In our holiday lassitude we have failed to honor the contributions of the great director and Entertainer George Roy Hill, 81, who died Friday of complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the first “adult” film I can remember seeing – at the drive-in with my parents by the way, I miss drive-ins – and I still love its combination of star power, rough humor, delicate whimsy, and the inexorable tug of morality: there are good-bad guys and bad-bad guys but they all must pay the price in the end. An apparent caveat to this rule, though, is you may avoid societal retribution if you only prey upon the bad, as in Hill’s other pairing of Newman and Redford, The Sting.
The Hollywood Reporter has a nice bio:
- Hill was born Dec. 20, 1921, in Minneapolis. Artistically bent, he studied music at Yale University under the German great Paul Hindemith. After Yale, he served in the Marines, flying fighter missions in the South Pacific during World War II.
After his discharge, Hill moved to Ireland to resume his education in music and literature at Trinity College in Dublin. He made his first professional stage appearance in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” at the Gaity Theatre. Returning to the United States, Hill pursued an acting career.
However, just as he made progress, he was recalled to service. He served for 18 months flying missions in Korea. While serving as a night fighter, Hill wrote a TV script about Korean air warfare titled “My Brother’s Keeper” and sold it to Kraft Television Theatre. He soon began writing other scripts, and began directing shortly after.
He was part of the golden age of television that spawned such directors as Sidney Lumet, Norman Jewison and John Frankenheimer. In 1956, Hill won acclaim as the producer-director-writer of the TV drama “A Night to Remember.” He went on to direct such TV fare as “The Helen Morgan Story,” “Billy Budd,” Child of Our Time” and “Blast in Centralia No. 5.”
Hill directed his first Broadway stage production in 1957, an adaptation of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel,” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Among other stage productions, he directed Tennessee Williams’ “Period of Adjustment,” which became his first feature film assignment. He followed up with a film adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play “Toys in the Attic.”
He then tackled a more offbeat production, “The World of Henry Orient.” Starring Peter Sellers as a concert pianist harassed by two star-struck teenage girls, the film was a critical and commercial success.
Hill hit his stride during the late ’60s through the mid ’70s, lensing top projects, including the adaptation of James A. Michener’s sprawling “Hawaii,” which garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture. However, it was a contentious shoot, and Hill was often at odds with the executives in Universal’s parsimonious black tower. During the course of “Hawaii,” Hill quit once and was fired twice over conceptual differences.
Despite the acrimony, Hill followed up with another Universal film, directing a musical spoof of the ’20s, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” starring Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. It was at this time that he signed on for the revisionist Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” With Hill’s light directorial touch and the magical chemistry between Newman and Redford, “Cassidy” went on to be come one of the era’s blockbusters, winning four Oscars.
In sync with the countercultural spirit of the era, Hill followed up with an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and then reteamed with Newman and Redford for “The Sting.”
He next directed “The Little Drummer Girl,” an adaptation of John Le Carre’s best-selling novel. He directed Redford again in the airplane barnstormer “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975). Not to show favorites between Butch and Sundance, he then followed with Newman in the hockey comedy “Slap Shot” (1977).
Hill’s career as a director ended quietly in 1988 with the mild Chevy Chase (news) comedy “Funny Farm.” He subsequently quit Hollywood to teach at Yale.
Now that is a life.