Remembering Peter Bogdanovich
Last week the film and acting community said goodbye to one of Hollywood’s most premier auteur directors, Peter Bogdanovich. Not only is he responsible for directing such classics as “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon,” acting in several hit television series, but also for his dedication to film preservation: being awarded by The International Federation of Film Archives for his outstanding contributions to film preservation in 2007.
Bogdanovich was born in 1939 in New York shortly after his parents, Herma and Borislav, escaped antisemitic persecution in Austria. He got his start as a film critic writing for Esquire before getting his big break, thanks to director Roger Corman, directing the crime-thriller “Targets,” which found moderate success. It wasn’t until he wrote and directed “The Last Picture Show” that he burst onto the Hollywood scene. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture, winning two in acting categories, and was met with critical and commercial success. He built upon that success with his next two hits, “What’s Up, Doc?” starring Barbra Streisand, and “Paper Moon” starring Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, who became the youngest actress to win an Oscar in a competitive category. While he wouldn’t quite reach the heights of those three films again, he continued to direct well into the 21st century, having moderate hits with “Saint Jack,” “Mask,” “Noises Off…” and the documentary “The Great Buster.” He was also an accomplished actor, appearing in many of his own movies as well as the film “Infamous,” 14 episodes of the hit show “The Sopranos,” and 4 episodes of “Get Shorty.” In addition to acting, he also returned to film critiquing and journalism, working for the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies. He hosted the first season of TCM’s “The Plot Thickens” podcast, detailing the highs and lows of his career.
Throughout his illustrious career, Bogdanovich had many encounters with Academy Alumni. Starting with Eileen Brennan (Class of 1956) in “The Last Picture Show” and its sequel “Texasville.” Graduate M. Emmet Walsh (Class of 1961) appeared in two of his films, “What’s Up Doc?” and “Nickelodeon.” His adaption of “Noises Off…” featured past student Zoe R. Cassavetes, which was not the first time he worked with a Cassavetes; Bogdanovich was known for doing cameos of himself and one of his first ones was in John Cassavetes’ (Class of 1950) 1977 film “Opening Night,” which starred Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands (Class of 1952). Cassavetes and Bogdanovich had become close friends, so when Cassavetes needed extras for "Opening Night," Bogdanovich didn't hesitate to show up for his friend and peer. He even directed some second unit scenes for the film. In 1984, Cassavetes was shooting his film "Love Streams” when Bogdanovich gets a call from Cassavetes begging him to come help direct a scene. At this point Bogdanovich was at a low point in his life after the tragic death of his partner, Dorthy Stratten, he really didn't feel like directing and he wasn't going out much but Cassavetes persisted and he finally relented. The scene was between Cassavetes and Diahnne Abbott, the type of scene that Cassavetes had directed himself dozens of times, Peter knew it and so did John. "I didn’t realize what he was doing until later, why he’d done it, but it helped me to get the juices going a little bit," Bogdanovich said years later. The two remained close friends and muses until Cassavetes’ death in 1989. "He was the voice of the American New Wave...," said Bogdanovich of Cassavetes, "...he’s the father of the New Hollywood. He’s the first one who said, 'Let’s do it differently.'”
After French Stewart (Class of 1985) starred as Buster Keaton in the hit Los Angeles play “Stoneface: The Rise and Fall of Buster Keaton,” it was a no-brainer when Bogdanovich featured him in his documentary “The Great Buster.” Stewart said of his time with the famed director, “I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich… [it was] the kind of conversation that makes you forget you’re being filmed. Such a wonderful day.”
He died on January 6th, 2022 at the age of 82.
Peter Bogdanovich led a full, eccentric life, and carried a love for film and actors all the way through it.