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Peter Bogdanovich, director of ‘Last Picture Show,’ ‘Paper Moon’ dies at 82

The Oscar-nominated director died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on Thursday.

Director Peter Bogdanovich speaks onstage at “A Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich” during the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. Bogdanovich died Thursday at age 82.
Director Peter Bogdanovich speaks onstage at “A Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich” during the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. Bogdanovich died Thursday at age 82.

Peter Bogdanovich, the ascot-wearing cinephile and director of 1970s black-and-white classics like “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon,” has died. He was 82.

Bogdanovich died early Thursday morning at his home in Los Angeles, said his daughter, Antonia Bogdanovich. She said he died of natural causes.

Considered part of a generation of young “New Hollywood” directors, Bogdanovich was heralded as an auteur from the start, with the chilling lone shooter film “Targets” and soon after “The Last Picture Show,” from 1971. His evocative and melancholic portrait of teenage angst and middle-age loneliness in small, dying town earned eight Oscar nominations, won two (for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman) and catapulted him to stardom at the age of 32. He followed “The Last Picture Show” with the screwball comedy “What’s Up, Doc?,” starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, and then the Depression-era road trip film “Paper Moon,” which won 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal an Oscar as well.

Timothy Bottoms and Cybill Shepherd are shown in a scene from the 1971 classic film “The Last Picture Show.”
Timothy Bottoms and Cybill Shepherd are shown in a scene from the 1971 classic film “The Last Picture Show.”
Columbia Pictures

In a 1971 interview with the late Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, Bogdanovich explained his decision to film “The Last Picture Show” in black and white.

“We had to use black and white,” Bogdanovich said. “Color made the [film’s Texas] town look too...pretty, I guess. And one of the things in the back of my mind was the hope that maybe we could help break that silly taboo against black and white. ... Orson Welles told me once that all the great performances have been in black and white. That is almost literally the truth. There’s something mysterious and enriching about black and white. Color is too realistic.”

Bogdanovich’s turbulent personal life was also often in the spotlight, from his well-known affair with Cybill Shepherd that began during the making of “The Last Picture Show” while he was married to his close collaborator, Polly Platt, to the murder of his Playmate girlfriend Dorothy Stratten and his subsequent marriage to her younger sister, Louise, who was 29 years his junior.

Tatum O’Neal posted a photo of herself with him on Instagram, writing “Peter was my heaven & earth. A father figure. A friend. From ‘Paper Moon’ to ‘Nickelodeon’ he always made me feel safe. I love you, Peter.”

Born in Kingston, New York, in 1939, Bogdanovich started out as an actor, a film journalist and critic, working as a film programmer at the Museum of Modern Art, where through a series of retrospectives and monographs, he endeared himself to a host of old guard filmmakers including Orson Welles, Howard Hawks and John Ford. He regaled them with knowledge of their films, took lessons for his own and kept their conversations for future books.

“I’ve gotten some very important one-sentence clues like when Howard Hawks turned to me and said ‘Always cut on the movement and no one will notice the cut,’” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2020. “It was a very simple sentence but it profoundly effected everything I’ve done.”

And Welles, in addition to being one of Bogdanovich’s idols, became a close friend and occasional adversary. Though a generation apart, both experienced the highs of early success and all the complications and jealousies that come with it. In 1992, the younger director published the book “This is Orson Welles,” based on conversations with the older director going back to 1969. Bogdanovich was also instrumental in finishing and releasing Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind,” which was started in 1970, in 2018.

His own Hollywood education started early: His father took him at age 5 to see Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movies at the Museum of Modern Art. He’d later make his own Keaton documentary, “The Great Buster,” which was released in 2018.

After marrying young, Bogdanovich and Platt moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, where they attended Hollywood parties and struck up friendships with director Roger Corman and Frank Marshall, then just an aspiring producer, who helped get the film “Targets” off the ground. And the professional ascent continued for the next few films and years. But after “Paper Moon,” which Platt collaborated on after they had separated, he would never again capture the accolades of those first five years in Hollywood.

Bogdanovich’s relationship with Shepherd led to the end of his marriage to Platt, with whom he shared daughters Antonia and Sashy, and a fruitful creative partnership. The 1984 film “Irreconcilable Differences” was loosely based on the scandal. He later disputed the idea that Platt, who died in 2011, was an integral part of the success of his early films.

He would go on to make two other films with Shepherd, an adaptation of Henry James’s “Daisy Miller” and the musical “At Long Last Love,” neither of which were particularly well-received by critics or audiences.

And he also passed on major opportunities at the height of his successes. He told Vulture he turned down “The Godfather,” “Chinatown” and “The Exorcist.”

Headlines would continue to follow Bogdanovich for things other than his movies. He began an affair with Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten while directing her in “They All Laughed,” a romantic comedy with Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara, in the spring and summer of 1980. Her husband, Paul Snider, murdered her that August. Bogdanovich, in a 1984 book titled ″The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980,″ criticized Hugh Hefner’s Playboy empire for its alleged role in events he said ended in Stratten’s death. Then, nine years later, at 49, he married her younger sister, Louise Stratten, who was just 20 at the time. They divorced in 2001, but continued living together, with her mother, in Los Angeles.

In the interview with the AP in 2020, Bogdanovich acknowledged that his relationships had an impact on his career.

“The whole thing about my personal life got in the way of people’s understanding of the movies,” Bogdanovich said. “That’s something that has plagued me since the first couple of pictures.”

Despite some flops along the way, Bogdanovich’s output remained prolific in the 1980s and 1990s, including a sequel to “The Last Picture Show” called “Texasville,” the country music romantic drama “The Thing Called Love,” which was one of River Phoenix’s last films, and, in 2001, “The Cat’s Meow,” about a party on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht starring Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies. His last narrative film, “She’s Funny that Way,” a screwball comedy starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston that he co-wrote with Louise Stratten, debuted to mixed reviews in 2014.

Over the years he authored several books about movies, including “Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week,” “Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors” and “Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors.”

He acted semi-frequently, too, sometimes playing himself (in “Moonlighting” and “How I Met Your Mother”) and sometimes other people, like Dr. Elliot Kupferberg on “The Sopranos,” and also inspired a new generation of filmmakers, from Wes Anderson to Noah Baumbach.

In 2016, the Chicago International Film Festival honored Bodganovich with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He had filmed “To Sir, With Love II” starring Sidney Poitier in Chicago in the late 1990s.

In an interview with CBS-2 Channel 2 at the time about the award, Bodganovich said with a chuckle, “The Chicago Film Festival has decided to give me an award. I said I’m not dead yet. Any kind of gesture of that kind is very gratifying and better than a kick in the head.”

Yet even with his Hollywood-sized ego, Bogdanovich remained deferential to those who came before.

“I don’t judge myself on the basis of my contemporaries,” he told The New York Times in 1971. “I judge myself against the directors I admire — Hawks, Lubitsch, Buster Keaton, Welles, Ford, Renoir, Hitchcock. I certainly don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as they are, but I think I’m pretty good.”

Actor Guillermo del Toro called Bogdanovich, whom he called a dear friend, “a champion of cinema” in a Tweet posted shortly after news of the director’s death was made public.

Contributing; Sun-Time staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio