Robert Altman

On this date in 1925, brilliant film director and screenwriter Robert Bernard Altman was born in Kansas City, Mo., into a Catholic family. Altman’s mother, a Christian Scientist who converted to Catholicism and father, a wealthy insurance salesman, sent their eldest son to Catholic school. He was enrolled at age 16 in military school, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1945. Altman became a copilot of B24 bombers in World War II and participated in 46 missions over the Dutch East Indies. As he left home for the war, “his mother and two sisters putting him on the train told him ‘Thank God you’ve got your religion. You’re going to need it now.’ From that day, he says, he never went to mass again. ‘At home, you had to. Then, when I left the family, I stopped’ “ (The Guardian, U.K., “Still Up to Mischief,” by Suzie Mackenzie, April 30, 2004). Enthralled by film, Altman moved to Hollywood after his discharge from the U.S. military. He acted in the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947) and co-wrote the screenplay of a film called “Bodyguard” (1948). Struggling for a breakthrough in Hollywood, Altman returned to Kansas City and was hired by a local film company as a writer in 1950. He began directing short films for the company, and made his silver screen directorial debut with “The Delinquents” (1957). That year he returned to Hollywood and began directing the popular television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1957-1958). “MASH” (1970) was his first cinematic success as a Hollywood director.

In his illustrious career as screenwriter, director and producer, Altman was nominated for seven Academy Awards: 1971 Best Director for “MASH,” 1976 Best Director and Best Picture for “Nashville,” 1993 Best Director for “The Player,” 1994 Best Director for “Short Cuts,” and 2002 Best Picture and Best Director for “Gosford Park.” He won a prestigious “Honorary Award” from the Academy in early 2006 for “a career that has repeatedly reinvented the art form and inspired filmmakers and audiences alike.” Altman died at age 81 of complications from leukemia. Julie Christie, an actress who was directed by Altman in the memorable “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), noted, “Robert’s cool is part of his belief system. He won’t be bound by rules and he doesn’t expect you to be, either. . . . And he doesn’t expect people to be sheep” (The Guardian, April 30, 2004). He was survived by his wife of 47 years, their two children, and three children from previous marriages. D. 2006.

" . . . by the age of 20 this whistle-blower had resisted two of the most powerful institutions – church and army, both. He is an atheist, 'And I have been against all of these wars ever since.' "

—Journalist Suzie Mackenzie remarking on and quoting Altman in “Still Up to Mischief,”

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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