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Richard Lester

Born: 1932 AD
Currently alive, at 89 years of age.
Nationality: American
Categories: Director, Film Director, Writers

1932 – Born – Jan 19th- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


1947 – He was something of a child prodigy, and at 15 began studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he first developed an interest in British film, particularly Ealing comedies.


1953 – Lester moved to London and began work as a director in independent television. A variety show he produced caught the eye of Peter Sellers, who enlisted Lester’s help in translating The Goon Show to television as The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d. It was a hit, as were two follow-up shows, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred.


1964 – A short film Lester made with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers – The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film – was a favourite of The Beatles, and in particular John Lennon. When the band were contracted to make a film, they chose Lester from a list of possible directors. A Hard Day’s Night showed an exaggerated and simplified version of The Beatles’ characters, and proved to be an incredibly effective marketing tool. Many of its stylistic innovations survive today as the conventions of music videos, in particular the multi-angle filming of a live performance.



1965 – Lester directed the second Beatles film Help!


1965-1968 – He then went on to direct several quintessential ‘swinging’ films, including the sex comedy The Knack…And How to Get It (1965), which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Petulia (1968) (both with scores by John Barry), as well as the 1967 darkly surreal anti-war movie How I Won the War co-starring John Lennon, which he referred to as an "anti-anti-war movie"; Lester noted that anti-war movies still took the concept of war seriously, contrasting "bad" war crimes with wars fought for "good" causes like the liberation from Nazism or, at that time, Communism, whereas he set out to deconstruct it to show war as fundamentally opposed to humanity. Although set in World War II, the movie is indeed an oblique reference to the Vietnam War and at one point, breaking the fourth wall, references this directly.


1973-1979 – Lester directed a wide variety of films, including the disaster film Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1976), starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn and the period romance Cuba (1979), also starring Connery. However his biggest commercial successes in this period were The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel The Four Musketeers (1974). The films were somewhat controversial at the time because the producers, Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, decided to split the film into two after principal photography was completed. Many of the cast sued the Salkinds as a result, stating that they were only contracted to make one film. 


1978 – the Salkinds brought him in as an uncredited producer for Superman: The Movie and Superman II, which was being shot simultaneously (on purpose this time). Ostensibly, he was to serve as a buffer between the producers and the director, Richard Donner. As the release of Superman neared, production on II was halted to concentrate on getting the first movie completed. After the first Superman film was released in late 1978, the Salkinds went back into production on II without informing Donner and placing Lester behind the camera for the completion of the film. Although Donner had shot approximately 75% of the film, Lester jettisoned or reshot much of the original footage, resulting in Lester receiving sole credit for directing II. Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor, did not return, and Lester instead used a stunt double and an impersonator to loop Luthor’s lines into footage of Hackman shot during Donner’s tenure on II. The footage filmed by Donner was later intregrated into television versions of the film with Lester’s footage. In November 2006, Donner’s footage was reedited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, using mostly Donner footage, with the only Lester footage being that which is necessary to cover scenes not shot during Donner’s principal photography. To this day, Richard Donner revealed on the new DVD of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut that he never heard from Lester since he got fired after the completion of the first film.



1983 – Lester also directed Superman III.



1988 –  Lester reunited the entire Musketeers cast to film another sequel, The Return of the Musketeers. However, during filming in Spain, the actor Roy Kinnear, a close friend of Lester’s, was killed after falling from a horse. Lester finished the film, then retired from directing.



1991 – He returned to direct a music video for friend Paul McCartney, called "Get Back."



1993 – he presented Hollywood UK, a five-part series on British cinema in the 1960s for the BBC.



1999 – In recent years, director Steven Soderbergh has been one of many calling for a reappraisal of Lester’s work and influence. Soderbergh wrote a book, Getting Away With It which consists largely of interviews with Lester.