Robert Altman

Annie Lee | May 13, 2024

Table of Content


Robert Altman, born February 20, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri and died November 20, 2006 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles County), was an American director, producer and screenwriter known for his naturalistic and aesthetic style. In 2006, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar.

His films MASH and Nashville are selected and listed in the National Film Registry for preservation in the Library of Congress.

Like Henri-Georges Clouzot and Michelangelo Antonioni, he won the top prizes at the three main European festivals (Cannes, Berlin and Venice), completing the festival grand slam.

Childhood and early career

Altman was born in Kansas City, Missouri to a well-born father, insurance broker and gambling enthusiast Bernard Clement Altman, and a descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims from Nebraska, Helen Mathews. Robert Altman's ancestors were German, English and Irish. His paternal grandfather, Frank Altmann Sr. changed his last name to "Altman". Robert Altman received a strict Catholic education. He attended Rockhurst and Southwest high schools in Kansas City before being sent to Wentworth Military Academy near Lexington, Missouri, where he graduated from high school. In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Altman enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and served in World War II as a B-24 bomber copilot. It was during his USAAF training in California that Altman caught a glimpse of the glittering lights of Hollywood and began to dream about it. After his service in 1947, Altman moved to Los Angeles and tried his hand at acting, writing and directing.

Altman's acting career was short-lived; he made a brief appearance as an extra in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He then wrote a draft script for the film Christmas Eve and sold it to RKO the script for the film Bodyguard (1948), co-written with Richard Fleischer. This unexpected success allows Altman to move to New York and begin a career as a writer. There he met George W. George, with whom he wrote, but did not always publish, numerous plays, musicals, novels and magazine articles. But he did not meet with the success he had hoped for and returned to Hollywood where he opened a pet store to make money. His business went bankrupt and in 1950 Altman returned to his family in Kansas City, broke but desperate for a second chance in the film industry.

First steps in the film industry

Since there was no film school at the time, Altman joined the Calvin Company, the largest production company of the day, headquartered in Kansas City, which had the largest 16mm film development lab. Altman was fascinated by this enormous machinery and first proved himself as a screenwriter before beginning to direct films. During his six years as a director with the Calvin Company, Altman made between 60 and 65 short films that allowed him to make a living while earning $250 a week. He also learned to shoot films quickly and on schedule for both small and large productions. From a technical point of view, he became familiar with all the tools of the director: the camera, the sound boom, the lighting, etc.

However, Altman grew tired of the industrial film format and sought out riskier projects. He went to Hollywood several times to try his hand at screenwriting, but returned to the Calvin Company each time. According to Altman, the Calvin Company executives lowered his salary a bit each time he returned. After his third attempt, at a business meeting, they announced that they would not take him back if he tried again.

First feature films

In 1955, Robert Altman left the Calvin Company with no intention of returning. He was quickly hired by Elmer Rhoden Jr., the director of a Kansas City movie theater, to write and direct a low-budget B-movie about teenage crime called The Delinquents, which became his first feature film. Altman wrote the script in one week and shot it in two on a budget of $63,000 in Kansas City. Rhoden Jr. saw the film as a way to get a quick start on his production career, while Altman saw it as his ticket to the upper echelons of Hollywood. The cast was made up of actors and actresses from the local theater who were then starring in Calvin Company films, members of the Altman family, and three actors from Hollywood, including Tom Laughlin, who would later play the title character in Billy Jack. The technical crew was made up of former Calvin Company colleagues and friends whom Altman planned to bring on board in his "Great Escape from Kansas City". In 1956, accompanied by his assistant director Reza Badiyi, he left Kansas City for good to go and make The Delinquents in Hollywood. United Artists distributed the film for $150,000, and it grossed nearly a million dollars when it was released in 1957.

Achievements for television

The success of The Delinquents was short-lived, but the film caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who asked Altman to direct a few episodes of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Between 1958 and 1964, Altman directed numerous episodes of TV shows, including Combat!, Bonanza, Whirlybirds and Route 66, and in 1961 wrote and directed an episode of Maverick called Bolt From the Blue, which starred Roger Moore and had a lynching theme. He also directed an episode of the TV series Bus Stop, but its ending, in which a killer escaped justice, was so controversial that the series was stopped at the end of the season following debates in the US Congress.

Success stories

Altman went through several difficult years after his falling out with Jack Warner, and it was during this time that he forged his "anti-Hollywood" convictions that marked a milestone in his career. He made several other unsuccessful feature films until 1969 when he was presented with the script for M*A*S*H, which had already been rejected by dozens of other directors. Altman directed the film, which was a huge success both critically and publicly. It was his most profitable film. His career was revived by the success of M*A*S*H, and Altman went on to critical success with films such as John McCabe (McCabe & Mrs. Miller), The Long Goodbye and Nashville (1975), which introduced Altman's specific experimental style.

As a director, Altman preferred stories that emphasized the relationships between characters; he said he was more interested in the deeper motivations of the characters than in plots. Thus, he used to write only the broadest plot lines for his films; he considered his scripts to be mere frameworks for the action and allowed his actors to improvise dialogue. This is how Altman earned his reputation as an actor's director who helped him assemble prestigious castings.

He often allowed his characters to speak at the same time so that it was unclear who was saying what. He notes in the audio commentary for John McCabe (McCabe & Mrs. Miller) that he leaves dialogue overlapping and some aspects of the plot unresolved to keep the viewer's attention. He listened to the dialogue with headphones during takes to ensure that what was relevant was audible without distracting the viewer. He also made sure that his films were restricted by the Motion Picture Association of America so that children could not see them; he felt that children did not have the patience to watch them. These requirements sometimes led to conflicts with studios who saw children as an additional source of revenue.

Altman has made films that no other director and

In 1975, Altman directed Nashville for Paramount, a sort of musical that parallels the theme of politics with that of country music. The actors in the film wrote their own songs. Keith Carradine received an Oscar for his song "I'm Easy".

Altman's style of filmmaking initially failed to find an audience and he sought greater artistic freedom by founding Lions Gate Film (not to be confused with Lionsgate). A Wedding, 3 Women and Quintet are among the films he made for his production company.

His style influenced many other filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson for whom he had a mutual admiration.

Mid-career and renaissance

In 1980, he took part in an attempt at a musical for Disney Studios and Paramount by making a film version of the Popeye cartoon in which Robin Williams made his film debut in the title role. Critics were not kind to the film, but it still found an audience and was the second highest-grossing film of the director at the time (it has since been dethroned by Gosford Park). In the 1980s, Altman made a series of films that were both acclaimed (the Richard Nixon drama Secret Honor) and critically panned (O.C. & Stiggs). On the other hand, he was widely applauded for his satirical documentary drama about the behind-the-scenes American presidential campaign Tanner '88, for which he received an Emmy Award and regained the good graces of the critics. But despite this, he was still struggling to find his audience.

In 1983, Altman participated in the composition of the hit song Black Sheep by country singer John Anderson.

His career was revived after he directed The Player in 1992, a satire on Hollywood and its excesses that was nominated three times for an Academy Award, including once for Best Director. Altman won the Director's Award at the Cannes Film Festival, was named Best Director by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), which allowed the Hollywood industry - which had sidelined him for almost a decade - to realize that he was more creative than ever.

Following the success of The Player, Altman directed Short Cuts in 1993, an ambitious adaptation of several Raymond Carver short stories that depicted the lives of different Los Angeles residents over the course of several days. The abundance of characters and the interweaving of different stories were reminiscent of his 1970s heyday and earned Altman a Golden Lion award in Venice and another Oscar nomination for Best Director. The film was considered his best and Altman himself considered it, along with Tanner '88, his most original work. This was followed by The Gingerbread Man in 1998, which received good reviews but was not as successful as expected by the public, and Cookie's Fortune in 1999, which was also well received by critics. In 2001, his film Gosford Park was ranked by many critics as one of the ten best films of the year.

Working with independent studios such as Fine Line, Artisan (now Lions Gate, a company Altman co-founded) and USA Films (now Focus Features), he was able to make the films he always wanted to make without the pressures of Hollywood studios. A film version of Garrison Keillor's radio series A Prairie Home Companion was released in June 2006. Altman continued to work on new projects until his death.

After five nominations for Best Director and no awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. In his speech after receiving the award, Altman revealed that he had received a heart transplant about ten years earlier. He joked that the Academy had probably been a little hasty in giving him the award and that he felt he had easily forty years to live.

He often referred to his film Brewster McCloud and his TV series Tanner '88 as his two most influential works.

Privacy Policy

In the 1960s, Altman lived for nine years with his second wife in Mandeville Canyon in Brentwood near Los Angeles, California, according to Peter Biskind in his book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" (Touchstone Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1998).

In 2004, he said he would move to France if George W. Bush was re-elected, but he did not. He later said that he wanted to talk about the city of Paris in Texas because "the state of Texas is much nicer when you're not there. He was a board member of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He had five children.

Altman died on November 20, 2006 at the age of 81 at the Cedars-Sinai Clinic in Los Angeles. According to his New York production company, Sandcastle 5 Productions, he died of leukemia.

Robert Altman is recognized as the great specialist of the choral film. Since 2008, a prize bears his name at the Spirit Awards for the best casting of an independent film, this prize having so far given pride of place to choral films.


  1. Robert Altman
  2. Robert Altman
  3. ^ Powerfully realized study of Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo marks a return to the mainstream arena for director Robert Altman. Brilliantly acted, splendid film fare should be welcomed in specialty houses and beyond.[19]
  4. (en) « Robert Altman | Biography, Movies, & Facts », sur Encyclopedia Britannica (consulté le 14 mars 2019)
  5. Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite selon la norme API.
  6. (en-US) Rick Lyman, « Robert Altman, Iconoclastic Director, Dies at 81 », The New York Times,‎ 21 novembre 2006 (ISSN 0362-4331, lire en ligne, consulté le 14 mars 2019)
  7. « Robert Altman, irréductible du cinéma américain », sur La Croix, 23 novembre 2006
  8. Lemons, Stephen. "Robert Altman". p. 2. Архивировано из оригинала 8 декабря 2006. Дата обращения: 22 ноября 2006.
  9. ^ Alberto Crespi, l'Unità, 22/11/2006

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?