Oscar-Winning Director Fred Zinnemann Dies at 89


Fred Zinnemann, Academy Award-winning director whose classic films included "High Noon," "From Here to Eternity" and "A Man for All Seasons," died Friday. He was 89.

Zinnemann's death in London, where he had lived for more than 30 years, was disclosed by his son Tim, a producer at Pressman Films in Los Angeles.

The legendary director earned his first Oscar for the documentary "Benjy" in 1951. His second was for directing the feature film "From Here to Eternity" in 1953 and his third and fourth were for directing and producing the story of Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons" in 1966.

Five of his films--"The Search," "High Noon," "From Here to Eternity," "A Man for All Seasons" and "Julia"--collected a total of 25 Academy Awards.

Known as a sensitive and courageous director who painted the screen with his integrity and purpose, Zinnemann also directed the musical "Oklahoma," the unusual "The Nun's Story" and the classic thriller "The Day of the Jackal."

Over his 40-year career, Zinnemann made about 20 films and worked with such top stars as Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn. He even introduced Marlon Brando to filmgoers in "The Men" in 1950.

Known as a master of his craft, although sometimes criticized as plodding and humorless, Zinnemann was able to rally colleagues to match his high professional standards and to make serious films that were box office successes.

When he put the British history epic about More on film, Zinnemann said in 1967, the studio, Columbia, was worried whether the public would buy tickets.

"It had no stars, no sex, no violence, it's a historical picture on a pretty far-out theme," he said. "But I felt if it were well-made enough we wouldn't lose and might make a modest profit. That's why everyone involved took a cut and did it as a labor of love."

American and European audiences flocked to the film, which won Academy Awards for best picture, director, actor, screenplay, cinematography and costumes.

He largely stopped making films after "Five Days One Summer" with Sean Connery in 1982, partly because of age and health problems and partly because he was dispirited by the venomous reviews that the film received.

Still irritated by the film's reception years later, Zinnemann said in a Times interview in 1992: "You feel that if nothing else, you're entitled to some measure of respect. No more than that."

That Hollywood did respect his amazing output was evident in his row of Oscars and a special award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when he dedicated his personal library to the organization.

And Zinnemann remained a friend of Hollywood. He fought colorization of classic black-and-white films in recent years with as much vigor as he had fought to defeat proposed loyalty oaths for members of the Directors Guild in the McCarthy era.

Two weeks ago, he agreed to support a lawsuit to be brought in Italy protesting the telecast of a colorized version of his film "The Seventh Cross." Zinnemann called the colorization "an abomination" that destroyed the soul and mood of the movie.

In 1994, the Artists Rights Foundation of Los Angeles honored Zinnemann for his support of artists with its first annual John Huston Award.

"Integrity was the hallmark of his life and his work," Elliot Silverstein, president of the foundation, said Friday. "He never allowed even a shadow to cross the line he drew between acceptable ethical behavior and any other kind."

Born in Vienna, Zinnemann started out to become a violinist but abandoned a career in music when he decided he had no talent. He next studied law, earning a degree at the University of Vienna.

"I saw several tremendous pictures (as a student)--'Potemkin,' 'Greed,' 'The Big Parade,' 'Joan of Arc,' " he told The Times in 1967. "They gave me the idea of becoming a director."

So in 1927, he went to Paris as one of the first students of the Ecole Technique de Cinema. Instead of directing, he started by learning optics, photochemistry, development and printing, and worked as an assistant cameraman.

"If you want a loose analogy between a film director and an orchestra conductor," he said years later, "it helps if the conductor can play one or two instruments."

Zinnemann first tackled Hollywood in 1929, able to find work only as an extra in "All Quiet on the Western Front."

He worked his way up from film cutter to an assistant to directors Berthold Viertel and next Robert Flaherty and later Busby Berkeley.

In the early 1930s Zinnemann made his debut as co-director of the documentary feature "Redes/Pescados/The Wave" shot in Mexico. In 1937 MGM signed him to direct shorts including the "Crime Does Not Pay" series.

Zinnemann was elevated to director of feature films in 1941, and edged toward greatness in 1948 with "The Search," a drama of the European aftermath of World War II.

In addition to his son, Zinnemann is survived by his wife, Renee.


A Zinnemann Film Sampler

In his 40-year career making movies, Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann worked with such top stars as Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn, and introduced Marlon Brando to filmgoers in "The Men" in 1950. Here are some of his films:

* "Kid Glove Killer" (1942)

* "The Seventh Cross" (1944)

* "The Men" (1950)

* "High Noon" (1952)

* "From Here to Eternity" (1953)

* "Oklahoma!" (1955)

* "A Hatful of Rain" (1957)

* "The Sundowners" (1960)

* "Behold a Pale Horse" (1964)

* "A Man for All Seasons" (1966)

* "The Day of the Jackal" (1973)

* "Julia" (1977)

Source: The Film Encyclopedia

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