Anointed as one of New Hollywood's golden boys with his neo-classical homages to John Ford and Howard Hawks, Peter Bogdanovich's personal and professional lives crashed and burned in the late '70s. Though he was redeemed somewhat with Mask (1985), his directorial career never fully recovered. By the late '90s, however, Bogdanovich returned to his original training as an actor and found success as a supporting player in films and on HBO's acclaimed series The Sopranos.
Raised in Manhattan, the precocious Bogdanovich began studying acting with Stella Adler at age 15 and spent his teens at the movies, developing a devotion to Hollywood. Though he acted in and directed several off-Broadway plays, Bogdanovich decided movies were his calling. While working as a film programmer in his early twenties, Bogdanovich began writing about cinema, publishing articles in Esquire and monographs on Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock; he married aspiring production designer Polly Platt in 1962. Inspired by the French critics-turned-New Wave directors, Bogdanovich headed to Hollywood in 1964, where he and Platt met both their graying heroes and a generation of unruly newcomers.
Like fellow gatecrashers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Bogdanovich's directorial career was jump-started by B-movie giant Roger Corman. Familiar with his Esquire writing, Corman hired Bogdanovich to work on his Peter Fonda motorcycle flick The Wild Angels (1966). Bogdanovich's experience encompassed rewrites, second unit direction, editing, and dubbing; Corman also cast Bogdanovich alongside Fonda and Dennis Hopper in The Trip (1967). Corman subsequently gave Bogdanovich a cheapie feature to write and direct, with the stipulation that he use Boris Karloff. With an assist from Platt, Bogdanovich came up with Targets (1968), a skillful thriller about an aging star and a nihilistic assassin. Cross-cutting between the two stories on the way to a suspenseful drive-in climax, Targets proved that Bogdanovich could make a movie as well as worship them, even if the assassination-weary 1968 audience stayed away.
While he got his movie-making career off the ground, Bogdanovich continued to write, publishing books on John Ford and Fritz Lang. After Targets, Bogdanovich spent several weeks locking horns with producer Sergio Leone on pre-production for Duck, You Sucker! (1971) in Rome before pulling out and returning to the states. Back in Hollywood, Bogdanovich put together the lauded AFI documentary Directed by John Ford (1971) and wrote a book on Allen Dwan.
Bogdanovich's second fiction feature came together when BBS Films (home of Fonda and Hopper's Easy Rider ) enlisted Bogdanovich to write and direct a project of his choice. On Platt's advice, Bogdanovich adapted Larry McMurtrey's coming-of-age novel The Last Picture Show. Working closely with Platt, Bogdanovich crafted The Last Picture Show (1971) as a nostalgic look back to 1950s small town America and Hollywood tradition combined with a more clear-eyed, "European" view of the period's sexual mores and personal weaknesses. Starring Ford stalwart Ben Johnson as the town patriarch alongside newcomers Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, and Cybill Shepherd as the troubled youth, and shot in crisp Ford-ian deep focus black-and-white, The Last Picture Show was hailed as one of the best films by a neophyte since Citizen Kane (1941) and earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Director. A popular success as well, The Last Picture Show was still playing when Bogdanovich's next film, What's Up, Doc?, opened in 1972. An update of Howard Hawks' screwball classic Bringing Up Baby (1938), starring Barbra Streisand as the dizzy dame and Ryan O'Neal as the uptight, bespectacled object of her affection, What's Up Doc? was a funny enough facsimile of Hawks to become one of the year's top hits.
An A-list phenom, Bogdanovich signed on to form the creatively autonomous (and potentially lucrative) Directors Company with fellow wunderkind Coppola and William Friedkin. His first film for the company, Paper Moon (1973), lived up to the hype. A Depression-era story about a grifter and his foul-mouthed daughter shot once again in Ford-esque monochrome, Paper Moon earned an Oscar for child actress Tatum O'Neal's performance opposite her father Ryan O'Neal, as well as big box office. Bogdanovich's personal life, however, began to intrude on his professional fortunes after Paper Moon. Though he left her for Shepherd in 1970, Platt had continued to work with Bogdanovich on What's Up Doc? and Paper Moon; after Platt severed their professional relationship, Bogdanovich's work floundered.
That relationship with Shepherd dealt a more visible blow to Bogdanovich's career when he decided to showcase her in his next two films. While she had been ideally cast as Picture Show's thoughtless beauty, the meticulous period design and strong supporting cast couldn't disguise Shepherd's failings in the title role of Bogdanovich's adaptation of Henry James' Daisy Miller (1974). Bogdanovich's homage to lavish 1930s musicals, At Long Last Love (1975), was a disaster; Shepherd's companion record, unfortunately titled Cybill Does It to Cole Porter, didn't help. The Directors Company (and his relationship with Shepherd) dissolved shortly thereafter. Bogdanovich's stylish silent movie tribute, Nickelodeon (1976), became his third consecutive flop.
Though Saint Jack (1979) was a succès d'estime, the troubled history of They All Laughed (1981) sent Bogdanovich into a tailspin. Reeling after one of the movie's stars and his new girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten, were murdered by her estranged husband, Bogdanovich then went bankrupt when he had to distribute the movie himself and it flopped. Retreating from Hollywood, Bogdanovich spent the early '80s revising his early books and writing a biography of Stratten; he raised eyebrows when he married Stratten's younger sister, Louise, in 1988. They split in 2001.
Working as a director for hire, Bogdanovich returned to favor with Mask (1985). A compelling study of a disfigured teen and his forceful mother, Mask won Cher Cannes' Best Actress prize and sterling reviews. The wretched comedy Illegally Yours (1988) and the poorly received Picture Show sequel Texasville (1990) squandered the professional goodwill; the barely released The Thing Called Love (1993) was better known as one of River Phoenix's last movies. Relegated to directing TV-movies, straight-to-videos, and contributing to documentaries, Bogdanovich declared bankruptcy again in the 1990s. He remained visible, though, as an actor in such films as Mr. Jealousy (1997). By 2000, Bogdanovich landed a part on the award-winning series The Sopranos as Lorraine Bracco's quizzical psychiatrist and returned to subjects close to his heart with the independent feature The Cat's Meow (2001), about the mystery surrounding Hollywood pioneer Thomas Ince's death.