The French Connection
Academy Award winning director, producer and screenwriter William Friedkin is best known for directing “The French Connection” (1971), from which he netted an Oscar and Golden Globe Award, and the box office hit “The Exorcist” (1973), which earned him his next Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination. Following a series of unsuccessful films, including “Sorcerer” (1977), “Cruising” (1980), “Rules of Engagement” (2000) and “The Hunted” (2003), he won the Cannes FIPRESCI Prize for his film “Bug” (2006). Friedkin also directed the applauded television remake of “12 Angry Men” (1997), which brought him nominations at the Emmy and DGA Awards, and several operas, including “Salome” in Munich and “Aida” in Italy.
On August 14, 1997, Friedkin was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame thanks to his contribution to motion pictures. He is currently married to producer Sherry Lansing and was previously married to Jeanne Moreau (1977-1979), Lesley-Anne Down (1982-1985), with whom he has a son named Jack, and Kelly Lange (1987-1990). Friedkin also had a four year relationship with Jennifer Nairn-Smith, the mother of his son Cedric.
Childhood and Family:
William Friedkin was born on August 29, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois, to Louis Friedkin, a semi professional softball player turned clothing salesman, and Rachel, a nurse. He graduated from Senn High School in Chicago and grew up in poverty. He chose movies as a means to escape his rough surroundings and the Orson Welles starring movie “Citizen Kane” (1941) made a deep impact on the future director.
William Friedkin, whose nickname is Hurricane Billy, has been married four times. He married French actress Jeanne Moreau (born January 23, 1928) on February 8, 1977, but they divorced in 1979. He was then married to British actress Lesley-Anne Down (born March 17, 1954) from 1982 to 1985. The marriage produced one son, Jack Friedkin (born 1983). William married his third wife, Kelly Lange (born December 14, 1937), on June 7, 1987. They divorced in 1990. He is now married to former actress and film studio executive Sherry Lansing (born July 31, 1944), whom he married on July 6, 1991, in Barbados. William also has a son named Cedric from a previous relationship with Australian dancer and choreographer Jennifer Nairn-Smith.
After graduating high school, William Friedkin began his career in the mailroom of Chicago's WGN before eventually becoming a director. In 1962, he made his directorial debut with a TV documentary called “The People vs. Paul Crump.” The film was shown at the Chicago International Film Festival in October 1965 and won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival. He went on to direct the television documentaries “Time-Life Specials: The March of Time,” “The Bold Men” and “Pro Football: Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon” (all 1965) and “The Thin Blue Line” (1966). He also directed an episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” called “Off Season” (1965).
Two years after his move to Los Angeles, Friedkin made his feature directing debut with “Good Times” (1967), a musical comedy starring Sonny Bono and Cher. He then helmed Robert Shaw, Patrick Magee, Dandy Nichols, Sydney Tafler, Moultrie Kelsall and Helen Fraser in “The Birthday Party” (1968), Jason Robards, Britt Ekland and Norman Wisdom in the musical comedy “The Night They Raided Minsky's” (1968), which was produced by Norman Lear, and Kenneth Nelson, Leonard Frey, Cliff Gorman, and Laurence Luckinbill in the drama “The Boys in the Band” (1970), which was based on the Mart Crowley off-Broadway play of the same name.
However, Friedkin did not enjoy a huge breakthrough until he directed the crime film “The French Connection” (1971), which was adapted and fictionalized by Ernest Tidyman from the book by Robin Moore. Starring Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco and Marcel Bozzuffi, the film was nominated for eight Oscars and won the awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Best Film Editing. It also received many other awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama and a BAFTA Film nomination for Best Film. In addition to his Oscar win, Friedkin netted a Golden Globe for Best Director - Motion Picture, a DGA for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, and a BAFTA Film nomination for Best Direction for his work on the film. “The French Connection” grossed over $51.7 million against an estimated budget of $1.8 million.
In 1973, Friedkin founded the Directors Company in partnership with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich. The company, however, only lasted for one year. He also scored a box office hit with the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel “The Exorcist,” starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb and Mercedes McCambridge. The horror film grossed over $441 million worldwide against a budget of $12 million, making it one of the highest earning movies of all time. “The Exorcist” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (won 2 awards) and 7 Golden Globes (won 4 awards). For his directing efforts, Friedkin received a 1974 Golden Globe Award, a 1999 Empire Movie Masterpiece Award, an Academy Award nomination and a Directors Guild of America nomination.
Friedkin returned to the director's chair in 1977 when he directed Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer and Francisco Rabal on the adventure film “Sorcerer,” which was a remake of the 1953 French film “Le Salaire de la Peur.” The film, which he also produced, was a major disappointment. He closed out the decade with “The Brink's Job” (1978), which starred Peter Falk, Peter Boyle, Allen Garfield, Warren Oates, Gena Rowlands and Paul Sorvino.
Opening the 1980s, Friedkin directed Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino and Karen Allen on the film “Cruising” (1980), which he scripted based on a novel by Gerald Walker. The film received generally negative reviews from critics and sparked controversy over its depiction of the gay community, but enjoyed modest financial success at the box office. He also directed Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines and Sigourney Weaver in the comedy “Deal of the Century” (1983), directed and co-wrote (with Gerald Petievich) the thriller “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), for which he won the Audience Award at the 1986 Cognac Festival du Film Policier, and directed, produced and wrote the movie “Rampage” (1987), which received a nationwide American release in 1992. “Rampage” brought him a Critics Award nomination at the 1988 Deauville Film Festival and a 1993 Saturn nomination for Best Direction. Meanwhile, Friedkin also returned to the small screen by directing the segment “Nightcrawlers” of the “The Twilight Zone” episode “Little Boy Lost/Wish Bank/Nightcrawlers” (1985) and directing Barbra Streisand's HBO special “Putting It Together-The Making of The Broadway Album” (1985). He went on to direct, executive produce and create the NBC pilot “C.A.T. Squad” and its 1988 TV film installment “C.A.T. Squad: Python Wolf.”
In 1990, Friedkin co-wrote and directed the horror film “The Guardian,” starring Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell. The film was nominated for Saturn Awards in the categories of Best Horror Film, Best Music and Best Supporting Actress. He followed it up by directing an episode of HBO's “Tales from the Crypt” called “On a Deadman's Chest” (1992) and an episode of Showtime's “Rebel Highway” called “Jailbreakers” (1994). He also directed the sports themed feature “Blue Chips” (1994), starring Nick Nolte and Shaquille O'Neal, and the erotic thriller “Jade” (1995), which starred David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, Chazz Palminteri, Richard Crenna, Angie Everhart and Michael Biehn.
1997 saw Friedkin direct the acclaimed small screen remake of “12 Angry Men,” which was adapted from the Reginald Rose play of the same title. Starring Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Tony Danza, Hume Cronyn and Edward James, the Showtime drama brought the director a 1998 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries or a Movie and a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials. The next year, he made his operatic debut with a widely praised “Wozzeck” in Florence, Italy.
In 2000, Friedkin returned to the big screen when he directed Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Guy Pearce, Bruce Greenwood, Blair Underwood and Philip Baker Hall in the drama “Rules of Engagement,” which was produced by Richard D. Zanuck. He was then reunited with Tommy Lee Jones for the 2003 action thriller “The Hunted,” starring Jones, Benicio del Toro and Connie Nielsen. Released on March 14, 2003, the film received primarily negative reviews. Meanwhile, in 2002, Friedkin made his Los Angeles opera debut with Duke Bluebeard's “Castle and Gianni Schicchi.” He returned to the Los Angeles opera two years later when he directed “Ariadne auf Naxos.” He continued to direct operas with “Samson & Delilah” in Israel, “Aida” in Italy (both 2005) and “Salome” in Munich, Germany (2006).
After about a three year break, Friedkin revisited the cinematic industry to direct Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon and Harry Connick Jr. in the horror film “Bug” (2006), which was based on the play of the same name written by Tracy Letts. The film won a FIPRESCI Prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Friedkin then directed the video documentary short “The Painter's Voice” (2007) and two episodes of “Crime Scene Investigation” called “Cockroaches” (2007) and “Mascara” (2009).
Friedkin has completed the film “Killer Joe,” which is set to be released in 2011. The film will star Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church.
Munich Film Festival: CineMerit Award, 2007
Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival: Time-Machine Honorary Award, 2007
Cannes Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, Quinzaine des réalisateurs, “Bug,” 2006
Palm Beach International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, Directing, 2000
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA: President's Award, 1999
Empire Award: Movie Masterpiece Award, “The Exorcist,” 1999
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA: George Pal Memorial Award, 1991
Cognac Festival du Film Policier: Audience Award, “To Live and Die in L.A.,” 1986
Golden Globe: Best Director - Motion Picture, “The Exorcist,” 1974
Academy Award: Best Director, “The French Connection,” 1972
Directors Guild of America (DGA): Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, “The French Connection,” 1972
Golden Globe: Best Director - Motion Picture, “The French Connection,” 1972