William Friedkin

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William Friedkin
William Friedkin, Festival de Sitges 2017 (cropped).jpg
Friedkin at the 2017 Sitges Film Festival
Born (1935-08-29) August 29, 1935 (age 87)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Education Senn High School
  • Director
  • producer
  • screenwriter
Years active1962–present
William Friedkin Signature.svg

William Friedkin (born August 29, 1935) [1] is an American film and television director, producer and screenwriter closely identified with the "New Hollywood" movement of the 1970s. [2] [3] Beginning his career in documentaries in the early 1960s, he directed the crime thriller film The French Connection (1971), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and the supernatural horror film The Exorcist (1973), which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director.


His other films include the drama The Boys in the Band (1970), the thriller Sorcerer (1977), the crime comedy drama The Brink's Job (1978), the crime thriller Cruising (1980), [4] [5] the neo-noir thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), the psychological horror film Bug (2006), and the black comedy Killer Joe (2011).

Early life

Friedkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Rachael (née Green) and Louis Friedkin. His father was a semi-professional softball player, merchant seaman, and men's clothing salesman. His mother, whom Friedkin called "a saint", was an operating room registered nurse. [1] His parents were Jewish emigrants from Ukraine. [6] His grandparents, parents, and other relatives fled Ukraine during a particularly violent anti-Jewish pogrom in 1903. [7] Friedkin's father was somewhat uninterested in making money, and the family was generally lower middle class while he was growing up. [1] According to film historian Peter Biskind, "Friedkin viewed his father with a mixture of affection and contempt for not making more of himself." [1] According to his memoir, The Friedkin Connection, Friedkin had the utmost affection for his father.

Friedkin attended public schools in Chicago. He enrolled at Senn High School, where he played basketball well enough to consider turning professional. [8] However he was not a serious student and barely received grades good enough to graduate, [9] which he did at the age of 16. [10] According to Friedkin, this was because of social promotion and not because he was bright. [11]

Friedkin began going to movies as a teenager, [8] and has cited Citizen Kane as one of his key influences. Several sources claim that Friedkin saw this motion picture as a teenager, [12] but Friedkin himself says that he did not see the film until 1960, when he was 25 years old. Only then, Friedkin says, did he become a true cineaste. [13] Among the movies which he saw as a teenager and young adult were Les Diaboliques , The Wages of Fear (which many consider he remade as Sorcerer (film) ), and Psycho (which he viewed repeatedly, like Citizen Kane). Televised documentaries such as 1960's Harvest of Shame were also important in his developing sense of cinema. [8]

He began working in the mail room at WGN-TV immediately after high school. [14] Within two years (at the age of 18), [15] he started his directorial career doing live television shows and documentaries. [16] His efforts included The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), which won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and contributed to the commutation of Crump's death sentence. [15] [17] Its success helped Friedkin get a job with producer David L. Wolper. [15] He also made the football-themed documentary Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon . [18]


As mentioned in his voice-over commentary on the DVD re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo , Friedkin directed one of the last episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965, called "Off Season". Hitchcock admonished Friedkin for not wearing a tie while directing. [19]

In 1965, Friedkin moved to Hollywood and two years later released his first feature film, Good Times starring Sonny and Cher. He has referred to the film as "unwatchable". [20] Several other "art" films followed: The Birthday Party , based on an unpublished screenplay by Harold Pinter, which he adapted from his own play; the musical comedy The Night They Raided Minsky's ; and the adaptation of Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band .

Friedkin, c. 1970 Friedkin.jpg
Friedkin, c. 1970

His next film, The French Connection , was released to wide critical acclaim in 1971. Shot in a gritty style more suited for documentaries than Hollywood features, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Friedkin's next film was 1973's The Exorcist , based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, which revolutionized the horror genre and is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won for Best Screenplay and Best Sound.

Following these two pictures, Friedkin, along with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, was deemed one of the premier directors of New Hollywood. In 1973, the trio announced the formation of an independent production company at Paramount, The Directors Company. Whereas Coppola directed The Conversation and Bogdanovich, the Henry James adaptation, Daisy Miller , Friedkin abruptly left the company, which was soon closed by Paramount. [21] But Friedkin's later movies did not achieve the same success. Sorcerer (1977), a $22 million American remake of the French classic The Wages of Fear , co-produced by both Universal and Paramount, starring Roy Scheider, was overshadowed by the blockbuster box-office success of Star Wars , which had been released exactly one week prior. Friedkin considers it his finest film, and was personally devastated by its financial and critical failure (as mentioned by Friedkin himself in the documentary series The Directors (1999)).

Sorcerer was shortly followed by the crime-comedy The Brink's Job (1978), based on the real-life Great Brink's Robbery in Boston, Massachusetts, which was also unsuccessful at the box-office. In 1980, he directed an adaptation of the Gerald Walker crime thriller Cruising , starring Al Pacino, which was protested against even during its making and remains the subject of heated debate. The film was critically assailed, and was a financial disappointment. [22]

Friedkin suffered a major heart attack on March 6, 1981, due to a genetically caused defect in his circumflex left coronary artery, and nearly died. He spent months in rehabilitation. [23]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Friedkin's films received mostly lackluster reviews and moderate ticket sales. Deal of the Century (1983), starring Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines and Sigourney Weaver, was sometimes regarded as a latter-day Dr. Strangelove , though it was generally savaged by critics. However, his action/crime movie To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe, was a critical favorite and drew comparisons to Friedkin's own The French Connection (particularly for its car-chase sequence), while his courtroom-drama/thriller Rampage (1987) received a fairly positive review from Roger Ebert despite major distribution problems. He next directed the horror film The Guardian (1990) and then the thriller Jade (1995), starring Linda Fiorentino. Though the latter film received an unfavorable response from critics and audiences, Friedkin said that Jade was the favorite of all the films he had made, [24] as is Sorcerer. [25]

In 2000, The Exorcist was re-released in theaters with extra footage and grossed $40 million in the U.S. alone. Friedkin directed the 2007 film Bug due to a positive experience watching the stage version in 2004. He was surprised to find that he was, metaphorically, on the same page as the playwright and felt that he could relate well to the story. [26] The film won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Later, Friedkin directed an episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation titled "Cockroaches", which re-teamed him with To Live and Die in L.A. star William Petersen. He directed again for CSI's 200th episode, "Mascara".

Friedkin at Festival Deauville, France, 2012 William Friedkin (cropped).jpg
Friedkin at Festival Deauville, France, 2012

In 2011, Friedkin directed Killer Joe , a black comedy written by Tracy Letts based on Letts' play, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church. Killer Joe premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, prior to its North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It opened in U.S. theaters in July 2012, to some favorable reviews from critics but did poorly at the box office, possibly because of its restrictive NC-17 rating.

In April 2013, Friedkin published a memoir, The Friedkin Connection. [27] He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 70th Venice International Film Festival in September. [28]

In 2017, Friedkin directed The Devil and Father Amorth , a documentary showing the ninth exorcism of an Italian woman in the village of Venafro. [29]

In August 2022, it was announced that Friedkin would be returning to directing to helm an adaptation of the two-act play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial starring Kiefer Sutherland as Lt. Commander Queeg. [30]

Unrealized projects

YearTitle and descriptionRef.
1970sThe Bunker Hill Boys, a film for The Directors Company [31]
The Devil's Triangle, a UFO thriller starring Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and Charlton Heston [32] [33]
A Safe Darkness, a documentary about horror cinema featuring interviews with Fritz Lang and Roman Polanski [34] [35]
1980sA film adaptation of Frank De Felitta's novel Sea Trial [36]
A film adaptation of Robin Cook's novel Brain [37]
That Championship Season [38]
An early attempt of a film version of William Peter Blatty's novel Legion [39]
Child's Play [40] [41]
1990s Desperate Hours [ citation needed ]
The Ripper Diaries, a film about the manhunt of Jack the Ripper starring Anthony Hopkins [42]
Battle Grease, a film about the account of the Florence Maybrick murder trial [43]
2000sA film adaptation of Chris Greenhalgh's novel Coco and Igor starring Marina Hands [44]
2010sUntitled thriller based on an original story by Friedkin to have been shot in Europe [ citation needed ]
A film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel Dimiter [45] [46]
Mae West starring Bette Midler adapted from West's autobiography Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It [47]
A TV series based on his film To Live and Die in L.A. written by Robert Moresco [48] [49]
A film adaptation of Don Winslow's novel The Winter of Frankie Machine starring Matthew McConaughey or Walton Goggins in the lead role [50]
Untitled Killer Joe spinoff TV series [51]

Friedkin turned down the opportunity to direct Gunn , M*A*S*H , Born on the Fourth of July with Al Pacino attached to star as Ron Kovic [52] and the second season of True Detective . [53]


The moving image collection of William Friedkin is held at the Academy Film Archive. The material at the Academy Film Archive is complemented by material in the William Friedkin papers at the academy's Margaret Herrick Library. [54]

Personal life

Friedkin and Sherry Lansing at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2012 William Friedkin Sherry Lansing Deauville 2012.jpg
Friedkin and Sherry Lansing at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2012

William Friedkin has been married four times:

While he was filming The Boys in the Band in 1970, Friedkin began a relationship with Kitty Hawks, daughter of director Howard Hawks. It lasted two years, during which the couple announced their engagement, but the relationship ended about 1972. [63] Friedkin began a four-year relationship with Australian dancer and choreographer Jennifer Nairn-Smith in 1972. Although they announced an engagement twice, they never married. They did, however, have a son, Cedric, born on November 27, 1976. [64] Friedkin and his second wife, Lesley-Anne Down, also had a son, Jack, born in 1982. [58] Friedkin was raised Jewish, but called himself an agnostic later in life. [65] [66] However, during an appearance and Q&A at a 40th anniversary screening of The Exorcist at the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival, Friedkin said he "believes strongly in God" and "the teachings of Jesus" and other religious figures, and that mankind is "in God's hands." [67]



1962 The People vs. Paul Crump YesNoYesDocumentary films
1965 The Bold Men YesNoNo
Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon YesNoYes
1966 The Thin Blue Line YesStoryYes
1967 Good Times YesNoNo
1968 The Birthday Party YesNoNo
The Night They Raided Minsky's YesNoNo
1970 The Boys in the Band YesNoNo
1971 The French Connection YesUncreditedNoScript revisions
1973 The Exorcist YesNoNo
1977 Sorcerer YesNoYes
1978 The Brink's Job YesNoNo
1980 Cruising YesYesNo
1983 Deal of the Century YesNoNo
1985 To Live and Die in L.A. YesYesNoCo-written with Gerald Petievich
1987 Rampage YesYesYes
1990 The Guardian YesYesNoCo-written with Dan Greenburg and Stephen Volk
1994 Blue Chips YesNoNo
1995 Jade YesUncreditedNoScript revisions
2000 Rules of Engagement YesNoNo
2003 The Hunted YesNoNo
2006 Bug YesNoNo
2011 Killer Joe YesNoNo
2017 The Devil and Father Amorth YesYesNoDocumentary film; co-written with Mark Kermode


1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour YesNoNoEpisode: "Off Season" (S3 E29)
1985 The Twilight Zone YesNoNoEpisode: "Nightcrawlers" (S1 E4c)
1986 C.A.T. Squad YesNoYesMade-for-television film
1988 C.A.T. Squad: Python Wolf YesYesYesMade-for-television film; co-written with Gerald Petievich and Robert Ward
1992 Tales from the Crypt YesNoNoEpisode: "On a Deadman's Chest" (S4 E3)
1994 Jailbreakers YesNoNoMade-for-television film
1997 12 Angry Men YesNoNoMade-for-television film
2007 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation YesNoNoEpisode: "Cockroaches" (S8 E9)
2009YesNoNoEpisode: "Mascara" (S9 E18)


1972 Academy Award Best DirectorThe French ConnectionWon
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial AchievementWon
Golden Globes Best DirectorWon
1973 BAFTA Award Best DirectorNominated
1974 Academy Award Best DirectorThe ExorcistNominated
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial AchievementNominated
Golden Globes Best DirectorWon
1981 Razzie Awards Worst DirectorCruisingNominated
Worst ScreenplayNominated
1986 Cognac Festival du Film Policier Audience AwardTo Live and Die in L.A.Won
1988 Deauville Film Festival Critics AwardRampageNominated
1991 Saturn Award George Pal Memorial AwardWon
1993Best DirectorRampageNominated
1998 Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement12 Angry MenNominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Best DirectorNominated
1999 Saturn Award President's AwardWon
Empire Awards Movie Masterpiece AwardThe ExorcistWon
2000 Palm Beach International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement AwardWon
2006 Cannes Film Festival FIPRESCIBugWon
2007 Munich Film Festival CineMerit AwardWon
Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival Time-Machine Honorary AwardWon
2009 Locarno International Film Festival Leopard of HonorWon
2011 Venice Film Festival Golden LionKiller JoeNominated
Golden MouseWon
2013 Belgian Film Critics Association Grand Prix Nominated
Saturn Award Best DirectorNominated
Lifetime Achievement AwardWon
Venice Film Festival Special LionWon

Friedkin was made Honorary Associate of London Film School.[ citation needed ]


Related Research Articles

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The French Connection is a 1971 American crime action thriller film directed by William Friedkin. The screenplay, written by Ernest Tidyman, is based on Robin Moore's 1969 book of the same name. It tells the story of NYPD detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo, whose real-life counterparts were Narcotics Detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, in pursuit of wealthy French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier. The film stars Gene Hackman as Popeye, Roy Scheider as Cloudy, and Fernando Rey as Charnier. Tony Lo Bianco and Marcel Bozzuffi also star.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mercedes McCambridge</span> American actress (1916–2004)

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<i>The Exorcist</i> 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin

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<i>The Guardian</i> (1990 film) 1990 film by William Friedkin

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<i>Cruising</i> (film) 1980 film by William Friedkin

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<i>Jade</i> (film) 1995 American erotic thriller film by William Friedkin

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Louis DiGiaimo was an American casting director and film producer. He was one of the casting directors of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and went on to help cast multiple films each for directors William Friedkin, Barry Levinson and Ridley Scott. He also produced Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco alongside Levinson and, in 1998, he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series for Levinson's television series Homicide: Life on the Street.

The untitled The Exorcist film is an upcoming American supernatural horror film directed by David Gordon Green, with a screenplay he co-wrote with Peter Sattler, from a story he co-authored with Sattler, Scott Teems, and Danny McBride. The film is intended to be a part of the franchise based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, and will serve as a direct sequel to William Friedkin's 1973 film adaptation. While the film will retroactively affect continuity of the franchise, all of the previous installments will still remain canon to its premise. It is intended to be the first of three new Exorcist films and the sixth installment of The Exorcist franchise overall.


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Further reading