London-born director John Schlesinger worked steadily in both Hollywood and Britain in films, television, and on the stage. By exploring the complexities of human relationships, some of his films made it possible for later filmmakers to bring controversial subjects into the mainstream. He started making short films as a boy before attending the Uppingham School with the intent to study architecture. In 1943 he was drafted into the British army and ended up in a magic act entertaining the troops abroad. By 1947, he was back in school studying English literature at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was president of the Experimental Theatre Club. Following graduation, he worked as an actor with the Colchester Repertory Company and the Ngaio Marsh Touring Company. He continued making short films and started directing documentaries for the BBC programs Tonight and Monitor. He won a BAFTA award for his debut film Terminus, a chronicle of the Waterloo railway station. His first two feature films, A Kind of Loving and Billy Liar, both received critical praise from the British Academy. They also introduced Schlesinger to his longtime filmmaking allies: producer Joseph Janni, actor Alan Bates, and actress Julie Christie. In 1965 he received international attention and his first Oscar nomination for the drama Darling about the London fashion scene during the mod '60s. After adapting the Thomas Hardy novel Far From the Maddening Crowd, Schlesinger made his first American film, Midnight Cowboy, starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. A compassionate story about friendship, it was also the first X-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also earned Schlesinger his first Oscar for Best Director. The next year, he was honored with the appointment of Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. Back in England, he earned his third Oscar nomination for the psychological drama Sunday, Bloody Sunday. Starring Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, and Murray Head, it was one of the first mainstream films to deal with homosexual themes with sensitivity and perception. During the '70s he continued directing stage productions in between his film work, eventually becoming the associate director of the National Theatre in London. After a few meager successes with the psychological thriller Marathon Man and the war drama Yanks, he moved over to television to make the well-received Separate Tables and An Englishman Abroad. During the late '80s he made the spy film The Falcon and the Snowman and cast Shirley MacLaine in the choice lead role of Madame Sousatzka before making a minor comeback with the comedy Cold Comfort Farm, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons. After bringing the play The Tale of Sweeny Todd to the small screen, he made his last film, The Next Best Thing, starring Madonna and Rupert Everett. Schlesinger died at age 77 in Palm Springs due to complications following a severe stroke. He is survived by photographer Michael Childers, his companion of 36 years.
Biography by Andrea LeVasseur
- Joined the British army during World War II, but after suffering from vertigo and rheumatic fever (and breaking his leg), he performed magic for an entertainment unit in Singapore.
- In college, was president of the Oxford Experimental Theatre Company.
- Worked as an actor in the '50s, touring Australia and New Zealand with writer-director Ngao Marsh's troupe, and appearing in British films and TV shows.
- First dramatic film was 1962's A Kind of Loving, starring Alan Bates; his breakout film, Billy Liar, came a year later.
- Made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1970.
- Appointed associate director of London's National Theatre in 1973.
- Suffered a stroke in December 2000, from which he never fully recovered.