Donald Siegel
Siegel in 1968
Born(1912-10-26)October 26, 1912
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 20, 1991(1991-04-20) (aged 78)
Nipomo, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Film and television director and producer
Years active1939−1984
(m. 1948; div. 1953)
(m. 1957; div. 1975)
Carol Rydall
(m. 1981)
Children5, including Kristoffer Tabori

Donald Siegel (/ˈsɡəl/ SEE-gəl; October 26, 1912 – April 20, 1991) was an American film and television director and producer.

Siegel was described by The New York Times as "a director of tough, cynical and forthright action-adventure films whose taut plots centered on individualistic loners".[1] He directed the science-fiction horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), as well as five films with Clint Eastwood, including the police thriller Dirty Harry (1971) and the prison drama Escape from Alcatraz (1979). He also directed John Wayne's final film, the Western The Shootist (1976).

Early life

Siegel was born in 1912 to a Jewish family[2] in Chicago; his father was Samuel Siegel, a mandolin player.[3] Siegel attended schools in New York and later graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge in England. For a short time, he studied at Beaux Arts in Paris, but left at age 20 and later went to Los Angeles.[4]


Siegel found work in the Warner Bros. film library after meeting producer Hal Wallis,[4] and later rose to head of the montage department, where he directed thousands of montages, including the opening montage for Casablanca. In 1945, two shorts he directed, Star in the Night and Hitler Lives, won Academy Awards, which launched his career as a feature director.

Siegel directed whatever material came his way, often transcending the limitations of budget and script to produce interesting and adept works. He made the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), described by The Guardian in 2014 as a "fatalistic masterpiece" and "a touchstone for the sci-fi genre" which spawned three remakes.[5] For television, he directed two episodes of The Twilight Zone, "Uncle Simon" (1963) and "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" (1964), and was the producer of The Legend of Jesse James (1965).[6] He worked with Eli Wallach in The Lineup, Elvis Presley and Dolores del Río in Flaming Star (1960), with Steve McQueen in Hell Is for Heroes, and Lee Marvin in the influential The Killers (1964) before directing five of Eastwood's films that were commercially successful in addition to being well received by critics. These included the action films Coogan's Bluff and Dirty Harry, the Albert Maltz-scripted Western Two Mules for Sister Sara, the American Civil War melodrama The Beguiled, and the prison-break picture Escape from Alcatraz. He was a considerable influence on Eastwood's own career as a director, and Eastwood's film Unforgiven is dedicated "for Don and Sergio".

Siegel had a long collaboration with composer Lalo Schifrin, who scored five of his films: Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, and Telefon. Schifrin composed and recorded what would have been his sixth score for Siegel on Jinxed! (1982), but it was rejected by the studio despite Siegel's objections. This conflict was one of several fights Siegel had on his last film.[7]

Siegel was also important to the career of director Sam Peckinpah. In 1954, Peckinpah was hired as a dialogue coach for Riot in Cell Block 11. His job entailed acting as an assistant to the director, Siegel. The film was shot on location at Folsom Prison. Siegel's location work and his use of actual prisoners as extras in the film made a lasting impression on Peckinpah. He worked as a dialogue coach on four additional Siegel films: Private Hell 36 (1954), An Annapolis Story (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Crime in the Streets (1956).[8] Twenty-five years later, Peckinpah was all but banished from the industry due to his troubled film productions. Siegel gave the director a chance to return to filmmaking. He asked Peckinpah if he would be interested in directing 12 days of second unit on Siegel's Jinxed! film. Peckinpah immediately accepted, and his earnest collaboration with his longtime friend was noted within the industry. While Peckinpah's work was uncredited, it led to his hiring as the director of his final film The Osterman Weekend (1983).[9][10]


Siegel had a small role as a bartender in Eastwood's Play Misty for Me, and in Dirty Harry. In Philip Kaufman's 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a remake of Siegel's 1956 film, he appears as a taxi driver. In Charley Varrick starring Walter Matthau (a film slated for Eastwood, but ultimately turned down by the actor), he has a cameo as a ping-pong player. He also appears in the 1985 John Landis film Into the Night. Siegel also has a small role in The Killers.

Personal life and death

Siegel and actress Viveca Lindfors were married from 1948 to 1953. They had a son, Kristoffer Tabori. Siegel married Doe Avedon in 1957. They adopted four children and then divorced in 1975. Siegel married Carol Rydall, a former secretary to Clint Eastwood. Siegel and Rydall remained together until he died at age 78 from cancer in Nipomo, California. Siegel is buried near Highway 1 in the coastal Cayucos-Morro Bay District Cemetery. He was reportedly an atheist.[11]



  1. ^ Flint, Peter B. (April 24, 1991). "Don Siegel, Whose Movies Herald Tough, Cynical Loners, Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  2. ^ Erens, Patricia (August 1988). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-253-20493-6.
  3. ^ "Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1949". FamilySearch. Donald Siegel, 26 Oct 1912. Retrieved January 6, 2024.
  4. ^ a b Munn, p. 75
  5. ^ Patterson, John (October 27, 2014). "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers: Don Siegel's fatalistic masterpiece". The Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  6. ^ Alvin H. Marill (June 2011). Television Westerns: Six Decades of Sagebrush Sheriffs, Scalawags, and Sidewinders. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810881334. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  7. ^ Reported by the Los Angeles Times in 1982.
  8. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 116–119. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
  9. ^ Weddle, David (1994). If They Move...Kill 'Em!. Grove Press. pp. 534–535. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8.
  10. ^ "Jinxed!". Retrieved March 6, 2012.
  11. ^ David Robinson, 'Don Siegel's stories', The Times, 1 May 1975; pg. 11; Issue 59384; col E.

Further reading