was the cause of countless stories of production woes and personality clashes, and received scathing reviews. It was said that the veteran director could not stand Val Kilmer the young star of the film. When Kilmer's last scene was completed it was reported that Frankenheimer said "Now get that bastard off my set". In an interview, Frankenheimer refused to discuss the film saying only that he had a miserable time making it. However, his next film, 1998's Ronin, starring Robert de Niro, was a return to form, featuring Frankenheier's now trademark elaborate car chases woven into a labyrinthine espionage plot.
His last theatrical film, 2000's Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck, underperformed, but his final film, Path to War for HBO in 2002, brought him back to his strengths - political machinations, 60's America and character-based drama, and was nominated for numerous awards.
He was scheduled to direct a prequel to The Exorcist but died suddenly in Los Angeles, California, from a stroke due to complications following spinal surgery at the age of 72, shortly before filming started.
|2003||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television||Path to War (2002) (TV).||Nominated|
|2003||PGA Awards||Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television||Path to War (2002) (TV).||Nominated|
|2002||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special||Path to War (2002) (TV).||Nominated|
|2001||Hollywood Film Festival||Outstanding Achievement in Directing||Won|
|2001||DVD Exclusive Awards||Best Internet Video Premiere||Ambush (2001).||Nominated|
|1999||National Board of Review, USA||Won|
|1998||Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival||Robert Wise Director of Distinction||Won|
|1998||Casting Society of America, USA||Won|
|1998||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries or a Movie||George Wallace (1997) (TV).||Won|
|1998||San Diego World Film Festival||Won|
|1998||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials||George Wallace (1997) (TV).||Nominated|
|1997||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials||Andersonville (1996) (TV).||Nominated|
|1997||Razzie Awards||Worst Director||The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996).||Nominated|
|1997||CableACE Awards||Directing a Movie or Miniseries||George Wallace (1997) (TV).||Won|
|1997||Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA||Won|
|1996||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special||Andersonville (1996) (TV).||Won|
|1995||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials||Against the Wall (1994) (TV).||Nominated|
|1995||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special||The Burning Season (1994) (TV).||Won|
|1995||CableACE Awards||Directing a Movie or Miniseries||The Burning Season (1994) (TV).||Won|
|1994||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special||Against the Wall (1994) (TV).||Won|
|1994||Mystfest||For his whole works.||Won|
|1991||Deauville Film Festival||Year of the Gun (1991).||Nominated|
|1985||Mystfest||The Holcroft Covenant (1985).||Nominated|
|1983||CableACE Awards||Directing a Theatrical-Non-Musical Program||The Rainmaker (1982) (TV).||Nominated|
|1971||Laurel Awards||Best Director||Nominated|
|1967||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Grand Prix (1966).||Nominated|
|1966||Cannes Film Festival||Seconds (1966).||Nominated|
|1965||Golden Globes, USA||Best Motion Picture Director||Seven Days in May (1964).||Nominated|
|1965||Bodil Awards||Best Non-European Film||Seven Days in May (1964).||Won|
|1963||Golden Globes, USA||Best Motion Picture Director||The Manchurian Candidate (1962).||Nominated|
|1963||Directors Guild of America, USA||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).||Nominated|
|1963||Laurel Awards||Top Director||Nominated|
|1962||Venice Film Festival||Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).||Nominated|
|1962||Cannes Film Festival||All Fall Down (1962).||Nominated|
|1960||Hugo Awards||Best Dramatic Presentation||"Startime" (1959/I).||Nominated|
|1960||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama||"Startime" (1959/I).||Nominated|
|1959||Primetime Emmy Awards||Best Direction of a Single Dramatic Program - One Hour or Longer||"Playhouse 90" (1956).||Nominated|
|1958||Primetime Emmy Awards||Best Direction - One Hour or More||"Playhouse 90" (1956).||Nominated|
|1957||Primetime Emmy Awards||Best Direction - One Hour or More||"Playhouse 90" (1956).||Nominated|
|1956||Primetime Emmy Awards||Best Director - Live Series||"Climax!" (1954).||Nominated|
1st Annual Billboard Power 100 Honoring Clive Davis - Arrivals
1st Annual Billboard Power 100 Honoring Clive Davis - Arrivals