Robert Aldrich

For the 16th century bishop, see Robert Aldrich (bishop). For the Australian historian, see Robert Aldrich (historian).
Robert Aldrich
Born Robert Burgess Aldrich
(1918-08-09)August 9, 1918
Cranston, Rhode Island
Died December 5, 1983(1983-12-05) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Film director, film producer
Years active 1945–81
Spouse(s) Harriet Foster
(m. 1941–1965; divorced)
Sibylle Siegfried
(m. 1966–1983; his death)

Robert Burgess Aldrich (August 9, 1918 – December 5, 1983) was an American film director, writer and producer, notable for such films as Vera Cruz (1954), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Big Knife (1955), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Longest Yard (1974). Film critic John Patterson summarized his career in 2012: "He was a punchy, caustic, macho and pessimistic director, who depicted corruption and evil unflinchingly, and pushed limits on violence throughout his career. His aggressive and pugnacious film-making style, often crass and crude, but never less than utterly vital and alive, warrants – and will richly reward – your immediate attention."[1]


Aldrich was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of Lora Lawson and newspaper publisher Edward Burgess Aldrich. He was a grandson of U.S. Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and a cousin to Nelson Rockefeller. He was educated at the Moses Brown School in Providence, and studied economics at the University of Virginia where he also was a letterman on the 1940 football team.[2] In 1941, he dropped out of college for a minor, $50-a-week clerical job at RKO Radio Pictures.[3] In doing so, he was also dropped by his family, and lost a potential stake in Chase Bank he would have inherited. Indeed, it's been said that "No American film director was born as wealthy as Aldrich—and then so thoroughly cut off from family money."[3]

He quickly rose in film production as an assistant director, and worked with Jean Renoir, Abraham Polonsky, Robert Rossen, Joseph Losey and Charlie Chaplin, with the latter as an assistant on Limelight. He became a television director in the 1950s, directing his first feature film, The Big Leaguer, in 1953. Aldrich soon gained recognition as an auteur filmmaker,[3] depicting his liberal humanist thematic vision in many genres, in films such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), today a film noir classic, The Big Knife (1955), a cinematic adaptation of Clifford Odets's play about Hollywood as a business, and Attack (1956), a World War II infantry combat film exploring how U.S. Army careerism determined who attacked and who ordered the attack. During the 1950s, Aldrich directed mostly action stories, including early films like Apache and Vera Cruz; both starred Burt Lancaster, though second-billed to Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz. In 1959, he was head of the jury at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival.[4]

In the 1960s, he directed several commercially successful films, such as the gothic horror stories What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), featuring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as spiteful sisters and faded child-actresses, the follow-up Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, with Bette Davis as a Southern woman who lives in a mansion and thinks she is going insane (both Joan Crawford and Davis were to appear, but Crawford left the film); the sexually controversial The Killing of Sister George (1968); and the hugely popular war film The Dirty Dozen (1967). The success of The Dirty Dozen allowed him to establish his own film production studio for some time, but several failures forced his professional return to conventionally commercial Hollywood films. Nevertheless, his humanism is thematically evident in The Longest Yard (1974), about the rigged-game politics, and Ulzana's Raid (1972) an uncompromising film based on the real life break-out from an Indian reservation of a band led by chief Ulzana, the extreme violence and torture they exacted upon isolated pioneer families in the Arizona territory, and their pursuit by the US cavalry.

From his marriage to Harriet Foster (1941–65), Robert Aldrich had four children, all of whom work in the film business: Adell, William, Alida and Kelly. In 1966, after divorcing Harriet, he married fashion model Sybille Siegfried.

Death and legacy

Aldrich died of kidney failure on December 5, 1983 in a Los Angeles hospital.

In 2012, John Patterson of The Guardian commented that Aldrich is "a wonderful director nearly 30 years dead now, whose body of work is in danger of slipping over the horizon."[1] Japanese film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa noted Aldrich's influence on him.[5]




Unmade projects


  1. 1 2 Patterson, John (December 7, 2012). "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane should remind us of the talent of Robert Aldrich". The Guardian.
  2. "All Time Letter Winners"
  3. 1 2 3 Thomson, David (2010). "Iconoclasts/ Robert Aldrich:Going for Broke". DGA Quarterly (Spring): 57. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  4. "9th Berlin International Film Festival: Juries". Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  5. Gonzalez, Ed (February 10, 2005). "Bright Future – DVD Review – Slant Magazine". Slant Magazine.

Further reading

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