“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”
“I’m not bitter. I ask for it myself. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”
New York Times article: Older, Sadder, Maybe Wiser
In the post The Making of Peter Bogdanovich I wrote about his rise from an early love of movies as a child, to being a teenage actor, to being a writer in his early twenties, to directing The Last Picture Show in his early thirties. After that film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, he would direct two more winners—What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. At least professionally, at that moment in time, Bogdanovich had the kind of success that few filmmakers experience. But then what happened?
“What happened? Three-in-a-row struck back. Mr. Bogdanovich’s three successes were followed with Daisy Miller (1974), At Long last Love (1975), and Nickelodeon (1976)–three flops.”
Professionally he was in a tail spin. It probably didn’t help his psyche that he turned down opportunitees to direct The Godfather and Chinatown. His private life was no picnic either. During The Last Picture Show he began an affair with Cybill Shepherd which ended his marriage to Polly Platt. After his three failed films, his relationship ended with Shepherd and in 1979, at age 39, he began a relationship with 19-year-old Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, who he cast in his film They All Laughed. Tragically Stratten was killed in 1980 by her estranged husband who then killed himself. Bogdanovich retreated by writing a book about Stratten.
He also created a controversy when his compassion for Stratten’s 13-year-old half-sister turned into a romantic relationship sometime in her later teens. When Bogdanovich was 49 he married the 20-year-old. They would later divorce, and along the way he’s filed for bankruptcy twice, reportedly went through psychiatric treatment, and eventually left California and returned to New York’s Upper West Side, not far from where he was raised.
“If you do not stay visible, you’re forgotten. It’s somewhat like riding a tiger. If you fall off, you get eaten, and if you stay on it’s a rough ride.”
Paul S. Sigelman (An attorney of Peter Bogdanovich’s at the time of his bankruptcy trials)
But Bogdanovich is a survivor. Heck, my favorite Bogdanvich film, Mask (1985), was made during one of the hardest periods of his life. And he’s continued to make films over the years, he had a role on The Sopranos, he’s written books (including Who the Devil Made It and one on Orson Welles), he blogs at Blogdanovich, he teaches at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts, and because of his deep film knowledge and relationship with Welles and John Ford he is a living link to the past and in demand at film festivals and doing DVD commentaries. Now at age 73 he still has films to make & roles to play, articles to write, and lessons to pass on to the next generation of filmmakers.
”[Hollywood's] an easy place to get fooled. There are no real seasons and you’re not aware of time going. Orson had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.”
The Bel-Air hacienda, the Rolls-Royce, and the servants of his past life are gone. Like John Wayne, John Ford, and Cary Grant—all just a faded remnants of Bogdanovich’s past.
But well into the future filmmakers will learn from Bogdanovich—even if just via his writings and commentaries—about filmmaking, old Hollywood, and maybe a life lesson or two along the way.