Richard Fleischer, 89; Director of '20,000 Leagues', 'Soylent Green', Dies
"You do know who I am?" Fleischer recalled asking. His father, animation pioneer Max Fleischer, who created
The lavishly produced 1954 live-action adaptation of the
He went on to direct such films as "The Boston Strangler" (1968), the Pearl Harbor docudrama "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) and the science-fiction adventures "Fantastic Voyage" (1966) and "Soylent Green" (1973).
Fleischer, who directed almost 50 movies, died of natural causes Saturday at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, said his son Mark. He was 89.
Although Fleischer was born into a show-business family, he originally wanted to be a psychiatrist. He took pre-med courses at
The soft-spoken director used to joke that his background in psychology often helped him on the
The candid book, which recalled his 46 years in the movie business, told tales of working with actors he considered temperamental, a list that included
"I've had this great opportunity to work with so many famous and well-known people — stars, moguls, monsters of all sorts," he told The Times in 1993 while sitting in the book-lined office of his Brentwood home.
In the 1958 epic "The Vikings," actor
Fleischer also worked with a body builder-turned-actor named
"He was a man of great talent and an extraordinary director who leaves behind a legacy of amazing films," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Among Fleischer's best-reviewed films was "The Narrow Margin," a 1952 low-budget thriller set almost entirely aboard a train. In his "Classic Movie Guide," Leonard Maltin calls it one of the best B-pictures ever made.
Decades later, Fleischer listed the movie as one of his favorites, recalling how it was made in 13 days for $230,000, a low budget even then.
Since he couldn't afford to build an interior train set that moved, Fleischer made what was then a daring choice and filmed many scenes with a hand-held camera to convey a sense of movement.
The success of "The Narrow Margin," with Charles McGray portraying a hard-boiled detective who dodges the bullets of gangsters, led to work on bigger-budget films. The director became known for having a knack for action and suspense.
Fleischer's favorites among his films also included a trio of movies he made about real-life crimes: "Compulsion," based on the Leopold and Loeb child-murder case; "The Boston Strangler," made in a semi-
He won his only Oscar in 1947 for a post-
His son Mark remembered his father as a gentle man who always put his family first. "My parents made a great effort to insulate their children from the craziness of Hollywood," he told the Associated Press. "They made sure our lives were as normal as possible."
Born Dec. 8, 1916, in
In the early 1920s, his father and his uncle Dave founded Fleischer Studios. His father also invented and patented the rotoscope, an early device that enabled filmmakers to put liveaction and animated characters in the same scene.
Another of Fleischer's uncles, Lou, ran the studio's music department, and for years voiced Wimpy, Popeye's hamburger-hungry friend.
At Yale, Fleischer organized a campus theater company that toured New England hotels. He also married Mary Dickson, a fellow student.
A talent scout for RKO recommended him for a job, and he was hired to write scripts for RKO Pathe newsreels, and soon graduated to directing shorts.
After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Fleischer came to Hollywood in 1945 as a contract director for the B-picture unit at RKO Pictures.
He made such movies as "Banjo" and "Child of Divorce" with Sharyn Moffett, who was billed as the next
"The old school had something going for it. If you made it through hit pictures, you were nicely taken care of by the studio. If you didn't, you were nicely ushered out the door," Fleischer told
"The Happy Time," a 1952 film that featured
When Fleischer asked Disney why he had been chosen to direct the $5-million film — then one of the most expensive movies made — the studio chief said, "Anybody who can make an actor of Bobby Driscoll has to be a great director."
In addition to his son Mark, Fleischer is survived by his wife of 62 years; another son, Bruce; a daughter, Jane; and five grandchildren.
Instead of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be sent to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300,