After spending most of his teens studying acting with the legendary Stella Adler, and working as an actor in live TV and various theaters around the country, including the New York and the American Shakespeare Festivals, Peter Bogdanovich at age 20 began directing plays Off-Broadway and in N.Y. summer theater. He also wrote for the Museum of Modern Art a series of three monographs on Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock, the first such retrospective studies of these directors in America. He also began writing a classic series of feature articles and profiles for Esquire, doing the ground-breaking Humphrey Bogart tribute, as well as definitive pieces on James Stewart, Jerry Lewis, and John Ford, among others.
In 1966 he began working in movies first as Roger Corman’s assistant on the hit, THE WILD ANGELS; Bogdanovich without credit re-wrote most of the script and directed the second unit. Within a year, Corman financed Bogdanovich’s first film as director-writer-producer-actor with the cult classic, TARGETS, starring Boris Karloff in his last great film role, virtually playing himself. In 1971, Bogdanovich commanded the approving attention of both critics and public with THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, starring then-unknowns Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and other newcomers, a brilliant look at small-town Texan-American life in the early 1950s. The film won the New York Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best Screenplay (which Bogdanovich co-wrote with novelist Larry McMurtry), the British Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and received a total of eight Academy Award nominations, including three for Bogdanovich; Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won for Best Supporting Actor and Actress. A couple of years ago, the Library of Congress designated the film as a National Treasure.
An unapologetic popularizer of the classic Hollywood era of great movie makers, Bogdanovich had a second huge success in 1972 with WHAT’S UP, DOC?, a madcap romantic farce starring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, made in the style of ‘30s screwball comedy; it won The Writers’ Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay, on which Bogdanovich had worked with Buck Henry, David Newman and Bob Benton. One year later, he recreated a memorable vision of rural ‘30s America with PAPER MOON, a Depression Era tale about a pair of unlikely con artists, which got four Academy Award nominations and nabbed a Supporting Actress Oscar for nine-year-old Tatum O’Neal in her screen debut, the youngest performer ever to win an Academy Award. The film was also awarded the Silver Shell at The San Sebastian Film Festival.
Bogdanovich followed this up with his critically acclaimed (N.Y. Times, Newsweek, etc.) version of Henry James’ classic DAISY MILLER, for which he was named Best Director at the Brussels Film Festival. Another highly praised drama followed with Bogdanovich’s version of the Paul Theroux novel, SAINT JACK, starring Ben Gazzara and Denholm Elliot, which told the story of an amiable and ambitious American pimp living in Singapore. Shot entirely on location, the picture received the coveted Critics’ Prize at the Venice Film Festival. After directing Audrey Hepburn in her last starring picture, the bittersweet romantic comedy, THEY ALL LAUGHED, co-starring Gazzara, John Ritter, and Dorothy Stratten, and filmed in New York, Bogdanovich scored another major triumph with 1985’s MASK, starring Cher and Eric Stoltz in the true story of a boy whose face has been terribly disfigured by a rare disease and the mother who has instilled in her son a sense of confidence and love. The film won an Academy Award and Cher won the Best Actress Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
After guiding Michael Frayn’s classic theater comedy NOISES OFF to the screen for Steven Spielberg’s company with an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Carol Burnett, as well as the well-received sequel to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, based on Larry McMurtry’s best-seller, TEXASVILLE. In 2002, Bogdanovich again received critical praise and commercial success with THE CAT’S MEOW. This suspenseful and entertaining satirical drama tells the true story of a mysterious 1924 death on board the yacht of William Randolph Hearst; starring Kirsten Dunst (as Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies), Eddie Izzard (as Charlie Chaplin), Edward Herrmann (as Hearst) and Jennifer Tilly (as Louella Parsons), all of whom garnered glowing notices.
Having published over twelve books on various aspects of film and filmmaking, Bogdanovich currently has four of his works in print: the bestselling WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT (1997), which includes interviews with sixteen legendary directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, George Cukor, and Howard Hawks (5 printings in hardcover; currently 4th paperback printing); PETER BOGDANOVICH’S MOVIE OF THE WEEK (1999), a collection of pieces on fifty-two film recommendations for a year of classics (in its 3rd printing); THIS IS ORSON WELLES (revised and expanded edition 1998), comprised of his conversations over a period of five years with by now nearly mythological co-author Orson Welles (in its 5th printing), already translated into five foreign languages; and his classic interview book, JOHN FORD, which has been continuously in print since its first edition in 1967. WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT also received a Special Citation from the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Association, as well as the coveted Barbari Award from the Italian Film Critics’ Association.
In 2004 came the premiere of Bogdanovich’s 3-hour ABC special, THE MYSTERY OF NATALIE WOOD, as well as his hard-hitting docudrama about the infamous ballplayer Pete Rose, called HUSTLE. At the end of the year, Knopf published his latest book, WHO THE HELL’S IN IT, which features chapters on 25 stars he knew or worked with including Cary Grant, James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, James Cagney, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. Also shown was the episode he directed, “Sentimental Education,” for the 5th season of the award-winning HBO series, THE SOPRANOS, in which for four seasons he has had the recurring role of the shrink’s (Lorraine Bracco’s) shrink.
In 2007 he Directed the 4-hour documentary, TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS, RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM, about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers which Chronicled the history of the band, from its inception as Mudcrutch, right up to the 30th anniversary concert in Petty’s home town of Gainesville, Florida. The movie features interviews with George Harrison, Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, Dave Grohl, Jeff Lynne, Rick Rubin, Johnny Depp, Jackson Browne and more. Petty’s solo career is also touched on, as is his time with The Traveling Wilburys. The film was awarded the 2009 Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video.