Peter Bogdanovich, the actor, film historian and critic-turned-director of such classics as The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, What’s Up, Doc? and Mask, died today of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82. Family members, who were by his side, said paramedics were unable to revive him.
His daughter, writer-director Antonia Bogdanovich, said of her father: “He never stopped working, and film was his life and he loved his family. He taught me a lot.”
While he would be best known later for his deadpan turn as the shrink’s shrink in The Sopranos, Bogdanovich exploded onto the cinematic scene in 1971 with The Last Picture Show, a box office hit he wrote and directed that drew comparisons to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and earned the filmmaker his only two Oscar noms — for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. With a stacked cast led by Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, the black-and-white pic is in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
The film also was up for Best Picture and won Oscars for Supporting Actress Cloris Leachman and Supporting Actor Ben Johnson. Eileen Brennan also was up for Supporting Actress.
Bogdanovich would follow that film with two more revered pics: What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal (1972), and Paper Moon, with O’Neal and his daughter Tatum O’Neal, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the role at 10 remains the youngest person to win a competitive Academy Award.
The filmmaker would go on to direct such pics as the musical At Long Last Love (1975), Nickelodeon (1976), Saint Jack (1979), They All Laughed (1981) — which was Audrey Hepburn’s last major film — Mask (1985), Texasville (1990), Noises Off… (1992) and The Thing Called Love (1993) before shifting mainly to television. His most recent features are The Cat’s Meow (2001) and She’s Funny That Way (2014).
Bogdanovich also wrote several of the films he helmed, including What’s Up, Doc?, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon, They All Laughed and Texasville. He was active in the Directors Guild, serving on its Eastern Special Projects Committee and frequently volunteering his time to moderate DGA events.
Late in his career, Bogdanovich would win a Grammy Award for his painstakingly detailed four-hour documentary Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Running Down a Dream in 2009.
Born on July 30, 1939, in Kingston, NY, Bogdanovich was a critic and aspiring film historian when he first came to Hollywood. His youthful curiosity and zeal as a movie fan won him friends. He wore Jerry Lewis’ elegant if ill-fitting suits to screenings and other events. Lewis had confided in him that he would only wear his clothing once after purchase because he didn’t trust dry cleaning chemicals — and thus willed them to the young filmmaker.
Columbia Pictures entrusted him to direct Last Picture Show because of his seriousness as an aspiring filmmaker combined with his careful preparation. Bogdanovich eagerly joined the Directors Company, having won the respect of Francis Ford Coppola and Billy Friedkin, the two founders.
His then-wife, Polly Platt, a film designer, urged Bogdanovich to direct Paper Moon for Paramount Pictures and helped connect Ryan O’Neal and his daughter to the script. By then, Bogdanovich had fallen in love with Cybill Shepherd, with whom he then made 1974’s Daisy Miller – a project his two partners did not favor. His colleagues in the Directors Company also discouraged Bogdanovich’s desire to recruit Welles in ongoing projects. The Hollywood legend had inspired Bogdanovich’s interest in Daisy Miller, a period piece that was not well-received.
Over the years the Welles-Bogdanovich link became important in both their lives, with Welles living in his younger friend’s home for prolonged periods of time. Bogdanovich also was instrumental in getting Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind, finished. It finally was unveiled at the 2018 Venice Film Festival — 48 years after the pic was started and 33 years after Welles’ death. Read about that film and watch the trailer here.
Bogdanovich had a few minor acting credits before he wrote and directed his first feature Targets (1968), which starred Boris Karloff and Tim O’Kelly. He also wrote and directed the 1971 documentary Directed by John Ford and also helmed documentaries on cinema legends Buster Keaton (2018) and Howard Hawks (1967).
His high profile personal life reared up again after he met and fell in love with Playmate Dorothy Stratten, only to see her ex murder the young aspiring actress. Bogdanovich was devastated. He would eventually marry Stratten’s younger sister Louise, who was 29 years his junior. Bogdanovich would admit in interviews that his personal life overshadowed the reaction to his films.
After his run of feature films, Bogdanovich helmed a string of TV movies in the 1990s and directed the 2004 episode of The Sopranos titled “Sentimental Education.” He also recurred on the seminal HBO drama as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, the analyst to Tony Soprano’s analyst Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The character would appear in more than a dozen episodes from 2000-07.
To his daughter Antonia, Bogdanovich took great pride in his relationships with actors, encyclopedic knowledge of film history and encounters with the greats.
“He was not a very private man, but the family is very close,” she said. “From the time I was a little girl, he would perform for me and my sister, sing Frank Sinatra, and we were on all of his movie sets,” she told Deadline. “My sister [Sashi] and I saw every single film by great directors by the time we were 10, from John Ford to Howard Hawks. He had a passion for film like no other person I ever met, and I’ve met many directors. He had a wonderful memory of the days when these films came out and sought out the people involved with them. He would talk to us about the camera, how it worked, and he was just magical with actors. He would do a take, and when he needed an adjustment, he would go over to an actor, say something quietly in their ear, and then the next take you’d see them do something brilliant. I would ask him, ‘What did you say?’ He’d shrug and say, ‘Just a little something.’ He had a magical way with actors.”
Along with his recurring Sopranos role, Bogdanovich also had dozens of acting credits spanning more than 60 years and including several of his own films. He also guested on such popular shows as Moonlighting, How I Met Your Mother, Dirty Sexy Money, Rizzoli & Isles and 8 Simple Rules; voiced a character on The Simpsons in 2007; and recurred in the 2017-19 TV series Get Shorty.
Bogdanovich also turned his love of film into more than a dozen books, including works on Welles, Hawkes, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and Allan Dwab. He published Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors in 1997 and Who the Hell’s In It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors in 2004. Among his other books was The Killing of a Unicorn, a biography of Dorothy Stratten.
Along with daughters Antonia and Sashy, he is survived by his sister, Anna Bogdanovich and grandchildren Maceo Che Bogdanovich Gifford, Levi Wassermann and Wyatt Wassermann.
Mike Fleming Jr. and Peter Bart contributed to this report.
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