Ted Kotcheff

Last updated
Ted Kotcheff
Born (1931-04-07) April 7, 1931 (age 89)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation Director, producer
Years active1956–present
Spouse(s) Sylvia Kay (1960–1972; divorced; 3 children,
Laifun Chung (?–present; 2 children))

William Theodore Kotcheff (born April 7, 1931) is a Canadian film and television director and producer, [1] known primarily for his work on British and American television productions such as Armchair Theatre and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit . He has also directed numerous successful films including the Australian Wake in Fright (1971), action films such as the original Rambo movie First Blood (1982) and Uncommon Valor (1983), and comedies like Weekend at Bernie's (1989), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), and North Dallas Forty (1979). He is sometimes credited as William T. Kotcheff, and resides in Beverly Hills, California. Given his ancestry, Kotcheff has Bulgarian citizenship.


Early life

Kotcheff's given name is Velichko Todor Kostadin (Bulgarian : Величко Тодор Костадин) Kotcheff, although he was registered in official documents as William Theodore Kotcheff. [2] He was born in Toronto [2] [3] to a family of Bulgarian immigrants, [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] who changed their last name from Tsochev (Bulgarian: Цочев) to Kotcheff for convenience. [2] His father was born in Plovdiv, while his mother was of Macedonian Bulgarian background, from Vambel, today in Greece, but grew up in Varna, Bulgaria.


Canadian television

After graduating in English Literature from University College, University of Toronto, Kotcheff began his television career at the age of twenty-four when he joined the staff of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, with television still very much in its infancy in the country. Kotcheff was the youngest director on the staff of the CBC, where he worked for two years on shows such as General Motors Theatre , Encounter , First Performance and On Camera .

British television

In 1958, he left Canada to live and work in the United Kingdom. He was inspired by his compatriot Sydney Newman, who had been the Director of Drama at the CBC and had moved to the U.K. to take up a similar position at ABC Television, one of the franchise holders of the ITV network who also produced much of the nationally networked programming for the channel.

At ABC, Newman as producer of the popular Armchair Theatre anthology drama programme, employed Kotcheff as a director of this series between 1958 and 1960. Kotcheff was responsible for directing some of the best-remembered installments in the Armchair Theatre anthology series from 1958 to 1964.

During Underground , transmitted live on 30 November 1958, Kotcheff was required to cope when one of the actors, Gareth Jones , (playing a character who was to die of a heart attack), suddenly died of one himself, off-camera, while between scenes, leaving Peter Bowles and others to improvise.

More successfully, Kotcheff also directed the following year's No Trams to Lime Street by Welsh playwright Alun Owen.

He also did Hour of Mystery , I'll Have You to Remember (1961) by Clive Exton, and episodes of BBC Sunday-Night Play , ITV Television Playhouse , Espionage , First Night , ABC Stage 67 , Drama 61-67 and ITV Playhouse .


Kotcheff also worked in the theatre.

British feature films

Kotcheff made his first feature film with Tiara Tahiti (1962).

He went on to direct other features during the decade, including Life at the Top (1965) and Two Gentlemen Sharing (1969).

He also directed The Human Voice (1967) for British television, starring Ingrid Bergman from a story by Jean Cocteau and TV remakes of The Desperate Hours (1967) and Of Mice and Men (1968). He directed a concert for TV, At the Drop of Another Hat .

Kotcheff directed the Australian film Wake in Fright (USA: Outback, 1971; re-released with its original title, 2012). [13] It won much critical acclaim in Europe, and was Australia's entry at the Cannes Film Festival. (In 2009, Wake in Fright was re-released on DVD and Blu-ray disc in a fully restored version.) Kotcheff returned to television, directing the Play for Today production Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971) for the BBC, which won him a British Academy Television Award for Best Director. In 2000, the play was voted one of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century in a poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute.

He did Rx for the Defense (1972) for TV and the film Billy Two Hats (1974) in Israel.

Return to Canada

He returned home to Canada, where he directed an adaptation of his friend and one-time housemate Mordecai Richler's novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival [14] making it the first English Canadian dramatic feature film to win an international award.

He wrote and directed The Trial of Sinyavsky and Daniel (1975) for Canadian television and was a production consultant on Why Shoot the Teacher? (1977).


He relocated to Hollywood. He directed Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) which was a big hit. He followed it with the comedy Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) then wrote and directed North Dallas Forty (1979) which was critically acclaimed.

Kotcheff did a Canadian film about cults, Split Image (1982), then had his biggest success to date with the Sylvester Stallone movie First Blood (1982), the first in the Rambo series. He did another Vietnam-themed action movie Uncommon Valor (1983) then returned to Canada to make Joshua Then and Now (1985), from the novel by Mordecai Richler.

Kotcheff did Switching Channels (1988) and Winter People (1989), then had a big hit with Weekend at Bernie's (1989).


In the 1990s, Kotcheff returned to directing for TV, working on various American series such as Red Shoe Diaries , and Buddy Faro , plus Casualty in the UK.

He did the occasional feature film such as Folks! (1992) and The Shooter (1995). He did TV movies like What Are Families for? (1993), Love on the Run (1994), Family of Cops (1995), A Husband, a Wife and a Lover (1996), Borrowed Hearts (1997), Cry Rape (1999). He joined the staff of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit , where he acts as Executive Producer and director.

Personal life

Kotcheff lives in Beverly Hills with his wife Laifun. They have two children Alexandra Kotcheff, a filmmaker, and Thomas Kotcheff, a composer and pianist. He has three children from a previous marriage to the actress Sylvia Kay: Aaron, Katrina and Joshua.

In May and June 2013, he was invited to the Film Forum in New York City for a re-release of his film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz , restored by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

In February 2016, Kotcheff applied for Bulgarian citizenship via the Bulgarian consulate in Los Angeles, [15] [16] and was granted this during a visit to Bulgaria in March. [17] Given his Macedonian heritage, Kotcheff served on the Board of Directors of the Macedonian Arts Council. Per Kotcheff himself, there is not a difference between Macedonian and Bulgarian. [18]


Director (Film)
Director (Television)


YearAwardCategoryFilmResult [14] [19] [20]
1971 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix du Festival International du Film Wake in Fright Nominated
1972 British Academy Television Awards Best Drama Production Play for Today : "Edna, the Inebriate Woman"Won
1974 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Won
1985 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Joshua Then and Now Nominated
1986 Genie Awards Best Director Nominated
1989 Deauville Film Festival Critics Award Weekend at Bernie's Nominated
1998 Gemini Awards Best TV Movie or Dramatic Mini-Series Borrowed Hearts Nominated
2011 Directors Guild of Canada Lifetime Achievement AwardN/AWon
Oldenburg International Film Festival German Independence Honorary AwardN/AWon
2014 Chicago International Film Festival Gold Hugo for Best Short FilmFearlessNominated
Canadian Screen Awards Academy Board of Directors' TributeN/AWon
2018 22nd Independent Publisher Book Awards Performing Arts (Silver)Director's Cut: My Life in FilmWon

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