The son of famed animator Max Fleischer (Popeye, Betty Boop et. al.), Richard O. Fleischer was a psychology student at Brown University when he dropped out in favor of the Yale Drama Department. At age 21, Fleischer organized a campus theatrical troupe called the Arena Players. In 1942, he went to work for RKO-Pathe in New York, editing the company's weekly newsreels before producing and directing his own short-subject projects, including the March of Time-like This is America and a series of gagged-up silent-film vignettes titled Flicker Flashbacks. In 1946, he headed to Hollywood, there to direct feature films for Pathe's parent studio, RKO Radio; his last short-subject effort was the Oscar-winning Design for Death (1948). At first limited to "B" pictures, Fleischer gained a loyal critical following with such topnotch films as Follow Me Quietly (1949) and The Narrow Margin (1952).
Perhaps sensing that RKO was on its last legs, Fleischer moved on to MGM, then to Walt Disney Studios. While working for Disney he helmed his first big-budgeter, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Firmly established as an action specialist, Fleischer remained in this vein with such profitable projects as The Vikings (1958), These Thousand Hills (1959) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). He also evinced a fondness for crime and suspense pictures, notably Violent Saturday (1955), Compulsion (1959) and The Boston Strangler (1968). While many of his films were box-office bonanzas, he also turned out an equal number of unsuccessful films including Dr. Doolittle (1967) and Che! (1969). A true survivor, Fleischer was able to remain active until the late 1980s, by which time he'd chalked up fewer and fewer hits like The New Centurions (1972) and more and more misses like The Jazz Singer (1980) and Million Dollar Mystery (1987). Though he hasn't made a film since 1990, Richard Fleischer has kept busy as the licensee of his dad's cartoon creation Betty Boop; and in 1994, Fleischer published his sprightly autobiography, Just Tell Me When to Cry.