Peter Bogdanovich, the Oscar-nominated director, critic, and raconteur who served as a bridge between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood, is dead at the age of 82. He died at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes, according to his daughter Antonia Bogdanovich. The two-time Academy Award nominee leaves behind a legacy of Tinseltown classics, from “The Last Picture Show” (which gave him his Oscar nominations) and “Paper Moon” to “What’s Up, Doc?,” “Targets,” “Saint Jack,” “Daisy Miller,” and “At Long Last Love.”
His last feature as a director was “She’s Funny That Way” in 2014, though the always-bespectacled filmmaker appeared in episodes of “Get Shorty” on television and recently in the film “Willie and Me.” He also appeared regularly on “The Sopranos” as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, therapist to Tony Soprano’s own psychologist, Dr. Melfi.
Peter Bogdanovich’s vivid personal life made him as conspicuous as his movies, from a torrid affair with actress Cybill Shepherd, the model he discovered when he was making “The Last Picture Show,” that cost him his marriage to collaborator Polly Platt, to the 1980 murder of his girlfriend Dorothy Stratten, who starred in his comedy “They All Laughed.”
While the filmmakers of the French New Wave got their start in criticism, so did Bogdanovich, who shared their love of classic Hollywood studio filmmaking and simultaneous desire to break free of its conventions.
He rose to prominence as a film programmer at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art during the early 1960s, writing books on Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Fritz Lang. In them, he made the case for the filmmakers as major artists at a time when auteurist criticism was still in its infancy and it was still all too easy to dismiss studio Hollywood art.
Courtesy Everett Collection
Bogdanovich made his filmmaking debut thanks to Roger Corman, who gave him a bit of footage from an earlier film of his he’d disliked — Jack Nicholson-starrer “The Terror” — and suggested that the young critic build a movie around it. The result was 1968’s “Targets,” a prescient thriller about a sniper who carries out mass shootings, culminating in a mass shooting at a drive-in theater where “The Terror” is playing. Boris Karloff appeared in his last straight dramatic role as a faded horror star whose destiny brings him to that drive-in. It set the template for Bogdanovich’s career to come: a reverence for Old Hollywood aesthetics with a desire to explore more contemporary issues.
His second feature, “The Last Picture Show,” made him a star. Pairing Cloris Leachman and Western alum Ben Johnson with up-and-comers Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Ellen Burstyn, it epitomized Bogdanovich’s old-meets-new aesthetic and earned a Best Picture nomination along with seven more Academy Awards nods.
He followed up that wistful Larry McMurtry adaptation with “What’s Up, Doc?” a screwball comedy in the mold of Howard Hawks that starred Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. The success of that film cemented Bogdanovich’s reputation as a jewel of the New Hollywood and enabled him to set up — along with his contemporary iconoclasts William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola — a pact at Paramount Pictures that gave him carte blanche on upcoming projects.
Courtesy Everett Collection
He followed “What’s Up” with 1973’s Depression-era “Paper Moon,” which reunited him with O’Neal, whose daughter Tatum won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at 10 years old. To this day, she’s the youngest winner in the history of the Oscars. But after this film came a string of box-office and critical failures, from “Daisy Miller” to “At Long Last Love” and, by 1976’s “Nickelodeon,” Hollywood sentiment was starting to turn against the once-hot director.
Bogdanovich rebounded critically with 1979’s “Saint Jack,” which marked the end of his professional and romantic relationship with Cybill Shepherd after “Last Picture Show,” “Daisy Miller,” and “At Long Last Love.” Though as one relationship soured, another began with Dorothy Stratten, a former model who starred in his beleaguered 1981 film “They All Laughed.” Before the movie was released, Stratten was brutally murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider, in a traumatizing ordeal for Bogdanovich that caused him to stray from the public eye. The events were chronicled in Teresa Carpenter’s “Death of a Playmate” article for Village Voice, which in turn served as the basis for director Bob Fosse’s “Star 80,” in which Bogdanovich was portrayed by Roger Rees as the fictional director Aram Nicholas — he threatened to sue if Fosse used his real name.
Industry opinion had so turned against Bogdanovich by the 1980s that a Billy Wilder quote about him lives on in infamy: “It isn’t true that Hollywood is a bitter place divided by hatred, greed and jealousy. All it takes to bring everyone together is another flop by Peter Bogdanovich.” Even a box office hit in 1985’s “Mask” couldn’t shake that rep. And after he directed a critically maligned sequel to “The Last Picture Show” called “Texasville” in 1990, his directing prospects began to dry up for good. Directing TV movies followed: “To Sir with Love II” (1996), “The Mystery of Natalie Wood” (2004). His final narrative theatrical release was 2014’s “She’s Funny That Way,” starring Owen Wilson and Imogen Poots.
But though his directing career dried up, Bogdanovich experienced a remarkable second life: as the impersonation-inclined, ascot-wearing raconteur of Old Hollywood who hosted a season of Turner Classic Movies’ “The Essentials” in the early 2000s and appeared on numerous DVD commentaries and documentaries. He became known for his wildly contrarian stances, such as that there were no great movies made after 1962. (Admittedly, the character he plays way back in 1968’s “Targets” says much the same: “All the great movies have been made.”) Or that you can’t name a great performance by an actor in color — a reason he chose to shoot “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon” in black and white. And it wouldn’t take much to get him to do his Cary Grant or Alfred Hitchcock impressions.
But there was always substance behind his gimmicks. His latter-day books “Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors” and “Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors,” published in 1997 and 2004, respectively, had a valedictory feel — and showed what a crucial link between studio-era Hollywood and New Hollywood he really was. Other directors have said they want to be critics. Bogdanovich really was. In his last years he revised and re-edited his seminal 1971 documentary “Directed by John Ford” and contributed his final work in 2018, “The Great Buster: A Celebration,” a biographical look at Buster Keaton. Those films are treasures as much as his narrative classics from the ’70s, and showed at the end that he was as valuable as a chronicler of Hollywood history as he was in his role as part of it.