John Schlesinger
Name at BirthJohn Richard Schlesinger
OccupationFilm director
Domestic partnerMichael Childers

John Richard Schlesinger, Order of the British Empire (CBE) (16 February 1926 – 25 July 2003) was an English film and stage director and actor.

Early life

Schlesinger was born in London into a middle-class Jewish family,[1] the son of Winifred Henrietta (née Regensburg) and Bernard Edward Schlesinger, a physician.[2] After St Edmund's School, Hindhead, Uppingham School and Balliol College, Oxford, he worked as an actor.


Schlesinger's acting career began in the 1950s and consisted of supporting roles in British films such as The Divided Heart and Oh... Rosalinda!!, and British television productions such as BBC Sunday Night Theatre, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Vise. He began his directorial career in 1956 with the short documentary Sunday in the Park about London's Hyde Park. In 1959 he was credited as exterior or second unit director on 23 episodes of the TV series The Four Just Men and four 30-minute episodes of the series Danger Man.[3]

By the 1960s, he had virtually given up acting to concentrate on a directing career, and another of his earlier directorial efforts, the British Transport Films' documentary Terminus (1961), gained a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion and a British Academy Award. His first two fiction movies, A Kind of Loving (1962) and Billy Liar (1963) were set in the North of England. A Kind of Loving won the Golden Bear award at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival in 1962.[4]

His third feature film, Darling (1965), tartly described the modern urban way of life in London and was one of the first films about 'swinging London'. Schlesinger's next film was the period drama Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's popular novel accentuated by beautiful English country locations. Both films featured Julie Christie as the female lead. Schlesinger's next film, Midnight Cowboy (1969), filmed in the United States, was internationally acclaimed. A story of two hustlers living on the fringe in the bad side of New York City, it was Schlesinger's first movie shot in the U.S., and it won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. During the 1970s, he made an array of movies about loners, losers, and people outside the clean world. Later, after Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), he worked on films that attracted mixed responses from the public, and few dollars. In Britain, he did better with films like Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Cold Comfort Farm (1995).

His later films include Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), The Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Yanks (1979), An Englishman Abroad (1983), The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Pacific Heights (1990), the TV play A Question of Attribution (1991), The Innocent (1993) and The Next Best Thing (2000).

Schlesinger also directed Timon of Athens (1965) for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the musical I and Albert (1972) at London's Piccadilly Theatre. From 1973 he was an associate director of the Royal National Theatre, where he produced George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1975). He also directed several operas, beginning with Les contes d'Hoffmann (1980) and Der Rosenkavalier (1984), both at Covent Garden.[5]

Schlesinger also directed a notable party political broadcast for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom general election of 1992 which featured Prime Minister John Major returning to Brixton in south London, where he had spent his teenage years, which highlighted his humble background, atypical for a Conservative politician. Schlesinger admitted to having voted for all three main political parties in the UK at one time or another.

The book and TV series The Glittering Prizes, written by Frederic Raphael, who won the Best Screenwriting Oscar for his work on Schlesinger's film Darling, feature a character believed to be based on Schlesinger.

In 2003, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[6]

In 1991, Schlesinger made a rare return to acting by appearing in a cameo role in the BBC made-for-television film The Lost Language of Cranes, in which he played a gay character.


In his Diaries – 2003, Alan Bennett describes Schlesinger as "wonderfully funny, particularly about his sex life" and that, despite being "short, solid and fat", Schlesinger was "surprisingly successful in finding partners".

Not invariably though. Sometime in the 1970s he was in New York bath house where the practice was for someone wanting a partner to leave the cubicle door open. This Schlesinger accordingly did and lay monumentally on the table under his towel waiting for someone to pass by. A youth duly did and indeed ventured in, but seeing this mound of flesh laid out on the slab recoiled, saying "Oh, please. I couldn't. You've got to be kidding." Schlesinger closed his eyes and said primly: "A simple 'No' will suffice."[7]

Bennett was invited to speak at Schlesinger's memorial service held on 30 September 2003. Feeling that the bath house story would be inappropriate, he gave Schlesinger's own account of his investiture with the CBE.

John was so aware of his sexuality that he managed to detect a corresponding awareness in the unlikeliest of places. On this occasion HMQ had a momentary difficulty getting the ribbon round his sizeable neck, whereupon she said "Now, Mr. Schlesinger, we must try and get this straight," the emphasis according to John very much hers and which he took as both a coded acknowledgement of his situation and a seal of royal approval.[8]


Schlesinger underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1998, before suffering a stroke in December 2000. He was taken off life support at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California on 24 July 2003 by his life partner of over 30 years, photographer Michael Childers. Schlesinger died early the following day at the age of 77.


  1. Bond, Paul (8 August 2003). Obituary: John Schlesinger, filmmaker, 1926-2003. World Socialist Website. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved on 2011-06-21.
  2. Phillips, Gene D.. John Schlesinger Biography (1926-). Retrieved on 2011-06-21.
  3. End credits of episodes of both series.
  4. Berlinale: Prize Winners. Retrieved on 2010-02-03.
  5. Template:GroveOnline
  6. Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  7. Bennett, Alan (2005). "Diaries 1996-2004", Untold Stories. Faber & Faber, 331–332. ISBN 978-0-571-22831-7. 
  8. "Diaries 1996-2004", Untold Stories, 335. 

External links

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