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 Army Air Force in 1945. Altman co-piloted B-24 bombers in World War II and participated in 46 missions over the Dutch East Indies. 

Enthralled by film, Altman moved to Hollywood after his military discharge. 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” (1957-58). “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.”

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). Altman died at age 81 of complications from leukemia. He was survived by Kathryn Reed, his wife of 47 years, their two children and three children from two previous marriages. D. 2006.

Freedom From Religion Foundation