Charlie Chaplin is one of my favorite movie stars. I could watch his films – silent and with sound until my eyeballs popped out! So, when I heard that Sir Richard Attenborough was directing a film on my fav starring one of my other favs…Robert Downey, Jr. I was beside myself! Although Chaplin gave RDJ his first Oscar nomination, by Hollywood standards, the film was considered a flop. Of course, this was a blow to its director, who just five years earlier was lauded for his film Cry Freedom starring Denzel Washington about South African activist Steven Biko.
However, it is his direction of Ben Kingsley in his Academy Award winning role as Gandhi that most remember the directing genius of Richard Attenborough. Mr. Attenborough brought the film to fruition after a 20-year battle to raise money and interest often reluctant Hollywood producers, one of whom famously predicted that there would be no audience for “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.” (Mr. Attenborough ended up producing it himself.)
The film had 430 speaking parts and used over 300,000 extras for Gandhi’s funeral. No one expected it to recoup its $22 million cost, but it wound up earning 20 times that amount.
Attenborough, left directing briefly to re-claim his acting career with the role of John Hammond in the mega-hit Jurrassic Park.
He was credited with inspiring Princess Diana, whom he coached in public speaking, to start her campaign against land mines. Christopher Hart, writing in The Sunday Times in London, called him “an ennobled Champagne socialist of the old school, a mass of good causes and inconsistencies.” On the set he was known for his genial charm, calling everyone “darling,” however mighty or marginal they were. William Goldman, the screenwriter of “A Bridge Too Far,” called Mr. Attenborough “by far the finest, most decent human being” he had ever met in the movie business.
Ironically, In 2008, he published an autobiography, “Entirely Up to You, Darling.” The book chronicles a full and eventful life. But it ends with the death of his daughter and granddaughter in the 2004 tsunami, and his regretting the time he never spent with them.
“Work”, he wrote, “always took precedence.” RIP Sir Richard…