Robert Altman

  • Celebrity
  • Birth Name: Robert Bernard Altman
  • Birth Place: Kansas City, Missouri, United States
  • Died: November 20, 2006
  • Profession: Director, Screenwriter, Producer
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Biography

A groundbreaking filmmaker/legendary troublemaker, Altman initially tried to break into Hollywood as an actor and writer before finding his niche as a director (who often penned his films' scripts). After serving in World War II, Altman learned his craft helming industrial films and finally broke into mainstream cinema with the 1957 B-movie The Delinquents. He spent the next decade directing television (Peter Gunn, Bonanza, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) before returning to features in the late '60s, but he was 45 when he made his breakthrough movie, the pitch-black 1970 comedy M*A*S*H, which spawned a television series of the same name. With M*A*S*H, Altman found both critical and commercial success, earned his first best-director Oscar nomination, and began forging his naturalistic, signature style. Famous for his deft use of large ensemble casts, overlapping, often improvised dialogue and intricate networks of interwoven story lines that came together into a complex mosaic of American attitudes and experiences, Altman was a revered and prolific auteur in the '70s, making such iconic films as Nashville (which earned him a second Oscar nod) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and working with myriad stars including Carol Burnett, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty and Lily Tomlin. Although actors loved him, studio suits did not, as he was combative and uncompromising in his art, regardless of budget or deadlines. By the '80s, a critical backlash coupled with his cantankerous reputation and a string of high-profile flops (Beyond Therapy, O.C. and Stiggs, Popeye, which, though it made money, failed to do as well as expected), hurt his career. But the sexagenarian director made a remarkable comeback in the '90s, beginning with The Player, which brilliantly skewered the very industry that made, broke and remade him. Although the satire earned Altman his third Oscar nomination as best director, and two more came with Short Cuts and Gosford Park, he didn't take home a statuette until 2006, when the Academy finally saw fit to salute him with an honorary lifetime-achievement Oscar. During his acceptance speech, he revealed that he had quietly undergone a heart transplant in the mid-'90s, which made securing insurance for what turned out to be his last film, 2006's A Prairie Home Companion, difficult. (Ultimately, the then-80-year-old Altman had to hire Boogie Nights' Paul Thomas Anderson as a backup director.) What Altman didn't divulge during that speech was that he was also battling cancer. Although he died in November 2006, the maverick moviemaker left an indelible mark on contemporary independent cinema, influencing everyone from the aforementioned Anderson to John Sayles to Paul Haggis, who ironically scored a best-film Oscar for Crash at the very ceremony that earned Altman his honorary award.

Fast Facts

  • Was a copilot on B-24 bombing missions over the Dutch East Indies during WWII.
  • Played an extra in the 1947 Danny Kaye film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
  • In the early 1950s, directed more than 60 industrial films in his native Kansas City, several of which featured I Love Lucy's William Frawley as comic relief.
  • Landed a job directing for the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and quit after a dispute with a producer having directed only two episodes.
  • Refusing to edit down his 1968 sci-fi thriller Countdown, was fired and not given final cut. Altman required complete artistic control on future endeavors.
  • Son Mike wrote the lyrics to the M*A*S*H theme song, "Suicide Is Painless," when he was 14 years old.
  • Received a heart transplant in 1996.

Awards

  • 2005, Oscar — Honorary Award: Winner
  • 1989, Emmy — Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series: Winner
  • 1992, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1993, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1975, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nominee
  • 1975, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1993, Emmy — Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing in a Variety or Music Program: Nominee
  • 1976, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1993, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 2002, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Winner
  • 1971, Golden Globe — Best Director - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1970, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 1994, Golden Globe — Best Screenplay - Motion Picture: Nominee
  • 1993, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Film: Nominee
  • 1979, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Direction: Nominee
  • 2002, BAFTA Film Awards — The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year: Winner
  • 1971, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Direction: Nominee
  • 1993, BAFTA Film Awards — The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction: Winner
  • 1979, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Screenplay: Nominee
  • 2001, Oscar — Best Achievement in Directing: Nominee
  • 2001, Oscar — Best Motion Picture of the Year: Nominee
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  • 2002, Berlin Film Festival — Lifetime Achievement (Honorary Golden Bear): Winner
  • 2002, Australian Film Institute Awards — Best Foreign Film: Nominee
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  • 1992, Cannes Film Festival — Best Director: Winner
  • 1970, Cannes Film Festival — Grand Prix: Winner
  • 1992, Directors Guild of America Awards — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Nominee
  • 1993, Directors Guild of America Awards — Lifetime Achievement in Feature Film: Winner
  • 2007, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Director: Nominee
  • 2000, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Feature: Nominee
  • 1972, Writers Guild Awards — Adapted Drama: Nominee
  • 1994, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Director: Winner
  • 1976, Berlin Film Festival — Golden Bear: Winner
  • 1973, Writers Guild Awards — Original Drama: Nominee
  • 1996, Venice Film Festival — Lifetime Achievement: Winner
  • 1993, Venice Film Festival — Best Film: Winner
  • 1995, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Feature: Nominee
  • 1979, Writers Guild Awards — Original Comedy: Nominee
  • 2002, BAFTA Film Awards — The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction: Nominee
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  • 1975, Directors Guild of America Awards — Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film: Nominee
  • 1994, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Screenplay: Winner

Relationships

  • Bernard Clement Altman — Father
  • Michael Altman — Son
  • Christine Westphal — Daughter
  • Konni Corriere — Stepdaughter
  • Robert Reed Altman — Son
  • LaVonne Elmer — Ex-wife
  • Lotus Corelli — Ex-wife
  • Matthew Altman — Son
  • Helen Altman — Mother
  • Kathryn Reed Altman — Wife
  • Stephen Altman — Son

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Details

  • Birth Name: Robert Bernard Altman
  • Birth Place: Kansas City, Missouri, United States
  • Died: November 20, 2006
  • Profession: Director, Screenwriter, Producer