John Schlesinger

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John Schlesinger

John Schlesinger.jpg
Schlesinger in 1974
John Richard Schlesinger

(1926-02-16)16 February 1926
London, England
Died25 July 2003(2003-07-25) (aged 77)
Alma mater University of Oxford
Years active1953–2003

John Richard Schlesinger CBE ( /ˈʃlɛsɪnər/ ; 16 February 1926 – 25 July 2003) was an English film and stage director, and actor. He won an Academy Award for Best Director for Midnight Cowboy , and was nominated for two other films ( Darling and Sunday Bloody Sunday ).


Early life

Schlesinger was born and raised at Hampstead, London, [1] into a Jewish family, [2] the eldest of five children [3] of distinguished Emmanuel College, Cambridge-educated paediatrician and physician Bernard Edward Schlesinger (1896–1984), OBE, FRCP, who had also served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Brigadier, [4] and his wife Winifred Henrietta, daughter of Hermann Regensburg, a stockbroker from Frankfurt. She had left school at 14 to study at the Trinity College of Music, and later studied languages at the University of Oxford for three years. [5] [6] Bernard Schlesinger's father Richard, a stockbroker, had come to England in the 1880s from Frankfurt. [7]

After St Edmund's School, Hindhead and Uppingham School (where his father had also been), [8] Schlesinger enlisted in the British Army during World War II. While serving with the Royal Engineers, he made films on the war's front line. He also entertained his fellow troops by performing magic tricks. [9] After his tour of duty, he continued making short films and acted in stage productions while studying at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was involved in the Oxford University Dramatic Society. [10]


Schlesinger's acting career began in the 1950s and consisted of supporting roles in British films such as The Divided Heart and Oh... Rosalinda!! , and British television productions such as BBC Sunday Night Theatre , The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Vise . He began his directorial career in 1956 with the short documentary Sunday in the Park about London's Hyde Park. In 1958, Schlesinger created a documentary on Benjamin Britten and the Aldeburgh Festival for the BBC's Monitor TV programme, including rehearsals of the children's opera Noye's Fludde featuring a young Michael Crawford. [11] [12] In 1959, Schlesinger was credited as exterior or second unit director on 23 episodes of the TV series The Four Just Men and four 30-minute episodes of the series Danger Man . [13] He also appeared in Col March of Scotland Yard as "Dutch cook" in "Death and the Other Monkey" 1956.

By the 1960s, he had virtually given up acting to concentrate on a directing career, and another of his earlier directorial efforts, the British Transport Films' documentary Terminus (1961), gained a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion and a British Academy Award. His first two fiction films, A Kind of Loving (1962) and Billy Liar (1963) were set in the North of England. A Kind of Loving won the Golden Bear award at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival in 1962. [14] His third feature film, Darling (1965), tartly described the modern way of life in London and was one of the first films about 'swinging London'. Schlesinger's next film was the period drama Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's popular novel accentuated by beautiful English country locations. Both films (and Billy Liar ) featured Julie Christie as the female lead.

Schlesinger's next film, Midnight Cowboy (1969), was internationally acclaimed. A story of two hustlers living on the fringe in the bad side of New York City, it was Schlesinger's first film shot in the US, and it won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. During the 1970s, he made an array of films that were mainly about loners, losers and people outside the mainstream world, such as Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), The Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976) and Yanks (1979). Later, came the major box office and critical failure of Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), followed by films that attracted mixed responses from the public, and low returns, although The Falcon and the Snowman (1985) made money and Pacific Heights (1990) was a box-office hit. In Britain, he did better with films like Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Cold Comfort Farm (1995). Other later works include An Englishman Abroad (1983), the TV play A Question of Attribution (1991), The Innocent (1993) and The Next Best Thing (2000).

Schlesinger also directed Timon of Athens (1965) for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the musical I and Albert (1972) at London's Piccadilly Theatre. From 1973, he was an associate director of the Royal National Theatre, where he produced George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1975). He also directed several operas, beginning with Les contes d'Hoffmann (1980) and Der Rosenkavalier (1984), both at Covent Garden. [15] Schlesinger also directed a party political broadcast for the Conservative Party in the general election of 1992, which featured Prime Minister John Major returning to Brixton in south London, where he had spent his teenage years, which highlighted his humble background, atypical for a Conservative politician. Schlesinger admitted to having voted for all three main political parties in the UK at one time or another.

Schlesinger was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1970 Birthday Honours for services to film. [16] [17] In 2003, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. [18]


Schlesinger underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1998, before suffering a stroke in December 2000. He was taken off life support at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on 24 July 2003, and he died early the following day at the age of 77. He was survived by his partner of over 30 years, photographer Michael Childers. A memorial service was held on 30 September 2003. [17]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

BAFTA Awards

Golden Globe Awards


Feature films

Television films

Documentary films

Related Research Articles

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Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American buddy drama film, based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The film was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schlesinger, and stars Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, with notable smaller roles being filled by Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Brenda Vaccaro, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Salt, and Barnard Hughes. Set in New York City, Midnight Cowboy depicts the unlikely friendship between two hustlers: naïve prostitute Joe Buck (Voight), and ailing con man "Ratso" Rizzo (Hoffman).

<i>Darling</i> (1965 film)

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<i>Bloody Sunday</i> (film)

Bloody Sunday is a 2002 British-Irish film written and directed by Paul Greengrass based around the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" shootings in Derry, Northern Ireland. Although produced by Granada Television as a TV film, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on 16 January, a few days before its screening on ITV on 20 January, and then in selected London cinemas from 25 January. Though set in Derry, the film was actually shot in Ballymun in North Dublin. However, some location scenes were shot in Derry, in Guildhall Square and in Creggan on the actual route of the march in 1972.

<i>Sunday Bloody Sunday</i> (film) 1971 British drama film by John Schlesinger

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a 1971 British drama written by Penelope Gilliatt, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Murray Head and Peggy Ashcroft. It tells the story of a free-spirited young bisexual artist and his simultaneous relationships with a divorced female recruitment job consultant (Jackson) and a gay male Jewish doctor (Finch).

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<i>Madame Sousatzka</i> 1988 film by John Schlesinger

Madame Sousatzka is a 1988 British drama film directed by John Schlesinger, with a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. It is based upon the novel of the same name by Bernice Rubens.

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The Innocent is a 1993 drama film directed by John Schlesinger. The screenplay was written by Ian McEwan and based on his 1990 novel of the same name. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Isabella Rossellini, and Campbell Scott. It was released in the USA in 1995.

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  1. Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, William J. Mann, Arrow Books, 2004, pp. 46, 179
  2. Bond, Paul (8 August 2003). "Obituary: John Schlesinger, filmmaker, 1926–2003". World Socialist Website. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
  3. John Schlesinger, Gene D. Phillips, Twayne Publishers, 1981, p. 17
  4. "Bernard Edward Schlesinger | RCP Museum".
  5. Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, William J. Mann, Arrow Books, 2004, p. 54
  6. Current Biography Yearbook 1970, ed. Charles Moritz, The H. W. Wilson Co., 1971, p. 377
  7. Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, William J. Mann, Arrow Books, 2004, p. 51
  8. Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, William J. Mann, Arrow Books, 2004, p. 58
  9. John Schlesinger on Encyclopedia Britannica . Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  10. Rhodes, Rachel (25 November 2005). "Jocelyn Page – interview transcript" (PDF). British Library. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  11. Benjamin Britten on Camera Video from 10:01.
  12. Wiebe, Heather. Britten's Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction. Cambridge University Press, 2012: p. 153
  13. End credits of episodes of both series.
  14. "Berlinale: Prize Winners". Retrieved 3 February 2010.
  15. Millington, Barry (2001). "John Schlesinger". In Root, Deane L. (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Oxford University Press.
  16. "No. 45117". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1970. p. 6373.
  17. 1 2 "Diaries 1996–2004". Untold Stories. p. 335.
  18. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated