Monday, February 20, 2017

Film critic Richard Schickel dies at age 84

The film critic Richard Schickel has passed away at the age of 84. I met him once, when I hosted an event with him, some five years ago. He was the film critic for LIFE and TIME magazines, and was the prolific author of some 37 books on the movies and movie stars. I have autographed copies of about a dozen of them. I especially enjoyed his biography of D.W. Griffith, which won the British Film Institute Book Prize.

His books on Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, James Cagney, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan are well worth checking out, as are his various documentaries.

Schickel wrote and/or directed more than 30 documentaries, mostly for television. Schickel started his movie making career in 1971 by writing the BBC documentary The Movie Crazy Years. Soon thereafter,  he wrote and directed a series of PBS documentaries under the title The Men Who Made Movies -- individual installements were on Golden Age directors William Wellman, Vincente  Minnelli, Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. The series became a book, which I also have. Schickel also edited 2006’s The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian, which I have and would recommend.

On his Facebook wall, film historian Frank Thompson wrote a moving tribute to Schickel and the debt he and everyone who loves film and film history has to the late critic.

Schickel both wrote and directed his documentaries, mostly. They include The World of Willa Cather, a documentary about the Nebraska novelist, in 1977; the Walter Matthau-hosted CBS piece Funny Business, highlighting the best in movie comedy, in 1978; The Horror Show, a history of horror movies hosted by Anthony Perkins (1979, CBS); James Cagney: That Yankee Doodle Dandy (1982, PBS); 1987’s Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincente; Cary Grant: A Celebration (1988, ABC); Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend (1989, TNT);  Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To (1990, TNT); the Sally Field-hosted Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire (1991); Hollywood on Hollywood (1993, AMC); the Emmy-nominated Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey (1994, AMC); The Harryhausen Chronicles (1998, AMC); the Emmy-nominated Shooting War: World War II Combat Cameramen (2000, ABC);  Woody Allen: A Life in Film (2002, TCM); Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (2003); Scorsese on Scorsese (2004, TCM); Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the 1950s and Us (2005, TCM); and the three-part series You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, which aired in 2008 as part of PBS’ American Masters.

Schickel received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964. He received the National Board of Review’s William K. Everson Film History Award in 2004, and the Maurice Bessy Award for film criticism in 2001. He was also honored by the  Los Angles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics.

When I met him, I asked Schickel about Louise Brooks. He told me that he liked her, thought her tough, and similarly admired William Wellman, Brooks' director in Beggars of Life.

Richard Schickel has died. His film history remains: his love of the movies is still alive.

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