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Taking His Place Among the Giants
by Jon Schuller

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So many people have spent their lives doing what they do best, earning a living and not achieving too much in the way of fame or fortune. But that doesn't negate the thousands of others who've chosen a more difficult path to achieve their dreams, like those men and women who've followed their muse in music, literature, art, architecture, writing and many other ways to enlighten the world. Since the early 20th Century newer audio and visual arts have become almost the dominant forces shaping the world and how we see it. Recordings captured music and speech and quickly made them available to anyone who could pay the price. Edison's famous pioneering wax cylinders were soon replaced by heavy, breakable records played on machines with huge horns to capture the sound. This was beginning of the audio revolution that has evolved into today's technological breakthroughs anyone can hear in their cars or on portable devices you can carry in your pocket. If you're like me, you may have some vinyl records (including some early 33 1/3rds) somewhere in your house and a turntable to play them on.

But the truly dominant and revolutionary communication tool was the movies, making their debut in the late 19th Century, taking the world by storm and forever changing how humanity could and would see itself. Along with television, the incredibly rapid pace of the changes in this technology are seen even today as movie theatres have had to change over to hd/dvd format from film for projection booths and home
television must keep pace. The rivalry between television and movies is continuous with the usual ups-and-downs as a fickle public chooses one over the other.

I have chronicled much of this in previous columns and featured many of those famous actors and actresses who've become as familiar as family members to so many people around the world. Their ranks grow larger every year as awards are given and new films break the ground for daring stories and visual images. Along with the writers and directors, these actors create characters from famous fictions and realities of the past and present. Their abilities appear to be endless because, quite simply, they are. The world just lost another one of the greats a week ago today: Sir Richard Attenborough.

Richard Samuel Attenborough was born in 1923 in Cambridge, England, the older brother of Sir David Attenborough, a famous naturalist and broadcaster, and John Attenborough, an executive at Alfa Romeo. He received pilot training in the RAF during World War II and was sent to a new film unit at the famous Pinewood Studios to make propaganda movies, one of which he co-starred with Edward G. Robinson in 1943. He had gotten an uncredited role in 1942 in the famous film by Noel Coward, In Which We Serve. His breakthrough film role was Pinkie Brown in Brighton Rock (1947). Along with his burgeoning movie career was a love for live stage productions. He was among the original cast members of The Mousetrap in 1952; this play is still running today in
London's West End. He and his wife took life-long profit participation in the play at its inception and used the money to help finance his own productions, such as Gandhi (1982). Attenborough also appeared in the outstanding Peter Sellers comedy film, I'm Alright, Jack in 1959 along with 18 other films throughout the 1950s. In 1963 he was among a rather famous cast of actors who created The Great Escape based on actual events from the Second World War. Among his movies in the '60s: Sťance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964). In 1965 he played Lew Moran opposite James Stewart in The Flight of the Phoenix. Between 1967 and 1968, he won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor, the first time for The Sand Pebbles, with Steve McQueen, and for Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. He created the role of the wealthy and eccentric mogul who decides to create an amusement park full of dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's 1993 Jurassic Park. When Miracle on 34th Street was re-made in 1994 Sir Richard became Kris Kringle. This is in my opinion one of his best and one of those rare remakes that exceeds its parent.

His movie business acumen started early in the 1950s as he created a production company, Beaver Films, with Bryan Forbes. He began directing in 1969 but his real directorial triumphs began with Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977). In 1982, with 11 Academy Award nominations and 8 wins; 14 BAFTA nominations and 4 wins; and 5 Golden Globe
Award nominations and 5 wins, all went to a long-term pet project Sir Richard had been attempting for nearly 20 years: Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley. Other films of his filled the 1980s and 1990s:
1985A Chorus Line
1987Cry Freedom
1992Chaplin
1993Shadowlands
1996Hamlet
1996In Love and War
1997The Lost World: Jurassic Park 1998Elizabeth
1999Grey Owl
1999Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The list of his accomplishments in charitable and artistic organizations appeared to be endless. He was also heavily involved in British politics as well as being a lifelong patron of several colleges and universities, especially University College, Leicester. He was a lifetime supporter of the Chelsea Football Club. His personal awards and titles are impressive but certainly well-deserved as Sir Richard never stopped being totally involved with the world outside of films and stage. His fame was a tool for his unlimited generosity to people the world over. As the saying goes, the bigger they are, the nicer they are. People like Attenborough never forget their roots and humble beginnings, always paying what they could afford forward as well as backward. The idea that one person can change the world and make it a little better holds true for artists like Richard Attenborough. They think of themselves last as they keep following the road they've chosen, regardless if it's paved or unpaved, wide or narrow, straight or unbelievably crooked. It's a lesson for everyone no matter what our own gifts are.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

A Story of Bravery, Truth and Devotion

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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