When the international co-production that brought the world the “Superman” superhero film promoted its 1978 Holiday premiere, the tagline they used was “You’ll believe a man can fly.” And indeed, cinema viewers that year were blown away by the visuals, the story, the music and the cast. Legends such as the late Christopher Reeve (lead), John Williams (score) and Mario Puzo (story-screenplay), were involved, and they were guided by the singular vision of filmmaker Richard Donner, who made the world believe. While he would direct and produce other significant cinematic franchises, movie aficionados will always remember him first for “Superman.”
And tragically, he is gone. Comic Book Resources tells us that “Superman” (1978) director Richard Donner died this past Monday, July 5. His wife Lauren Schuler Donner broke the sad news to the world, although no details were given regarding the cause of his death. Donner was 91 years old.
Born in 1930, Richard Donner initially aspired to be an actor, until the director of a TV show where he had a minor role, took him as an assistant. Much like present-day filmmaker Michael Bay, Donner started by directing commercials in the 1950s before moving on to no less than 25 classic TV series including “The Man from UNCLE,” “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Twilight Zone,” among many others. He broke into movie directing in 1961, and in 1976 he became a hot filmmaker with the horror blockbuster “The Omen.” It would be no surprise that he would be tapped to helm the major film adaptation of DC Comics’ iconic superhero.
The “Superman” movie was an international hit, with Donner’s brilliant directing of Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando. Donner would commence principal photography of a sequel, “Superman II” (1980), before he was replaced by Richard Lester. Post-“Superman” he would go on to a hit-and-miss directing career, with other famous franchises under his direction including “The Goonies” (1985) and the “Lethal Weapon” buddy-cop film series (1987-1998) starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. He was also executive producer for the “Free Willy” adventure movies (1993-97) and two installments of “X-Men” from 20th Century Fox.
Hollywood has come out following Richard Donner’s death to celebrate his achievements, particularly in the cinematic franchises indelibly joined to his name. Says fellow director and collaborator, Steven Spielberg, “Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty, laugh will stay with me always.”
Image courtesy of KCRW