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Old Aug 25, 2014, 04:23 PM   #1
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Richard Attenborough Dies At 90

Richard Attenborough, an excellent acter, and perhaps even better director, has died. His performance in "Brighton Rock", a terrific film, was menacing, frightening, and masterful. And his film, Gandhi, with a then unknown Ben Kingsley, was a masterpiece.

Obit is from The Boston Globe...

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NEW YORK — Richard Attenborough, who after a distinguished stage and film acting career in Britain reinvented himself to become the internationally admired director of the monumental “Gandhi” and other films, died Sunday. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by his son, Michael, according to the BBC.

Until the early 1960s, Mr. Attenborough was a familiar actor in Britain but little known in the United States. In London he was the original detective in Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap.” On the British screen, he made an early mark as the sociopath Pinkie Brown in an adaptation of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” (1947).

But it was not until he appeared with his friend Steve McQueen and a sterling ensemble cast in the 1963 war film “The Great Escape,” his first Hollywood feature, that he found a trans-Atlantic audience. His role, as a British officer masterminding an escape plan from a German prisoner-of-war camp, was integral to one of the most revered and enjoyable of all World War II films.

That performance established him in Hollywood and paved the way for a series of highly visible roles. He was the alcoholic navigator alongside James Stewart’s pilot in “The Flight of the Phoenix” (1965), a survival story about a plane crash in the desert. He won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards for best supporting actor: first in “The Sand Pebbles” (1966), also starring McQueen and set during China’s civil war in the 1920s, and then in the whimsical “Doctor Dolittle” (1967), playing Albert Blossom, a circus owner, alongside Rex Harrison as the veterinarian who talks to animals. In “The Chess Players” (1977), by the renowned Indian director Satyajit Ray, he was a British general in 19th-century India.

Years later Mr. Attenborough became known to a new generation of filmgoers as the wealthy head of a genetic engineering company whose cloned dinosaurs run amok in Steven Spielberg’s box office hit “Jurassic Park.”

But for most of Mr. Attenborough’s later career, his acting was sporadic while he devoted much of his time to directing.

“Gandhi,” an epic but intimate biographical film released in 1982, was his greatest triumph. With little-known Ben Kingsley in the title role, the film traces Mohandas K. Gandhi’s life as an Indian lawyer who forsakes his job and possessions to lead his oppressed country’s fight for independence from Britain through a campaign of passive resistance, ending in his assassination.

Among the film’s critics were historians, who said it contributed to mythmaking, portraying Gandhi as a humble man who brought down an empire without acknowledging that the British, exhausted by World War II, were eager to unload their Indian possessions. Nevertheless, “Gandhi” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won eight, including best picture, best director, best cinematography, best original screenplay and best actor (Kingsley).

Mr. Attenborough brought the film to fruition after a 20-year battle to raise money and interest from often reluctant Hollywood producers, one of whom predicted that there would be no audience for “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.” Mr. Attenborough ended up producing it himself. He mortgaged his house in a London suburb, sold works of art and, as he put it, spent “so much money I couldn’t pay the gas bill.” No one expected it to recoup its $22 million cost, but it wound up earning 20 times that amount.

By then Mr. Attenborough had embraced the role of director, or “actor-manager,” as he called himself. His first foray into directing was “Oh! What a Lovely War” (1969), an offbeat satirical musical about World War I with an all-star cast including Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, John Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave.

In 1972 there was “Young Winston,” starring Simon Ward, about Churchill’s early years. In 1977 there was “A Bridge Too Far,” a cautionary World War II epic about a disastrous Allied defeat, which also fielded a starry cast, including Olivier, Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, and Michael Caine.

After “Gandhi” came a 1985 adaptation of “A Chorus Line,” Michael Bennett’s musical about Broadway hoofers. It was a misfire — a faithful but uneasy translation to film. Mr. Attenborough had more success with “Cry Freedom!” (1987), a stirring look at the friendship between the antiapartheid fighter Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) and a journalist (Kevin Kline) in South Africa in the 1970s.

Five years later, he returned with what was largely considered to be his biggest flop: “Chaplin,” a long, sprawling biography of the silent film star Charlie Chaplin. Despite an admired and Oscar-nominated performance by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role and a potent mix of drama and slapstick humor, “Chaplin” did poorly at the box office. Like many of Mr. Attenborough’s movies, the story of Chaplin, the lowly-born clown who defied the odds by achieving world renown, celebrated courage and endeavor. It was also an article of faith for him that his films told clear stories and said something significant to wide audiences.

“All my work questions the establishment, authority, intolerance, and prejudice,” he said.

Yet his life was entwined with the establishment. He was made a commander of the British Empire in 1967. He was knighted in 1976, made a baron in 1993, and given a seat in the House of Lords. He was variously chairman of the British Film Institute, Channel Four Television, Capital Radio, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

If his heroes were those who challenged institutions from without, he sought to effect change from within. He also led the Actors’ Charitable Trust (now the Actors’ Children’s Trust), which helps actors’ children and actors in old age. He was the moving spirit behind a center offering arts to the disabled in his native Leicester.

He was credited with inspiring Diana, Princess of Wales, whom he coached in public speaking at Prince Charles’s urging, to start her campaign against land mines. In his maiden speech in the House of Lords, he criticized the government for neglecting the arts.

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.

Richard Samuel Attenborough was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of Frederick Attenborough, an Anglo-Saxon scholar who became the principal of University College, Leicester, and his wife, Mary, a writer who crusaded for women’s rights and took in Basque and German refugees.

Unlike his brothers — David, who became a noted biologist and television broadcaster, and John, who went into the auto business — Richard Attenborough was an academic failure who was happiest when performing in plays. He determined on an acting career, he said, after seeing Chaplin in “The Gold Rush” in 1935 on a trip to London with his father.

“I saw people laughing and crying into their handkerchiefs,” he once said, “and on the train back to Leicester, I said to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.’ ”

Leaving school at 16, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and eventually married a fellow student, Sheila Sim, who became a well-known actress herself before abandoning the theater to look after their three children and become a magistrate.

Besides his wife and son, Michael, he leaves a daughter, Charlotte. Another daughter, Jane Holland, died in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 along with her daughter, Lucy.

In 2008, in collaboration with his longstanding associate Diana Hawkins, he published an autobiography, “Entirely Up to You, Darling.” The book chronicles a full and eventful life. But it ends with the death of his daughter and granddaughter in the 2004 tsunami, and his regretting the time he never spent with them.

“Work,” he wrote, “always took precedence.”
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Old Aug 25, 2014, 04:28 PM   #2
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What a great actor and director. Loved him in The Great Escape.
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Old Aug 25, 2014, 04:34 PM   #3
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Ghandi. 20 years, 300,000 extras, one funeral scene. Result: Oscar, Guinness World Record. Enough said.

Great actor, and director. RIP, Dickie.

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Old Aug 25, 2014, 05:20 PM   #4
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RIP Dickie. He was a true legend.

I got to meet him in Arnhem back in 1976, he was with Dirk Bogarde having lunch.
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Old Aug 25, 2014, 09:11 PM   #5
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Santa Claus and John Hammond

RIP to a Great Actor
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Old Aug 26, 2014, 01:45 PM   #6
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He did a great product placement job in Jurassic Park.
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Old Aug 26, 2014, 03:25 PM   #7
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He did a great product placement job in Jurassic Park.
Would you be so kind to remind me?

RIP RA
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Old Aug 26, 2014, 04:06 PM   #8
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To be honest, I thought he had already passed away years ago. A great actor regardless.
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Old Aug 26, 2014, 05:06 PM   #9
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Would you be so kind to remind me?

RIP RA
Well Newman did infect the system.
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Old Aug 27, 2014, 09:30 AM   #10
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Very sad to hear this, but like others have mentioned, I thought he had passed away awhile ago.

RIP Mr. Attenborough......
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Old Aug 27, 2014, 09:44 AM   #11
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He was one of the great method actors. R.I.P Sir.
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Old Aug 27, 2014, 10:40 AM   #12
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Santa Claus and John Hammond

RIP to a Great Actor
And Bartlett "Big X".
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Old Aug 27, 2014, 08:04 PM   #13
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RIP Sir Richard.

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And Bartlett "Big X".
And Lew Moran in an underrated role.
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Old Aug 28, 2014, 07:12 PM   #14
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And Bartlett "Big X".
Loved Richard Attenborough as a man, actor and director - and yes, he was excellent as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett - the 'Big X' (based loosely on the real life character of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell who was a real life 'Big X'); I also loved Cry Freedom, and Gandhi.

And, as an actor, he was superb as John Christie in '10 Rillington Place' - with John Hurt (also a superb actor, playing a genuinely gripping role as Timothy Evans).

A great man with a large and generous character, and someone who was an excellent actor, engaged political actor, excellent director and supportive mentor; a giant of British culture and cinema, he will be missed.
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Old Sep 7, 2014, 07:49 AM   #15
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RIP Dickie. He was a true legend.

I got to meet him in Arnhem back in 1976, he was with Dirk Bogarde having lunch.
Fascinating. I have meant to return to this interesting post: Did you manage to chat with them - a most interesting pair - at any great length?

I always got the impression that Dickie was a warm, generous, engaging presence, while Dirk Bogarde (and I have read almost all of his books) - who, while an excellent and very brave actor in some roles - somehow became more waspish, self-centred and ungenerous with the passing of time.
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Old Sep 8, 2014, 06:29 AM   #16
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Fascinating. I have meant to return to this interesting post: Did you manage to chat with them - a most interesting pair - at any great length?

I always got the impression that Dickie was a warm, generous, engaging presence, while Dirk Bogarde (and I have read almost all of his books) - who, while an excellent and very brave actor in some roles - somehow became more waspish, self-centred and ungenerous with the passing of time.
Not really I just said how much I was looking forward to seeing their new film “A Bridge to Far”. I also didn’t want to intrude as they were having lunch, they also seem to be in a serious conversation.

Of course afterwards I thought I should have asked for an autograph. Pity there were no mobile phones in those days.
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Old Sep 8, 2014, 07:35 AM   #17
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Not really I just said how much I was looking forward to seeing their new film “A Bridge to Far”. I also didn’t want to intrude as they were having lunch, they also seem to be in a serious conversation.

Of course afterwards I thought I should have asked for an autograph. Pity there were no mobile phones in those days.
Thanks a lot for your reply.

I have long liked Dickie, as an excellent actor, visionary director, and politically aware and very decent human being; Dirk Bogarde was a different character, very self-obsessed, and, while a very gifted and brave actor, his books (which are beautifully written) show a man who has become increasingly tetchy, unpleasant, ungenerous and occasionally downright nasty as time went on.

Of course, both of them had also served in WW2, and, as I recall, Dirk Bogarde may even have served in that region in late 1944 as a young officer. Certainly, both of them would have had memories of the war.

Yes, pity you didn't think of asking for an autograph; Dickie wouldn't have minded.
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Old Sep 8, 2014, 01:22 PM   #18
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Would you be so kind to remind me?
Butterfingers I guess. Then again he kind of portrayed those that eat them as fat, lazy slobs.
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Old Nov 19, 2014, 06:38 PM   #19
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What a great actor and director. Loved him in The Great Escape.
I agree, he did a excellent job!
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