Frankenheimer is sometimes likened to a "wunderkind in the tradition
of Orson Welles" because he directed numerous quality television
dramas while still in his twenties. He is also one of a handful
of directors who established their reputation in high-quality, high-budget
television dramas and later moved on to motion pictures.
with other television directors of the 1950s, Frankenheimer began
his training in the theater, first with the Williams Theater Group
at Williams College and then as a member of the stock company and
director at Highfield Playhouse in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He later
moved to Washington, D.C., where he acted in an American Theater
Wing production. While in Washington, he both acted in and directed
radio productions and began working at WTOP-TV.
After a stint with the Air Force, during which he directed two documentaries,
Frankenheimer began his television career as an assistant director
at CBS. He worked on weather and news shows, and moved on to
Lamp Unto My Feet, The Garry Moore Show, and Edward R. Murrow's
Person to Person. As his career advanced, Frankenheimer directed
dramatizations on See It Now and You Are There (working
under director Sydney Lumet). He also directed episodes of the comedy
series Mama (based on John Van Druten's play I Remember Mama),
but it was his directorial efforts on television anthologies where
Frankenheimer made his mark.
began directing episodes of the suspense anthology series Danger
in the early 1950s. Producer Martin Manulis hired Frankenheimer
as a co-director on the critically acclaimed Climax!, an
hour-long drama series which was originally aired live. When Manulis
moved on to CBS' Playhouse 90 in 1954, he brought Frankenheimer
with him. Over the next few years, Frankenheimer directed 140 live
television dramas on such anthologies as Studio One (CBS),
Playhouse 90, The DuPont Show of the Month (CBS), Ford
Startime (NBC), Sunday Showcase (NBC), and Kraft Television
Theatre (NBC). He directed such productions as The Days of
Wine and Roses, The Browning Version (which featured
the television debut of Sir John Gielgud), and The Turn of the
Screw (which featured Ingrid Bergman's television debut).
production of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls
(Playhouse 90) was one of the first dramas to be presented in two
parts (12 and 19 March 1959) and, at $400,000, was the most expensive
production at that time. Unlike most of his other productions, For
Whom The Bell Tolls was taped for presentation because the actors
were involved in other theatrical productions in New York. The production's
intensive five-week rehearsal and ten-day shooting schedule had
to be organized around the actors' other theatrical appearances.
directors of live television came from a similar theatrical background
and, as such, used a static camera and blocked productions in a
manner similar to a live stage play. A firm believer that a production
is the sole creative statement of its director, Frankenheimer was
one of the first directors of the "golden age" to utilize a variety
of camera angles and movement, fast-paced editing, and close-ups
to focus the audience's attention (some critics have labeled his
technique as gimmicky or contrived). Frankenheimer's most famous
use of the camera appears in his 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate,
in which one shot is slightly out of focus. Ironically, the shot,
which has been widely acclaimed as artistically brilliant was, according
to the director, an accident and merely the best take for actor
went on to make other memorable films, such as The Birdman of
Alcatraz (which he had, at one time, wanted to do as a live
Playhouse 90 production in 1955), Seven Days in May, Grand
Prix, The Fixer, and The Iceman Cometh. Personal problems
and a decline in the number of quality scripts offered him forced
Frankenheimer into an absence from the industry. Returning to television
in the 1990s as a means of rediscovering himself, Frankenheimer
directed the original HBO production Against the Wall about
the 1971 Attica Prison riot. Always drawn to intimate stories and
psychological portraits, in this production Frankenheimer explores
the relationship between the officer taken as hostage and the inmate
leader of the uprising.
has received five Emmy nominations for his directorial work on television
including: Portrait in Celluloid (1955, Climax, CBS),
Forbidden Area (1956, Playhouse 90, CBS), The Comedian
(1957, Playhouse 90), A Town Has Turned to Dust
(1958, Playhouse 90), and The Turn of the Screw (1959,
Ford Startime, NBC).
(MICHAEL) FRANKENHEIMER. Born in Malba, New York, U.S.A., 19
February 1930. Williams College, B.A., 1951. Married 1) Carolyn
Miller, 1954 (divorced); children: two daughters; 2) Evans Evans,
1964. Served in Film Squadron, U.S. Air Force, 1951-53. Began career
as actor, 1950-51; assistant director, later director, CBS-TV, New
York, from 1953; director, Playhouse 90 television series,
Hollywood, 1954-59; directed first feature film, The Young Stranger,
1957; formed John Frankenheimer Productions, 1963. Recipient: Christopher
Award, 1954; Grand Prize for Best Film Director, 1955; Critics Award
1956-59; Brotherhood Award, 1959; Acapulco Film Festival Award,
1962. Address: c/o John Frankenheimer Productions, 2800 Olympic
Blvd., Suite 201, Santa Monica, California, 90404, U.S.
You Are There
1948-1958 Studio One
1954-1959 Playhouse 90
1994 Against the Wall
1994 The Burning Season
The Young Stranger, 1957; The Young Savages, 1961;
The Manchurian Candidate, (& co-produced), 1962; All Fall
Down, 1962; Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962; Seven Days
in May, 1963; The Train, 1964; Grand Prix, 1966;
Seconds, 1966; The Extraordinary Seaman; 1968; The
Fixer, 1968; The Gypsy Moths, 1969; I Walk the Line,
1970; The Horsemen, 1970; L'Impossible Objet (Impossible
Object); 1973; The Iceman Cometh, 1973; 99 44/100 Dead,
1974; French Connection II, 1975; Black Sunday, (+
bit role as TV controller) 1976; Prophecy, 1979; The Challenge,
1982; The Holcroft Covenant, 1985; 52 Pick Up, 1986;
Across the River and Into the Trees, 1987; Dead Bang,
1989; The Fourth War, 1989.
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"Filming The Iceman Cometh." Action (Los Angeles), January/February
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P. "Interview." Films in Review (New York), February 1983.
"Interview." Films and Filming. (London), February 1985.
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Heritage (New York), Winter 1966-67.
Richard. "A Matter of Conviction." Sight and Sound (London),
B. "The War Between the Writers and the Directors: Part II: The
Directors." American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1979.
_________. "Directors of the Decade: John Frankenheimer." Films
and Filming (London), February 1984.
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D.C.), March 1989.
Drew, B. "John Frankenheimer: His Fall and Rise." American Film
(Washington, D.C.), March 1977.
Paul. "Three Frankenheimer Films: A Sociological Approach." Screen
(London), July-August 1969.
Higham, Charles. "Frankenheimer." Sight and Sound (London),
Higham, Charles, and Joel Greenberg, editors. The Celluloid Muse.
Madsen, Axel. "99 and 44/100 Dead." Sight and Sound (London),
Paul. "John Frankenheimer." Movie (London), December 1962.
Gerald. The Cinema of John Frankenheimer. London: A Zwemmer;
New York: A.S. Barnes, 1969.
Scheinfeld, Michael. "The Manchurian Candidate." Films in Review
(New York), 1988.
Thomas, John. "John Frankenheimer, the Smile on the Face of the
Tiger." Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1965-66.
Bernard. "Back to Hollywood's Bottom Rung, and Climbing." New
York Times, 24 March 1994.
Age of Television; Playhouse