Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 17
Tony Richardson November 14, 1991
Tony Richardson dies

By the time of his death in 1991, Tony Richardson was perhaps as well-known for being the one-time husband of Vanessa Redgrave and the father of Natasha Richardson as he was for being an Academy Award-winning film director. Indeed some tabloids focused on the manner of his death, that being from AIDS at age 63, by slinging out headlines like “Secret Shame,” rather than highlighting the depth of his achievement in life. The only son of a chemist, Richardson was not raised in a theatrical family. But in high school, and then later at Oxford, he found in a drama a natural outlet for his talents. His unique productions in college gained him a position at the BBC, which pushed him in the direction of television and films. From the start, Richardson had a knack for channeling the creative zeitgeist of his times. In the mid fifties, he helped form the Free Cinema movement with Sight and Sound editors (and later filmmakers) Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz, after which he connected with the Angry Young Men school of drama, working closely with playwright John Osborne on the films Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. Later, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and A Taste of Honey were held up as examples of the tough social realism of the Kitchen Sink school. But just as Richardson became known for presenting a raw, unflinching look at contemporary Britain, he made Tom Jones, a sexy, colorful adaptation of Henry Fielding’s great 18th century comic novel, for which he received a best director Oscar, while the film won Best Picture. Richardson’s work––36 stage plays, 20 films and 44 television drama––continued to defy expectation, even up to his last film, a surprising military drama called Blue Sky (with Tommy Lee Jones and Jessica Lange), which was released several years after his death.


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Dec. 17, 1946
Eugene Levy born

Whether it's as Jim's dad in the American Pie movies, Max Yasgur in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock or the dastardly Walter Kornbluth, one of the scientists out to nab Daryl Hannah in Splash, Eugene Levy has become instantly recognizable to movie audiences.

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December 17, 1982
Tootsie Not a Drag for Hoffman

26 years ago today, when Tootsie was released in the U.S., Dustin Hoffman went from being one of the most respected dramatic actors working in film to, well, something very different. Hoffman, who had his breakthrough role in Mike Nichols' wry charmer The Graduate in 1967, had never truly shown his comic side on screen, despite the fact that he played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse's biopic of the controversial comedian, Lenny. Instead he had carefully picked roles, in films like Little Big Man, Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men, which played to his incredible skill as a committed method actor. As a result, he was incredibly nervous about his idea to make a movie about a struggling actor who drags up as he pretends to be an actress in order to get a role in a soap opera. The film had a troubled and prolonged history, taking four years to reach the screen, during which time directors Dick Richards and Hal Ashby dropped out of the project, to be replaced by Sydney Pollack. The film, however, was a huge success: Hoffman's female foils, Jessica Lange and Teri Garr, excelled in their roles while Charles Durning (ala Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot) gave a killer supporting turn as the man who falls for Hoffman's “Dorothy.” And Hoffman himself was a revelation, displaying impeccable comic instincts and brilliant timing in a role that could easily have been his undoing and the source of infinite mockery from his peers. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay, while Lange beat out Garr for the Best Supporting Actress award. Most importantly for Hoffman and Columbia, the studio that bankrolled the movie, Tootsie was a box office titan, rapidly passing the $100 million mark and ultimately racking up nearly $180 million.

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