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David Lean Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (6)  | Trade Mark (13)  | Trivia (26)  | Personal Quotes (24)

Overview (3)

Born in Croydon, Surrey, England, UK
Died in London, England, UK  (throat cancer)
Height 6' 1" (1.86 m)

Mini Bio (1)

An important British filmmaker, David Lean was born in Croydon on March 25, 1908 and brought up in a strict Quaker family (ironically, as a child he wasn't allowed to go to the movies). During the 1920s, he briefly considered the possibility of becoming an accountant like his father before finding a job at Gaumont British Studios in 1927. He worked as tea boy, clapper boy, messenger, then cutting room assistant. By 1935, he had become chief editor of Gaumont British News until in 1939 when he began to edit feature films, notably for Anthony Asquith, Paul Czinner and Michael Powell. Amongst films he worked on were Pygmalion (1938), Major Barbara (1941) and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942).

By the end of the 1930s, Lean's reputation as an editor was very well established. In 1942, Noël Coward gave Lean the chance to co-direct with him the war film In Which We Serve (1942). Shortly after, with the encouragement of Coward, Lean, cinematographer Ronald Neame and producer 'Anthony Havelock-Allan' launched a production company called Cineguild. For that firm Lean first directed adaptations of three plays by Coward: the chronicle This Happy Breed (1944), the humorous ghost story Blithe Spirit (1945) and, most notably, the sentimental drama Brief Encounter (1945). Originally a box-office failure in England, "Brief Encounter" was presented at the very first Cannes film festival (1946), where it won almost unanimous praises as well as a Grand Prize.

From Coward, Lean switched to Charles Dickens, directing two well-regarded adaptations: Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). The latter, starring Alec Guinness in his first major movie role, was criticized by some, however, for potential anti-Semitic inflections. The last two films made under the Cineguild banner were The Passionate Friends (1949), a romance from a novel by H.G. Wells, and the true crime story Madeleine (1950). Neither had a significant impact on critics or audiences.

The Cineguild partnership came to an end after a dispute between Lean and Neame. Lean's first post-Cineguild production was the aviation drama The Sound Barrier (1952), a great box-office success in England and his most spectacular movie so far. He followed with two sophisticated comedies based on theatrical plays: Hobson's Choice (1954) and the Anglo-American co-production Summertime (1955). Both were well received and "Hobson's Choice" won the Golden Bear at the 1954 Berlin film festival.

Lean's next movie was pivotal in his career, as it was the first of those grand-scale epics he would become renowned for. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was produced by Sam Spiegel from a novel by 'Pierre Boulle', adapted by blacklisted writers Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman. Shot in Ceylon under extremely difficult conditions, the film was an international success and triumphed at the Oscars, winning seven awards, most notably best film and director.

Lean and Spiegel followed with an even more ambitious film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), based on "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", the autobiography of T.E. Lawrence. Starring relative newcomer Peter O'Toole, this film was the first collaboration between Lean and writer Robert Bolt, cinematographer Freddie Young and composer Maurice Jarre. The shooting itself took place in Spain, Morocco and Jordan over a period of 20 months. Initial reviews were mixed and the film was trimmed down shortly after its world première and cut even more during a 1971 re-release. Like its predecessor, it won seven Oscars, once again including best film and director.

The same team of Lean, Bolt, Young and Jarre next worked on an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel "Dr. Zhivago" for producer Carlo Ponti. Doctor Zhivago (1965) was shot in Spain and Finland, standing in for revolutionary Russia and, despite divided critics, was hugely successful, as was Jarre's musical score. The film won five Oscars out of ten nominations, but the statuettes for film and director went to The Sound of Music (1965).

Lean's next movie, the sentimental drama Ryan's Daughter (1970), did not reach the same heights. The original screenplay by Robert Bolt was produced by old associate Anthony Havelock-Allan, and Lean once again secured the collaboration of Freddie Young and Maurice Jarre. The shooting in Ireland lasted about a year, much longer than expected. The film won two Oscars; but, for the most part, critical reaction was tepid, sometimes downright derisive, and the general public didn't really respond to the movie.

This relative lack of success seems to have inhibited Lean's creativity for a while. But towards the end of the 1970s, he started to work again with Robert Bolt on an ambitious two-part movie about the Bounty mutiny. The project fell apart and was eventually recuperated by Dino De Laurentiis. Lean was then approached by producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin to adapt E.M. Forster's novel "A Passage to India", a book Lean had been interested in for more than 20 years. For the first time in his career; Lean wrote the adaptation alone, basing himself partly on Santha Rama Rau's stage version of the book. Lean also acted as his own editor. A Passage to India (1984) opened to mostly favourable reviews and performed quite well at the box-office. It was a strong Oscar contender, scoring 11 nominations. It settled for two wins, losing the trophy battle to Milos Forman's Amadeus (1984).

Lean spent the last few years of his life preparing an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's meditative adventure novel "Nostromo". He also participated briefly in Richard Harris' restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia" in 1988. In 1990, Lean received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement award. He died of cancer on April 16, 1991 at age 83, shortly before the shooting of "Nostromo" was about to begin.

Lean was known on sets for his extreme perfectionism and autocratic behavior, an attitude that sometimes alienated his cast or crew. Though his cinematic approach, classic and refined, clearly belongs to a bygone era, his films have aged rather well and his influence can still be found in movies like The English Patient (1996) and Titanic (1997). In 1999, the British Film Institute compiled a list of the 100 favorite British films of the 20th century. Five by David Lean appeared in the top 30, three of them in the top five.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: François Leclair (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (6)

Sandra Lean (15 December 1990 - 16 April 1991) ( his death)
Sandra Hotz (28 October 1981 - 1984) ( divorced)
Leila Matkar (4 July 1960 - 1978) ( divorced)
Ann Todd (21 May 1949 - 1957) ( divorced)
Kay Walsh (23 November 1940 - 1949) ( divorced)
Isabel Lean (28 June 1930 - 1936) ( divorced) ( 1 child)

Trade Mark (13)

Frequently cast Alec Guinness, Ann Todd and Omar Sharif
Trains/locomotives playing a significant role in the film's plot (e.g., Brief Encounter (1945), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Summertime (1955), Doctor Zhivago (1965), etc.).
Very distinct sense of time and place in His films (Russia during the Russian Revolution, Ireland during the 1916 Easter uprising)
Stories are often set against the backdrop of political discourse (Russian Revolution, Easter Rising)
Biographical dramas about real life Individuals
Enormous visual scope with heavy use of natural light
Spectacular bloody battle scenes
His characters are often men of honor struggling in a cruel or alien environment
Often collaborated with composer Maurice Jarre
The horizon is almost always kept in view
His films often examine relations and differences between two opposing cultures and viewpoints
Frequently collaborated with screenwriter Robert Bolt and production designer John Box
Short temper.

Trivia (26)

He was honoured with the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award (1990).
According to Richard Schickel, Lean was so wounded by Pauline Kael's and other critics' vicious attacks on Ryan's Daughter (1970) that he didn't direct another picture for 14 years, until A Passage to India (1984).
His third wife, actress Ann Todd, was previously married to his first cousin, Nigel Tangye.
Both Lean's first wife, Isabel Lean (born 1908) and his third, actress Ann Todd, were his first cousins.
Originally wanted to direct Empire of the Sun (1987), but passed it on to Steven Spielberg because of advancing years.
He was married six times and at all times briefly, apparently having been unable to maintain a marriage due to his wandering eye. He also declined to discuss his personal life.
Was voted the 34th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 633-639. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company (1987).
Towards the end of his life, he said he would like to have another go at filming Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago". The prerequisite for remaking the film would be the casting of Julie Christie once again as Lara, but since she would be too old for the role, he wouldn't be able to do it.
Directed 11 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Celia Johnson, Katharine Hepburn, Alec Guinness, Sessue Hayakawa, Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, John Mills, Sarah Miles, Peggy Ashcroft and Judy Davis. Guiness, Mills and Ashcroft won for their performances in one of Lean's movies.
From 1986 until his death in 1991, he was working on an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Nostromo. Serge Silberman was producing in conjunction with Columbia Pictures and Lean had written the screenplay with Robert Bolt and Maggie Unsworth. The film was budgeted at $46m and shooting was to have started in March 1991, in Almería and Les Studios de la Victorine in Nice. Dennis Quaid, Isabella Rossellini, Julian Sands, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Irene Papas and Christopher Lambert were to have starred, with cinematographer Alex Thomson and production designer John Box also in place. The score was to have been composed by Maurice Jarre. The budget also contained provision for a replacement director (Guy Hamilton) to take over should Lean die or his health deteriorate during the shoot. Lean was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 1991 and shooting was postponed from March until May. Lean died in April 1991, before filming could commence.
Peter O'Toole based his performance in The Stunt Man (1980) on Lean.
In his home town of Croydon, South London, there is a cinema named after him in the Croydon Clocktower Arts Centre.
Once screened Lawrence of Arabia (1962) with Steven Spielberg. Lean gave Spielberg a "live director's commentary" (as Spielberg put it). Spielberg said it was one of the best moments of his life, learning from a true master. Consequently, Spielberg stated that it helped him make better pictures and that commentary directly influenced every movie he has made since.
According to Sarah Miles, Lean enjoyed pushing his actors to their personal limits and then breaking them, just for his own amusement.
Frequently worked with Alec Guinness. When he recommended that Steven Spielberg direct Empire of the Sun (1987), Spielberg ended up hiring Eve Mavrakis as a translator. Fittingly, Mavrakis would go on to marry Ewan McGregor, who succeeded Guinness in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.
Expressed an interest in making a film version of the BBC Light Programme's "Journey into Space" SF radio serial (1955).
He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the Coronation Honours List of 1953 for his contributions and services to the arts.
He was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1984 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his contributions and services to the arts.
Before his death in 1991, Lean's only child Peter, and Peter's daughter, tried to reconcile with him on a visit to his home in France, but the attempt ended in anger, and they never spoke again. David Lean had left his first wife when Peter was young, just as Lean's own accountant father had left when David was 16.
In a BBC documentary, Steven Spielberg recounted how Lean (by then a personal friend) asked him to approach Warner Brothers on his behalf to persuade them to finance his film of Joseph Conrad's novel Nostromo. Spielberg did this and Warner's studio chief, who was also a personal friend of Spielberg's, agreed to fund the movie on a $20m budget. When Spielberg called Lean to give him the good news, Lean told him it wasn't enough and to go back and ask for $30m. A shocked Spielberg did so, but Warners refused to increase the budget. Lean never spoke to Spielberg again.
He directed two Best Picture Academy Award winners: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and four other Best Picture nominees: In Which We Serve (1942), Great Expectations (1946), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and A Passage to India (1984).
Uncle of John Tangye Lean and Lucy Lean.
In May 1988 he was given the Cannes Action Committee Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Film Industry.
He has directed two films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Personal Quotes (24)

Actors can be a terrible bore on the set, though I enjoy having dinner with them.
I wouldn't take the advice of a lot of so-called critics on how to shoot a close-up of a teapot.
Always cast against the part and it won't be boring.
When the great actor says the line, you can put scissors precisely at the point A and it's wonderful. When the star says the line, you can hold for four frames longer because something else happens.
[on the Academy Awards] If you have no hope of getting one, they're despised. But it you have, they're very important.
Film is a dramatized reality and it is the director's job to make it appear real... an audience should not be conscious of technique.
I think people remember pictures not dialogue. That's why I like pictures.
[on Anthony Asquith] A hell of a good director.
[on Charles Laughton] Charm, you see, a terrific man to work with. You had to hold him down a bit. What a talent!
I like making films about characters I'd like to have dinner with.
These American writers really frighten me. They talk so well and write so badly. I have now worked with five of them and not one has come along with a big, original idea.
[on film adaptations] I think the best you can do in a movie is to be faithful to the author's intention in all areas. With the two Dickens films I did - Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) - they are, oh, pencil sketches of these great novels that he wrote, but I think they are faithful. I wouldn't have been ashamed to show him the films.
[accepting the Best Director Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)] This limey is deeply touched and greatly honoured. Thank you.
Casting is a nightmare because it is an eternal compromise. You hardly ever have the actor give a performance of which you say, yes, that's right on it. They just haven't got that sense of humour, or they haven't got that feel about them or whatever it is. The nearest person to a perfect piece of casting was Trevor Howard in Ryan's Daughter (1970). He was just wonderful for the tunnel-vision priest - a kind of peasant who knew exactly what was right and what was wrong and was therefore not all that intelligent.
I find dialogue a bore, for the most part. I think that if you look back on any film you've seen, you don't remember lines of dialogue, you remember pictures.
[on Doctor Zhivago (1965)] Zhivago is a very passive part - he's a poet and a doctor - and a fatal pitfall would have been to cast too much with the type. If I'd had a very studious young man, I think he'd tend to be a bore in the picture and so I thought I'd go for immense good looks and I thought of Omar (Sharif) because he'd played the Sheik in Lawrence who came out of the mirage. He's a very sensitive actor and we happen to work very well together - he catches on - and I think it works and I thought I could get this Russian poet out of him, and I backed that hunch. A lot of people thought I was mad.
[1989, on the restored version of Lawrence of Arabia (1962)] Everyone worried about re-releasing Lawrence. They said the audiences have changed. They talk and shout at the screen; they're impatient; they wouldn't sit still for it. Not at all. You could hear a pin drop. London, New York, Washington, Los Angeles. Everywhere. I think audiences had almost forgotten the power of pictures. They've gotten smaller and smaller. And suddenly you see this old film, wonderfully photographed; tremendous detail; you almost feel you could take a hair off the actor's collar. There's a mesmeric effect from the picture on the screen.
[on Doctor Zhivago (1965)] That film earned me more money than all my other films put together. It's a wonderful story - you want to know what happens next. And wonderful characters. And Julie (Christie).....which was quite a face.
I realise more and more that reality on the screen, which used to be the thing to aim at, is a sort of bore. I don't mean that the audience should sit there and say, "Oh, that's unreal". But movies are a kind of dream and I think they should have an unreal edge to them, and that's what I try to do.
[1988 interview] I don't know about Brief Encounter (1945). I saw it the other day and I thought it was rather good, and I saw it a couple of years ago and I thought it was pretty awful. The magic of that film is Celia Johnson - she was wonderful!
I suppose I don't have much contact with actors off the set because I have so much contact with them on the set. I'm trying to get things out of them - I'm squeezing them a little, I'm encouraging them - I'm a general sort of wet-nurse to actors.
[shortly before his death from cancer, to friend John Boorman] Haven't we been lucky, John? They let us make movies.
I want to make something that if I went to the cinema and it wasn't me, I'd enjoy watching.
One of the fascinations about the cinema is that the lights went down, you were in the dark - it's very private - and I used to turn and look at that beam going through the tobacco smoke and it still holds a kind of fascination for me - I don't know why - it's part of the magic show I think. And that beam showed me places I thought I'd never visit. I've been terribly lucky and I have visited them. It showed me characters, I met all sorts of people i.e. the characters on the screen, that I'd never meet in my ordinary, dull, suburban life.

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