Coming out of a musical family and trained as a stage actor, Don Siegel became one of the most respected directors of action films in Hollywood. He began his career as a film librarian and advanced through the editing department at Warner Bros., where he frequently directed transition and linking footage in the early '40s, making two Oscar-winning short films during this same period.
Siegel became a feature director in 1946 with an offbeat mystery called The Verdict, starring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. His second film, the much-underrated Night Unto Night, proved so difficult a subject -- as a psychological drama about a dying man (Ronald Reagan) and a suicidal woman (Viveca Lindfors, who was then Siegel's wife) -- that its release was delayed for more than two years. During the early '50s, Siegel made his reputation as an efficient, reliable, often inspired maker of action and crime films, most notably Riot in Cell Block H and Private Hell 36 (both 1954). His ability to transform difficult or lackluster script material into original, memorable, often startling motion pictures was established with 1955's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the most unsettling, popular, and profitable science fiction films of the decade.
Siegel thrived for the next 15 years in relative obscurity (although he made one of Elvis Presley's finest films, Flaming Star) until the late '60s, when he began his association with Clint Eastwood. His Eastwood vehicles included Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled (both 1970), and the phenomenally popular and controversial police thriller Dirty Harry (1971). The actor and future director was just rising to fame after his success in Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns, and Siegel's recognition rose commensurately with Eastwood's popularity. He became something of a mentor to Eastwood and made a cameo in the actor's directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971). Siegel's other '70s films included John Wayne's final movie, The Shootist (1976), and the Cold War thriller Telefon (1977). He made another cameo appearance as a taxi driver in Philip Kaufman's Body Snatchers remake in 1978 and directed Eastwood one last time in 1979's Escape From Alcatraz. Retired from films since the early '80s, Siegel died of cancer in 1991. Eastwood wrote a forward for his autobiography, A Siegel Film, which was published posthumously in 1993.