William David "Billy" Friedkin (August 25, 1935 – August 7, 2023) was an American film, television and opera director, producer, and screenwriter who was closely identified with the "New Hollywood" movement of the 1970s. Beginning his career in documentaries in the early 1960s, he directed the crime thriller film The French Connection (1971), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. He then directed the horror film The Exorcist (1973), which earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Director.
William David Friedkin
August 25, 1935
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||August 7, 2023 (aged 87)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||Senn High School|
His other films included the drama The Boys in the Band (1970), the thriller Sorcerer (1977), the crime comedy drama The Brink's Job (1978), the crime thriller Cruising (1980), the neo-noir thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), the psychological horror film Bug (2006), and the black comedy Killer Joe (2011).
Early life and education Edit
Friedkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 29, 1935, the son of Rachael (née Green) and Louis Friedkin. His father was a semi-professional softball player, merchant seaman, and men's clothing salesman. His mother, whom Friedkin called "a saint," was a nurse. His parents were Jewish emigrants from Ukraine. His grandparents, parents, and other relatives fled Ukraine during a particularly violent anti-Jewish pogrom in 1903. Friedkin's father was somewhat uninterested in making money, and the family was generally lower middle class while he was growing up. According to film historian Peter Biskind, "Friedkin viewed his father with a mixture of affection and contempt for not making more of himself."
After attending public schools in Chicago, Friedkin enrolled at Senn High School, where he played basketball well enough to consider turning professional. He was not a serious student and barely received grades good enough to graduate, which he did at the age of 16. He said this was because of social promotion and not because he was bright.
Friedkin began going to movies as a teenager, and cited Citizen Kane as one of his key influences. Several sources claim that Friedkin saw this motion picture as a teenager, but Friedkin himself said that he did not see the film until 1960, when he was 25 years old. Only then, Friedkin said, did he become a true cineaste. Among the movies that he also saw as a teenager and young adult were Les Diaboliques, The Wages of Fear (which many consider he remade as Sorcerer), and Psycho (which he viewed repeatedly, like Citizen Kane). Televised documentaries such as 1960's Harvest of Shame were also important to his developing sense of cinema.
Friedkin began working in the mail room at WGN-TV immediately after high school. Within two years (at the age of 18), he started his directorial career doing live television shows and documentaries. His efforts included The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), which won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and contributed to the commutation of Crump's death sentence. Its success helped Friedkin get a job with producer David L. Wolper. He also made the football-themed documentary Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon (1965).
As mentioned in his voice-over commentary on the DVD re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Friedkin directed one of the last episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965, called "Off Season". Hitchcock admonished Friedkin for not wearing a tie while directing.
In 1965, Friedkin moved to Hollywood and two years later released his first feature film, Good Times starring Sonny and Cher. He has referred to the film as "unwatchable". Several other films followed: The Birthday Party, based on an unpublished screenplay by Harold Pinter, which he adapted from his own play; the musical comedy The Night They Raided Minsky's, starring Jason Robards and Britt Ekland; and the adaptation of Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band.
His next film, The French Connection, was released to wide critical acclaim in 1971. Shot in a gritty style more suited for documentaries than Hollywood features, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Friedkin's next film was 1973's The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, which revolutionized the horror genre and is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won for Best Screenplay and Best Sound. Following these two pictures, Friedkin, along with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, was deemed one of the premier directors of New Hollywood. In 1973, the trio announced the formation of an independent production company at Paramount Pictures, The Directors Company. Whereas Coppola directed The Conversation and Bogdanovich, the Henry James adaptation, Daisy Miller, Friedkin abruptly left the company, which was soon closed by Paramount.
Friedkin's later movies did not achieve the same success. Sorcerer (1977), a $22 million American remake of the French classic The Wages of Fear, co-produced by both Universal and Paramount, starring Roy Scheider, was overshadowed by the blockbuster box-office success of Star Wars, which had been released exactly one week prior. Friedkin considered it his finest film, and was personally devastated by its financial and critical failure (as mentioned by Friedkin himself in the 1999 documentary series The Directors). Sorcerer was shortly followed by the crime-comedy The Brink's Job (1978), based on the real-life Great Brink's Robbery in Boston, Massachusetts, which was also unsuccessful at the box-office.
In 1980, Friedkin directed an adaptation of the Gerald Walker crime thriller Cruising, starring Al Pacino, which was protested during production and remains the subject of heated debate. It was a critically assailed financial disappointment.
Friedkin had a heart attack on March 6, 1981, due to a genetic defect in his circumflex left coronary artery, and nearly died. He spent months in rehabilitation. His next picture was 1983's Deal of the Century, a satire about arms dealing starring Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines, and Sigourney Weaver.
In 1985, Friedkin directed the music video for Barbra Streisand's rendition of the West Side Story song "Somewhere", which she recorded for her twenty-fourth studio LP, The Broadway Album. He later appears as Streisand's interviewer (uncredited) on the television special, "Putting It Together: The Making of the Broadway Album".
The action/crime movie To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe, was a critical favorite and drew comparisons to Friedkin's own The French Connection (particularly for its car chase sequence), while his courtroom drama/thriller Rampage (1987) received a fairly positive review from Roger Ebert. He next directed the cult classic horror film The Guardian (1990) and the thriller Jade (1995), starring Linda Fiorentino. Though the latter received an unfavorable response from critics and audiences, he said it was one of the favorite films he directed.
In 2000, The Exorcist was re-released in theaters with extra footage and grossed $40 million in the U.S. alone. Friedkin directed the 2007 film Bug due to a positive experience watching the stage version in 2004. He was surprised to find that he was, metaphorically, on the same page as the playwright and felt that he could relate well to the story. The film won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Later, Friedkin directed an episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation titled "Cockroaches", which re-teamed him with To Live and Die in L.A. star William Petersen. He directed again for CSI's 200th episode, "Mascara".
In 2011, Friedkin directed Killer Joe, a black comedy written by Tracy Letts based on Letts' play, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church. Killer Joe premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, prior to its North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It opened in U.S. theaters in July 2012, to some favorable reviews from critics but did poorly at the box office, possibly because of its restrictive NC-17 rating. In April 2013, Friedkin published a memoir, The Friedkin Connection. He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 70th Venice International Film Festival in September. In 2017, Friedkin directed the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth about the ninth exorcism of a woman in the Italian village of Alatri. In August 2022, it was announced officially that Friedkin would be returning to film directing to helm an adaptation of the two-act play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial with Kiefer Sutherland starring as Lt. Commander Queeg. The film was completed before Friedkin's death, and debuted in September 2023 in the out-of-competition category at the Venice Film Festival.
In regards to influences of specific films on his films, Friedkin noted that The French Connection['s] documentary-like realism was the direct result of the influence of having seen Z, a French film by Costa-Gavras:
After I saw Z, I realized how I could shoot The French Connection. Because he shot Z like a documentary. It was a fiction film but it was made like it was actually happening. Like the camera didn't know what was gonna happen next. And that is an induced technique. It looks like he happened upon the scene and captured what was going on as you do in a documentary. My first films were documentaries too. So I understood what he was doing but I never thought you could do that in a feature at that time until I saw Z.
Personal life Edit
Friedkin was married four times:
- Jeanne Moreau, married February 8, 1977, and divorced in 1979.
- Lesley-Anne Down, married in 1982 and divorced in 1985.
- Kelly Lange, married on June 7, 1987, and divorced in 1990.
- Sherry Lansing, married on July 6, 1991.
While filming The Boys in the Band in 1970, Friedkin began a relationship with Kitty Hawks, daughter of director Howard Hawks. It lasted two years, during which the couple announced their engagement, but the relationship ended about 1972. Friedkin began a four-year relationship with Australian dancer and choreographer Jennifer Nairn-Smith in 1972. Although they announced an engagement twice, they never married. They had a son, Cedric, on November 27, 1976. Friedkin and his second wife, Lesley-Anne Down, also had a son, Jack, born in 1982. Friedkin was raised Jewish, but called himself an agnostic later in life, although he said that he strongly believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
|1968||The Birthday Party||Yes||No||No|||
|The Night They Raided Minsky's||Yes||No||No|||
|1970||The Boys in the Band||Yes||No||No|||
|1971||The French Connection||Yes||Uncredited||No|||
|1978||The Brink's Job||Yes||No||No|||
|1983||Deal of the Century||Yes||No||No|||
|1985||To Live and Die in L.A.||Yes||Yes||No|||
|2000||Rules of Engagement||Yes||No||No|||
|2023||The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial||Yes||Yes||No|||
|1962||The People vs. Paul Crump||Yes||No||Yes|||
|1965||The Bold Men||Yes||No||No|||
|Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon||Yes||No||Yes|||
|1966||The Thin Blue Line||Yes||Story||Yes|||
|1975||Fritz Lang Interviewed by William Friedkin||Yes||No||No|||
|1986||Putting It Together: The Making of the Broadway Album||Uncredited||No||No|||
|2007||The Painter's Voice||Yes||No||No|||
|2017||The Devil and Father Amorth||Yes||Yes||No|||
|1965||The Alfred Hitchcock Hour||"Off Season" (S3 E29)|||
|1967||The Pickle Bros.||TV pilot (S1 E1)|||
|1985||The Twilight Zone||"Nightcrawlers" (S1 E4c)|||
|1992||Tales from the Crypt||"On a Deadman's Chest" (S4 E3)|||
|2007||CSI: Crime Scene Investigation||"Cockroaches" (S8 E9)|||
|2009||"Mascara" (S9 E18)|||
|1988||C.A.T. Squad: Python Wolf||Yes||Yes||Yes|||
|1997||12 Angry Men||Yes||No||No|||
|Year||Title and Composer||Country / Opera House||Ref(s)|
|Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theatre|||
|2002||Duke Bluebeard's Castle,
|Los Angeles Opera|||
|2003||La damnation de Faust,
|2004||Ariadne auf Naxos,
|2005||Samson and Delilah,
|June, New Israeli Opera
October, Los Angeles Opera
|Teatro Regio Torino|||
|Bavarian State Opera|||
|Los Angeles Opera|||
|2011||The Makropulos Case,
|Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theatre|||
|2012||The Tales of Hoffmann,
|Theater an der Wien|||
|Teatro Regio Torino|||
|Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theatre|||
|Teatro Regio Torino|||
|1981||Duet for One||Royale Theatre||Max von Sydow,
Unrealized projects Edit
|Year||Title and description||Ref(s)|
|1970s||The Bunker Hill Boys, a film for The Directors Company|||
|Untitled sci-fi film with Peter Gabriel|||
|The Devil's Triangle, a UFO thriller starring Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and Charlton Heston|||
|A Safe Darkness, a documentary about horror cinema featuring interviews with Fritz Lang and Roman Polanski|||
|A 10-hour television adaptation of Thomas Thompson's novel Blood and Money|||
|A film adaptation of Ron Hansen's novel Desperadoes written by Walon Green|||
|1980s||A film adaptation of Robin Cook's novel Brain|||
|That Championship Season|||
|A film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel Legion|||
|A film adaptation of Frank De Felitta's novel Sea Trial starring Laura Branigan and Michael Nouri|||
|A film adaptation of Don Pendleton's The Executioner series written by Hilary Henkin starring Sylvester Stallone and Cynthia Rothrock|||
|The Gambler, a film written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner starring Sylvester Stallone|||
|Untitled biopic about 1950s songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller|||
|1990s||Elsewhere, a ghost story with William Peter Blatty|||
|The Diary of Jack the Ripper, a biopic about James Maybrick written by Chris DeVore starring Anthony Hopkins|||
|A film adaptation of John Flood's novel Bag Men starring Michael Keaton|||
|A remake of the 1996 made-for-television film Truth or Dare written by William Davies|||
|Night Train, a biopic about boxer Sonny Liston written by Shane Salerno and Tyger Williams starring Ving Rhames|||
|Battle Grease, a film about the account of the Florence Maybrick murder trial|||
|2000s||A film adaptation of Larry Collins' novel O Jerusalem! written by James Dearden|||
|Shooter starring Tommy Lee Jones|||
|Untitled biopic about Howard Hughes adapted from Richard Hack's biography Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters|||
|A film adaptation of Thomas Thompson's novel Serpentine|||
|A film adaptation of Robert Silverberg's novel The Book of Skulls written by Jeff Davis and Terry Hayes|||
|The Man Who Kept Secrets, a biopic about Hollywood lawyer Sidney Korshak|||
|A film adaptation of Chris Greenhalgh's novel Coco and Igor starring Mads Mikkelsen and Marina Hands|||
|2010s||A film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel Dimiter|||
|Trapped, an indie thriller set in Europe starring Demián Bichir||[a]|
|I Am Wrath starring Nicolas Cage|||
|Mae, a biopic about actress Mae West starring Natasha Lyonne and Bette Midler|||
|A TV pilot based on his film To Live and Die in L.A. written by Robert Moresco|||
|Untitled Killer Joe spinoff TV series|||
|A film adaptation of Don Winslow's novel The Winter of Frankie Machine|||
An LA Opera production of Wagner's Tannhäuser was announced by Friedkin, but a spokesperson revealed it had been delayed indefinitely. Friedkin had also been set to direct the premiere of an opera titled An Inconvenient Truth to debut in 2011, but he later departed from it when creative differences arose between him and the librettist. In 2013, it was reported that he would helm a stage production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (which he had already directed as a feature film in 1968), for Geffen Playhouse. A cast including Katie Amess, Frances Barber, Steven Berkoff, Tim Roth and Nick Ullett was assembled, but the production was soon postponed for an unknown reason, and never revived.
|1972||Academy Award||Best Director||The French Connection||Won|||
|Directors Guild of America||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Won|||
|Golden Globes||Best Director||Won|||
|1974||Academy Award||The Exorcist||Nominated|||
|Directors Guild of America||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Nominated|||
|Golden Globes||Best Director||Won|||
|1981||Razzie Awards||Worst Director||Cruising||Nominated|||
|1986||Cognac Festival du Film Policier||Audience Award||To Live and Die in L.A.||Won|||
|1988||Deauville Film Festival||Critics Award||Rampage||Nominated|||
|1991||Saturn Award||George Pal Memorial Award||Won|||
|1998||Directors Guild of America||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials||12 Angry Men||Nominated|||
|Primetime Emmy Awards||Best Director||Nominated|||
|1999||Saturn Award||President's Award||Won|||
|Empire Awards||Movie Masterpiece Award||The Exorcist||Won|||
|2000||Palm Beach International Film Festival||Lifetime Achievement Award||Won|||
|2006||Cannes Film Festival||FIPRESCI||Bug||Won|||
|2007||Munich Film Festival||CineMerit Award||Won|||
|Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival||Time-Machine Honorary Award||Won|||
|2009||Locarno International Film Festival||Leopard of Honor||Won|||
|2011||Venice Film Festival||Golden Lion||Killer Joe||Nominated|||
|2013||Belgian Film Critics Association||Grand Prix||Nominated|||
|Saturn Award||Best Director||Nominated|||
|Venice Film Festival||Special Lion for Lifetime Achievement||Won|||
- Friedkin, William. The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. ISBN 978-0-06-177512-3
- Friedkin, William. Conversations at the American Film Institute With the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation. George Stevens, Jr., ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. ISBN 978-0-307-27347-5
- "The American New Wave: A Retrospective | H-Announce | H-Net". networks.h-net.org. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
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- "The Controversy of CRUISING | Cinematheque". cinema.wisc.edu. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
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- Biskind, p. 200.
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- Pfefferman, Naomi. "'Killer Joe's' William Friedkin: 'I Could Have Been a Very Violent Person'." Jewish Journal. August 2, 2012. Archived August 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Accessed April 29, 2013.
- Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection, p. 1.
- Biskind, p. 201.
- Segaloff, p. 25.
- Wakeman, p. 372.
- Friedkin, Conversations at the American Film Institute..., p. 186.
- Emery, p. 237; Claggett, p. 3.
- Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection, p. 9.
- Stevens, p. 184.
- Walker and Johnson, p. 15.
- Derry, p. 361; Edmonds and Mimura, p. 211.
- Hamm, p. 86-87.
- Charles Champlin, "Friedkin Damns the Torpedoes", The Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1967. Retrieved via Newspapers.com.
- "Vertigo: The Legacy Series" Universal, 2008
- The Directors: William Friedkin
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- Howe, Matthew (2023). "Streisand Music Videos - "Somewhere" (1985)". Barbra Archives. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
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Friedkin: ".... But none of us in the 70s thought we were operating in a golden age; we all had been influenced by Godard, Fellini, Truffaut, Kurosawa."
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- "Filing for Divorce." Newsweek. June 25, 1979, p. 99.
- Sanders, Richard. "Director Billy Friedkin and Lesley-Anne Down Make a Home Movie-Divorce Hollywood Style." People. September 2, 1985. Accessed April 29, 2013.
- "Names in the News." Associated Press. August 15, 1985.
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- on YouTube
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My personal beliefs are defined as agnostic. I'm someone who believes that the power of God and the soul are unknowable, but that anybody who says there is no God is not being honest about the mystery of fate. I was raised in the Jewish faith, but I strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus.
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- "Nightcrawlers - episode of The Twilight Zone". Torino Film Fest. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
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- Pasles, Chris (April 6, 2004). "L.A. to share 'Samson' with Israelis". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 26, 2023.
- Variety Staff (September 14, 2003). "Celebs gather for 'Faust' fest". Variety.
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I had written a short story on [the sleeve of] Genesis Live – one of the stories I used to tell onstage – and William Friedkin, who was the king of Hollywood because of The Exorcist, wanted me to work with him. Not as a musician, but as a screenwriter and ideas man. That was very exciting to me. In the end, unfortunately, nothing happened; it was one of many Hollywood projects that bit the dust.
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Ms. Burke handed over the dais to producer Richard Zanuck (Jaws, Driving Miss Daisy), who would present the evening's first Lifetime Achievement Award to director William Friedkin.
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Was in competition at Venice, where it won the Golden Mouse (online critics' best film).
- "'Beasts of the Southern Wild' reçoit le Grand Prix de l'Union de la Critique de Cinéma". RTBF.be (in French). January 6, 2013. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
Cinq films étaient en lice pour cette récompense: "Beasts of the Southern Wild", de Benh Zeitlin, "Take Shelter", de Jeff Nichols, "Shame", de Steve McQueen, "Ernest et Célestine", de Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar et Stéphane Aubier, et "Killer Joe", de William Friedkin.
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Further reading Edit
- Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. ISBN 0-684-80996-6
- Claggett, Thomas D. William Friedkin: Films of Aberration, Obsession, and Reality. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2003. ISBN 0-89950-262-8
- Derry, Charles, ed. Dark Dreams 2.0: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film From the 1950s to the 21st Century. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-3397-1
- Edmonds, I. G. and Mimura, Reiko. The Oscar Directors. San Diego: A.S. Barnes, 1980. ISBN 0-498-02444-X
- Emery, Robert J., ed. The Directors: In Their Own Words. Vol. 2. New York: TV Books, 1999. ISBN 1-57500-129-2
- Hamm, Theodore. Rebel and a Cause: Caryl Chessman and the Politics of the Death Penalty in Postwar California, 1948–1974. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 0-520-22427-2
- Segaloff, Nat. Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin. New York: Morrow, 1990. ISBN 0-688-07852-4
- Stevens, Jr., George, ed. Conversations at the American Film Institute With the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. ISBN 978-0-307-27347-5
- Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, 1945–1985. New York: Wilson, 1988. ISBN 0-8242-0757-2
- Walker, Elsie M. and Johnson, David T., eds. Conversations With Directors: An Anthology of Interviews From 'Literature/Film Quarterly'. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8108-6122-0
- William Friedkin at IMDb
- William Friedkin at the TCM Movie Database
- William Friedkin at the Internet Broadway Database
- William Friedkin discography at Discogs
- "From 'Popeye' Doyle to Puccini: William Friedkin" NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Friedkin, September 14, 2006
- EXCL: Bug Director William Friedkin
- The Reeler interview with Friedkin
- William Friedkin papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences