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Overview for Michael Ritchie
Michael Ritchie

Michael Ritchie


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Also Known As: Alan Smithee,Michael Brunswick Ritchie Died: April 16, 2001
Born: November 28, 1938 Cause of Death: prostate cancer
Birth Place: Waukesha, Wisconsin, USA Profession: Director ... director writer producer actor


Wisconsin-born, California-raised Michael Ritchie gained early directorial experience as an undergraduate at Harvard, staging the original production of classmate Arthur Kopit's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad" in 1960. Following graduation he worked in series TV, directing episodes of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "Dr. Kildare." Ritchie's first feature, "Downhill Racer" (1969), starring Robert Redford, was noted for its gripping skiing sequences, shot with hand-held 16mm cameras. His third film, "The Candidate" (1972), also starred Redford, and it remains one of the finest cinematic excoriations of the American political system.

Ritchie's subsequent output was primarily in the comedic vein, including the memorable "Smile" (1975, which he also produced), a backstage look at the inner workings of a beauty pageant that exposed the hypocrisies of small-town life in the process. After the amiable "The Bad News Bears" (1976), Ritchie's low-concept comedies, including little-seen bombs like "Student Bodies" (1981) and "Diggstown" (1992), didn't really come off. In a two-year period in the mid-80s, though, Ritchie helmed the fiscally successful Chevy Chase comedy "Fletch" (1985), the Goldie Hawn vehicle "Wildcats," and the Eddie Murphy film "The Golden Child" (both 1986). Somehow Ritchie, who had once directed nifty, very American little movies had become, at best, a hired gun.

In 1993, he penned the story for "Cool Runnings," a cheerful story about the Jamaican bobsled team, which became the sleeper hit of the winter season. This success, paired with his darkly satirical made-for-cable gem, "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (HBO, 1993), starring Holly Hunter in the title role, marked a return to form for Ritchie. Both movies received critical adulation, unlike Ritchie's lackluster big screen efforts "Cops and Robbersons" and the less than warmly received baseball comedy "The Scout" (both 1994), starring Albert Brooks.

Ritchie rounded out his career helming the unsuccessful big screen adaptation of the long-running Off-Broadway musical "The Fantasticks" (filmed in 1995; released in 2000) and the wan fairy tale-inspired "A Simple Wish" (1997). In the years just prior to his untimely death from prostate cancer in April 2001, the director came full circle, handling helming chores on episodic television, directing for the Showtime showbiz satire "Beggars and Choosers" and the short-lived NBC drama "Deadline."

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