The life story of Peter Bogdanovich, who died this week at the age of 82, reads like the kind of yarn spun in the classic Hollywood movies he loved so much, with triumph and tragedy, rejection and vindication, an outsider becoming an insider, a protégé becoming a mentor.
Born in Kingston, New York, in 1939, Bogdanovich’s early career resembled that of the French New Wave directors who were coming of age at the same time — a bright young man with an obsessive love and knowledge of golden-age American cinema starts out as a film critic and journalist before becoming a filmmaker himself. In the early 1960s, Bogdanovich made a name for himself as a film curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where he showcased underappreciated but groundbreaking filmmakers like John Ford and Allan Dwan and wrote scholarly examinations of the films of Howard Hawks, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock.
Bogdanovich moved to Los Angeles with Polly Platt as his first wife. Polly would be a major part of his earliest cinematic success. Bogdanovich made friends with Roger Corman who gave him his first directorial assignment: the cheesy. “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women”The powerful “Targets.” The latter film not only provided Boris Karloff the opportunity to deliver a haunting, end-of-career performance as an over-the-hill movie star but also delivered caustic and cogent commentary about America’s gun culture.
The early 1970s saw some of Bogdanovich’s greatest hits, from his immortal breakout films “The Last Picture Show” (1971), “What’s Up, Doc?”(1972), “Paper Moon” (1973) — all homages to various classic movie genres with a contemporary pulse — to his friendship with Orson Welles, which would lead to Bogdanovich’s book “This Is Orson Welles” and his co-starring role (as a character not entirely unlike himself) in Welles’ final masterpiece, “The Other Side of the Wind,”Netflix released it in 2018.
Bogdanovich’s directorial successes established him as one of the foundation directors of the New Hollywood of 1970s. He demonstrated an ability to make films that were both audience-friendly and auteur-driven. Following an affair with his wife, Bogdanovich faced his first major setback. “Last Picture Show”Star Cybill Shepherd, who ended her marriage to Platt. Film industry and critics both referred to Bogdanovich in this way: a tall poppy who should be cut down. “At Long Last Love,”Starring Shepherd and Burt Reynolds, the film failed. (In later years, Bogdanovich would release a director’s cut of the film to Blu-ray, leading to at least some critical reappraisal.)
Box-office disappointments were his downfall. “Daisy Miller”(1974). “Nickelodeon” (1976), although he did garner positive reviews for 1979’s “Saint Jack,” starring Ben Gazzara. Bogdanovich seemed poised for a comeback with 1981’s “They All Laughed,” an all-star screwball comedy starring Gazzara, Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter and Colleen Camp, but the film’s reception was overshadowed by the murder of co-star Dorothy Stratten, with whom he had been romantically involved. (Bogdanovich would marry Stratten’s sister Louise in 1988; they divorced in 2001.)
Bogdanovich made films that were notable, including “Mask”(1985) “The Cat’s Meow” (2001), but by the 2000s, he found himself in the position of Welles and his other early idols — someone more likely to be sought out as a film historian and mentor than as a working filmmaker. Those relationships with younger filmmakers paid off with his final feature, 2014’s “She’s Funny That Way”; the team of executive producers included admirers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, while Quentin Tarantino (who picked up Bogdanovich’s mantle of paying homage to the cinema of yesteryear) has a cameo as himself.
Peter Bogdanovich has left behind many memorable films, including “The Last Picture Show,”He was nominated for two Oscars as co-writer and director with Larry McMurtry, and the film has remained in high demand five decades later. “What’s Up, Doc?”This is still one of the most hilarious comedies ever made. “At Long Last Love” (better than you’ve heard). But he also created reams of cinema scholarship, from his books and documentaries (his last one was 2018’s “The Great Buster: A Celebration”() to the most recent TCM podcast “The Plot Thickens,”He spoke about his life with Ben Mankiewicz in this interview.
He was an artist, critic, raconteur, and the last great ascot-wearer. Even though Peter Bogdanovich gave more of himself to Hollywood than the movies did to him, his love for Hollywood was never over.