Daily | Richard Attenborough, 1923 – 2014

Richard Attenborough

Richard Attenborough

Actor, director and producer Richard Attenborough, who would have turned 91 on Friday, has died, reports the BBC.

“After forging a career as an actor in films including Brighton Rock and The Great Escape,” writes Chris Johnston for the Guardian, “he became an acclaimed film director, winning two Academy awards for Gandhi in 1982. The film went on to win eight in total.”

Variety‘s Carmel Dagan suggests that he “was best known to American audiences for his role in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and its first sequel as park creator John Hammond… The stocky British filmmaker was awarded a life peerage by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993 for his stage work and for his efforts behind and in front of the camera to promote British cinema. While Attenborough had been a prominent character actor in his native country since the early 1940s, he also achieved much as a producer, motion picture executive and cultural impresario. At various times he was chairman of the British Film Institute, Channel 4, Goldcrest Films, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and Capital Radio and a director of the Young Vic and the British Film Institute. In the late ’70s, he helped preserve and restore London’s Duke of York Theater.”

“Attenborough won two British Academy Awards for his acting,” notes Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter: “Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964). He won two Golden Globes for his acting in The Sand Pebbles (1966) and Dr. Dolittle (1967), and one for direction, Oh! What A Lovely War (1969). An actor who appeared in more than 70 films, Attenborough also won the top acting award at the Berlin Festival for The Angry Silence. Under his direction, a succession of actors scored Oscar nominations, including Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom (1987), Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, and Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands (1993).”

Back to the BBC: “He and his brothers David, the television naturalist, and John were brought up by fervently do-gooding parents… Both father and mother were Labour Party activists whose commitment extended to adopting two Jewish refugee girls from Germany when World War II broke out. Attenborough inherited a belief in the importance of community and society. Apart from a brief flirtation with the Social Democrats he was a lifelong member of the Labour Party, and much of his work reflected his political beliefs.”

Updates, 8/25: Attenborough “had three distinct personas for those who followed his career in the entertainment world,” suggests Ronald Bergan in the Guardian: “the baby-faced, pint-sized actor, at turns, cocky and cowardly, later rotund in mostly creepy character roles; the film director of epics such as Gandhi, and Chaplin; and Lord ‘Dickie,’ ubiquitous, ebullient and lachrymose, presiding over a host of charitable organisations. However, each image merges into one complete picture of a cheerful humanitarian and imperishable idealist who, for over half a century, played an integral part in British cultural life.”

Also in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw: “Some of his work with Bryan Forbes is of great interest: Forbes wrote The Angry Silence in 1960, in which Attenborough plays a young factory worker who comes close to a nervous breakdown because he has been sent to Coventry by his mates for breaking a strike. This is a film which, like John Boulting’s famous I’m All Right Jack, is sometimes looked at a little askance for being apparently anti-union, but it is actually bold and disquieting, not entirely dissimilar in spirit to Basil Dearden’s Victim. Similarly intriguing is Richard Attenborough’s role in the creepy 1964 thriller Seance on a Wet Afternoon (again, scripted by Forbes) as the husband of a phony spiritualist.” And producer David Puttnam: “In a world overused to hyperbole, ‘irreplaceable’ may sound almost trite—but in the case of Richard Attenborough, it’s a word hard-won, and all too accurate. A massively gifted man, he was also the best possible friend.”

“He was shiny and devious as General Outram in Satyajit Ray’s The Chess Players, an egomaniacal CEO softened by kindliness in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and Kris Kringle, the elderly man with the real beard and the impossibly thick, red Santa suit, in the 1994 retelling of Miracle on 34th Street.” But for the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, “Attenborough’s odd-film-out” is “a weird psychological chiller that’s ripe for rediscovery. In Magic (1978), [Anthony] Hopkins was a troubled ventriloquist who finds his id pouring out through an apparently homicidal dummy, Fats. Magic hardly sits neatly alongside Gandhi and Chaplin, but it’s shot through with the same unease and malice as Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock—the film presents us with another baby-face with turmoil behind it.”

Also in the Telegraph, David Gritten: “He had nicknames for almost everyone who walked on to his sets (I was ‘Captain’ Gritten, for some reason), and he courteously addressed individual extras as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’—more respect than they’d expect from a filmmaker. Most actors seemed to love working for him; he strove to put them at ease. I visited the Chaplin set twice: in London, and in Los Angeles, where on one occasion a young British actor in a small role fluffed a line three times. Dickie was unfazed. ‘Oh, BAD luck, darling, bad LUCK!’ he cried, giving the young man a hug. Again: more than you’d expect.”

From Benedict Nightingale in the New York Times: “Christopher Hart, writing in The Sunday Times in London, called him ‘an ennobled Champagne socialist of the old school, a mass of good causes and inconsistencies.’ On the set he was known for his genial charm, calling everyone ‘darling,’ however mighty or marginal they were. William Goldman, the screenwriter of A Bridge Too Far, called Mr. Attenborough ‘by far the finest, most decent human being’ he had ever met in the movie business.”

EW‘s Anthony Breznican tells a few stories about the friendship between Attenborough and Steven Spielberg, and for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen collects a few tweeted tributes.

Updates, 8/31: “Dick always said he was fortunate enough to know and have worked with Ray on The Chess Players,” writes Pamela Cullen, Chair of the Satyajit Ray Foundation. “Dick was always proud that he was the first and principal patron of the Satyajit Ray Foundation, which was set up in 1993, and he was incredibly generous in supporting it financially and on occasions presenting the annual Ray award to the directors of first feature films that demonstrated the qualities present in Ray’s own work.”

For the Dissolve‘s Noel Murray, “while Attenborough was honored most as a director (it’s hard to argue with two Oscars), he showed the most range and had the most persistent big-screen presence as an actor. Anyone who could make his first big impression in movies as a murderous psychopath and then play Santa Claus in a Miracle on 34th Street remake nearly 50 years later was a performer with a strong understanding of humanity at its darkest and lightest. That’s the reason why Attenborough’s performance as John Hammond was so indelible: The old billionaire’s enthusiasm and arrogance go hand-in-hand. Hammond’s a malevolent force with a benevolent spirit. And if there’s one characteristic that binds all the work that Attenborough did over the decades, it was his willingness to confront the injustice in the world, and to start by looking in the mirror.”

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