Director of 'Birdman of Alcatraz,' 'Manchurian Candidate' dies at 72

Sunday, July 7, 2002

— John Frankenheimer, director of such Hollywood classics as "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Birdman of Alcatraz," died Saturday. He was 72.

Frankenheimer died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of a stroke due to complications from spinal surgery, said his business manager, Patti Person.

Frankenheimer was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards in a career that spanned nearly five decades. His work ranged from social dramas to political thrillers, and included a highly regarded run of feature films in the 1960s, and a string of 152 live television dramas in the '50s.

He won four consecutive Emmys in the late 1990s for directing cable-TV movies. In 1998 his "George Wallace" won a Peabody Award and a Golden Globe for best television film.

"Full bore. You gotta give it everything. You just got to give it everything," he said in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press. "And sometimes that's not even enough."

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), a satirical conspiracy thriller about a Korean War brainwashing victim, was the film that made Frankenheimer's name.

It was followed two years later by another highly regarded political thriller, "Seven Days in May," which starred Burt Lancaster as a renegade general planning a coup. Other films included "Seconds," "Black Sunday" and "The Train."

A native New Yorker, Frankenheimer got his first taste of directing movies while in the Air Force stationed in Burbank. He worked on some documentaries, and in 1953 walked into the CBS office in New York and convinced network officials to give him a chance as an assistant director.

Frankenheimer moved from weather and news programming to television shows. His early credits included 42 episodes of the "Playhouse '90" anthology series and his success with political thrillers followed. As producer Frank Mancuso Jr. once put it, "He made the template" for such movies.

In the 1970s, Frankenheimer ran into some personal difficulties, including a drinking problem, which followed the assassination of close friend Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy was staying at Frankenheimer's house, and Frankenheimer drove him to the Ambassador Hotel the night he was killed in 1968.

Frankenheimer lost his touch, making such clunkers as "Prophecy," "The Challenge," "Dead-Bang" and "Year of the Gun." Job offers dried up in the '80s and he had to work to re-establish himself.

In the 1990s, Frankenheimer returned to television and found new success directing movies for HBO.

He won a string of Emmys starting in 1993 for "Against the Wall," followed by "The Burning Season," "Andersonville" and "George Wallace."

Frankenheimer is expected to be inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in November.