robert altman

Robert Altman

Robert Bernard Altman (February 20, 1925 – November 20, 2006) was an American film director known for making films that are highly naturalistic, but with a stylized perspective. In 2006, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his body of work with an Academy Honorary Award.

His films MASH and Nashville have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


He came up with a scheme to “Identi-Code” pets. He would tattoo a number on the cat or dog. Somehow, he managed to tattoo President Harry S. Truman’s dog.

He designed a watch called “Time to Reflect” for Swatch in 1995 to commemorate the centenary of the birth of cinema.

His son, Mike Altman, wrote the lyrics for “Suicide is Painless,” the theme song for MASH (1970), when he was only 14 years old.

Stepdaughter, Konni Corriere (with Reed), born 1946.

Son, Robert Reed Altman, with Kathryn Reed, was born in 1960.

Son, Matthew R. Altman was adopted at birth in 1966.

Son, Stephen Altman, with Lotus Corelli, was born in 1957.

Son, Mike Altman, with Lotus Corelli, was born in 1955.

Daughter, Christine Altman, with LaVonne Elmer, was born in 1947.

Was voted the 17th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. “World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985”. Pages 29-39. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.

Worked with (the late) Vic Morrow on the TV series “Combat!” (1962), with Vic’s daughter, Jennifer Jason Leigh in several films including Short Cuts (1993), and with Vic’s ex-wife (and Jennifer’s mother) Barbara Turner on The Company (2003).

Like the late Richard Hooker, author of the book MASH (on which his film was based), Altman greatly disliked the TV series that followed and said that it didn’t make the same anti-war point that his film made.

Directed 6 different actresses in Oscar-nominated performances: Sally Kellerman, Julie Christie, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith.

Close friends with actress Julie Christie.

While working on McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), he and Warren Beatty hated each other so much that Beatty later admitted that, had he produced the film himself, he would have killed Altman.

He is a member of the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) Advisory Board.

In the recent past, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards (founded in 1935) were second in prestige only to the Academy Awards (and some actors and filmmakers such as double Oscar-winner Glenda Jackson considered it a superior honor) and were a major influence on subsequent Oscar nominations. The Golden Globe Awards, which were plagued by scandals related to its small, unrepresentative voting body and to self-dealing with subsequent awardees, had been forced off the air by the Federal Communications Commission and were regarded as something of a joke by more serious cinephiles. During the 1976 presidential election year, Robert Altman’s masterpiece Nashville (1975) won Best Picture and Supporting Actress (Lily Tomlin), and Altman was named the top director by the NYFCC. All failed to repeat at the Academy Awards (though Keith Carradine won an Oscar for Best Song.) Altman — discussing Nashville (1975)’s loss of the Best Picture Oscar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) earlier that year — characterized the NYFCC Awards as the ‘New York primary’ leading up to the Oscar ‘election’. Continuing with the metaphor in his August 1976 Interview with Bruce Williamson in “PLAYBOY Magazine” (Vol. 23, Iss. 8), Altman said that “Cuckoo’s Nest” had had an inside advantage as it had won the ‘California primary’ (the Golden Globes). At the time, the Golden Globes, though a joke in terms of their integrity, were still a potent predictor of eventual Oscar success (and would come to be the second-most important bellwether of the Academy Awards by the 1980s and ’90s).

Made his London theatrical debut in early 2006 directing Arthur Miller’s play “Resurrection Blues” at the Old Vic under the aegis of Kevin Spacey, the Artistic Directory of the venerable London company. Altman chose an eclectic cast for he Miller play featured, including ‘Maxmillian Schell’ (qc), ‘James Fox’ (who replaced John Wood before previews), and American movie actors Matthew Modine and Jane Adams. The English critics panned “Resurrection Blues”, partly due to the clash in acting styles of the disparate cast. Adams walked out after a matinée on April 5, 2006, and was replaced by her understudy for subsequent performances. No explanation was given for her departure from the production. The play was scheduled to close a week early in mid-April due to poor ticket sales. Altman claimed after the poor debut of the play that he was not very familiar with the script, and didn’t really understand the play. Critics said that his confusion obviously affected the cast, many of whom seemed not to understand the play, and some of whom seemed to have trouble remembering lines. While not an outright debacle, the play is another relative failure characterizing Spacey’s troubled tenure as Old Vic chief.

Upon receiving an honorary Oscar at the 2006 Academy Awards, Altman revealed that he had been the recipient of a heart transplant approximately 10 years prior, and hadn’t gone public out of fear that it would hinder his ability to get work.

His episodes of “Bonanza” (1959) often starred the Hoss character played by Dan Blocker and frequently were humorous.

When directing episodes of the TV show “Bonanza” (1959), Altman became close friends with actor Dan Blocker, who portrayed Hoss. Altman wanted Blocker to play the Roger Wade character in his version of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973), but he died before the commencement of shooting. The movie was dedicated to Blocker.

It is said that Altman, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, was radicalized by a trip to Vietnam to shoot footage of the war in the 1960s. He has never talked about this episode in his life and career.

Helped Shelley Duvall and Gary Chason begin their careers by giving them jobs on Brewster McCloud (1970).

Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Directors Branch).

Paul Thomas Anderson was employed as a standby director for A Prairie Home Companion (2006) for insurance purposes, and in the event that ailing 80-year-old Altman was unable to finish shooting.

Has twice used a blonde woman in a white trench coat to symbolize death: Sally Kellerman in Brewster McCloud (1970) and Virginia Madsen in A Prairie Home Companion (2006).

He was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film culture.

Profiled in “Conversations with Directors: An Anthology of Interviews from Literature/Film Quarterly”, E.M. Walker, D.T. Johnson, eds. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.

Is the only director to win first prize at the three major European film festivals: he won the Palm D’Ore at the Cannes Film Festival for MASH in 1970, the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson in 1976 and Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Short Cuts in 1993.

Directed both Susannah York and Shelley Duvall to the Best Actress Award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. York winning for her role as Cathryn in Images (1972), and Duvall for her portrayal of Millie Lammoreaux in 3 Women (1977).

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