Richard Fleischer
Richard Fleischer in 1946
Born(1917-12-08)December 8, 1917
DiedMarch 25, 2006(2006-03-25) (aged 88)
Other namesDick Fleischer
EducationBrown University (BA)
Yale University (MFA)
Occupation(s)Film director, chairman of Fleischer Studios
Years active1946–1993
Mary Dickson
(m. 1943)
Parent(s)Max Fleischer (father)
Ethel "Essie" Goldstein (mother)
RelativesDave Fleischer (uncle)
Lou Fleischer (uncle)
Seymour Kneitel (brother-in-law) (memorial)

Richard Owen Fleischer (/ˈflʃər/; December 8, 1917 – March 25, 2006) was an American film director whose career spanned more than four decades, beginning at the height of the Golden Age of Hollywood and lasting through the American New Wave.

Though he directed films across many genres and styles, he is best known for his big-budget, "tentpole" films,[1][2] including: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Vikings (1958), Barabbas (1961), Fantastic Voyage (1966), the musical film Doctor Dolittle (1967), the war epic Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), the dystopian mystery-thriller Soylent Green (1973), the controversial period drama Mandingo (1975), and the Robert E. Howard sword-and-sorcery films Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonja (1985). His other directorial credits include the Academy Award-winning documentary Design for Death (1947), the gritty noir The Narrow Margin (1952), the true-crime dramas Compulsion (1959), The Boston Strangler (1968) and 10 Rillington Place (1971), the mob action film The Don Is Dead (1973), the swashbuckler The Prince and the Pauper (1977), the 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer and the horror sequel Amityville 3-D (1983).

Fleischer worked with many of the top Hollywood stars of his time, including: Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, James Mason, Robert Wagner, Tony Curtis, Louis Jourdan, Jean Hagen, Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Ray Milland, Farley Granger, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, Anthony Quinn, Stephen Boyd, Rex Harrison, Anthony Newley, Mia Farrow, George C. Scott, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, Charlton Heston, Lee Marvin, Glenda Jackson, Eddie Deezen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was noted for his versatility, able to work in almost any genre under wildly varying conditions and budgets, making him a popular and prolific choice for producers. Though Fleischer was never considered an auteur and was not a highly acclaimed artist,[3] many of his films proved very financially and critically successful, winning accolades and being some of the highest-grossing features of their respective release years.[4]

Early life and education

Richard Fleischer was born to a Jewish family[1] in Brooklyn, the son of Essie (née Goldstein) and animator/producer Max Fleischer, a native of Kraków, Poland.[5] After graduating from Brown University, he went to Yale School of Drama, where he met his future wife, Mary Dickson.[6]

Fleischer served in the U.S. Army during World War II.[7][8] His film career began in 1942 at the RKO studio, directing shorts, documentaries, and compilations of forgotten silent features, which he called "Flicker Flashbacks". He won an Academy Award as producer of the 1947 documentary Design for Death, co-written by Theodor Geisel (later known as Dr. Seuss), which examined the cultural forces that led to Japan's imperial expansion through World War II.


B movies

Fleischer moved to Los Angeles and was assigned his first feature, Child of Divorce (1946), a vehicle for Sharyn Moffett.[9] It was successful so Fleischer was assigned to Banjo, another Moffett vehicle, which was a disaster.

RKO agreed to loan him to Stanley Kramer and Carl Foreman, who had admired Child of Divorce, to make So This Is New York (1948) for the Kramer Company at Columbia. Back at RKO, Fleischer made The Clay Pigeon, a thriller based on a story by Foreman.

His other early films were taut film noirs, such as: Bodyguard (1948), Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952).

Fleischer said he constantly tried to graduate to A pictures during this time. When Norman Krasna and Jerry Wald set up at RKO, they asked Fleischer to see if he could make a film out of any of the film shot for It's All True but he was unable.[10] Another project that did not come to fruition was a film starring Al Jolson.[11]

RKO's owner Howard Hughes was impressed by The Narrow Margin and hired Fleischer to re-write and re-shoot the majority of His Kind of Woman (1952) after he was dissatisfied with the original cut delivered by director John Farrow. Hughes was pleased with the results and agreed to loan Fleischer to Stanley Kramer to make The Happy Time (1952).

Kramer Company

Fleischer was put under contract to the Kramer Company. The Happy Time was successful, and Fleischer was meant to follow it with another for Kramer and Foreman, Full of Life. However the film was never made because the partnership between Foreman and Kramer ended.[12]

He accepted an offer from MGM to make Arena, a rodeo-themed story starring Gig Young and Jean Hagen.

Director of "A" films

Fleischer was chosen by Walt Disney – his father's former rival as a cartoon producer – to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) starring Kirk Douglas. While in the film's post-production phase, Fleischer received an offer from Dore Schary at MGM to direct Bad Day at Black Rock, but had to turn it down because of the work still required on Leagues.[13]

He directed Violent Saturday (1955), a thriller for Buddy Adler at 20th Century Fox. It was successful, and Fox signed Fleischer to a long-term contract. He worked for this studio for the next 15 years.

20th Century Fox

Fleischer's first film under his new contract with Fox was The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955). He then made Bandido, a Western with Robert Mitchum.

Kirk Douglas hired Fleischer to make The Vikings (1958), which was produced independently by Douglas through his company Brynaprod (and distributed through United Artists) and was another big hit. Back at Fox, Fleischer made Compulsion (1959), a crime drama with Orson Welles for producer Richard D. Zanuck. It was successful and earned Fleischer a Directors Guild Award nomination.


Fox offered him North to Alaska (1960) with John Wayne, which Fleischer originally agreed to do, but withdrew when he was unhappy with the script. He moved to Paris where Darryl F. Zanuck asked him to make The Ballad of Red Rocks, a vehicle for Zanuck's then-girlfriend Juliette Gréco.[14] The film was not made, but Fleischer directed two other stories for Zanuck starring Gréco: Crack in the Mirror (1960) and The Big Gamble (1961).

Fleischer then signed a contract with Dino De Laurentiis to make Barabbas (1961). After this, he and De Laurentiis announced a series of projects, including Lanny Budd (from a novel by Upton Sinclair), Don Camillo, Salvatore Guliano, Dark Angel and Sacco and Vanzetti (from a script by Edward Anhalt), but none were made.[15] He accepted an offer from Samuel Bronston and Philip Yordan to make The Nightrunners of Bengal in Spain, but this project fell apart when Bronston's empire collapsed.[16]

Return to Hollywood

Back in Hollywood, Richard Zanuck had become head of production at Fox and offered Fleischer Fantastic Voyage (1966). It was a success and revived his Hollywood career.

He was entrusted with Fox's big "roadshow" musical of 1967, Doctor Dolittle (1967), with Rex Harrison. It failed to break even. Most acclaimed was The Boston Strangler (1968), with Tony Curtis.

Che! (1969), a biopic of Che Guevara that starred Omar Sharif, was an expensive flop, as was Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), an account of the World War II Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was his last film for 20th Century Fox.


Fleischer traveled to England, where he directed the well received true-crime dramatization, 10 Rillington Place (1971) starring Richard Attenborough and John Hurt. He then replaced John Huston, who had fallen out with star George C. Scott, on The Last Run (1971). The thriller See No Evil (1971) with Mia Farrow followed. Returning to Hollywood, he made The New Centurions (1972) from the novel by Joseph Wambaugh, again starring George C. Scott.

At MGM, he made the science-fiction movie Soylent Green (1973), with Charlton Heston. Three action films followed: The Don Is Dead (1973), with Anthony Quinn, plus two for Walter Mirisch: The Spikes Gang (1974), with Lee Marvin, and Mr. Majestyk (1974), with Charles Bronson, written by Elmore Leonard.

Fleischer was reunited with De Laurentiis for the successful though controversial Mandingo (1975). The Incredible Sarah (1976), a British biopic of Sarah Bernhardt with Glenda Jackson, came next.

Fleischer earned a reputation as a reliable journeyman and "replacement director", filling in when a project's original director was fired by a producer for creative differences. These included Huston in The Last Run and Michael Campus for Mandingo.

The Prince and the Pauper (1977) was a version of the Mark Twain novel that featured Heston, Harrison and Scott in its cast. Fleischer was hired to replace Richard Sarafian on Ashanti (1979), starring Michael Caine, which turned out to be a flop. He received another call to replace a director, in this case Sidney J. Furie, on The Jazz Singer (1980), an unsuccessful attempt to make a film star out of Neil Diamond.

Later career

Tough Enough (1983) was about the Toughman Contest starring Dennis Quaid. He made three more for De Laurentiis: Amityville 3-D (1983), Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonja (1985). The latter two were adaptations of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age stories, both starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

His final theatrical feature was Million Dollar Mystery (1987).

Fleischer Studios

Fleischer was chairman of Fleischer Studios, which today handles the licensing of Betty Boop and Koko the Clown. In June 2005, he released his memoirs of his father's career in Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution.

Death and legacy

Fleischer's 1993 autobiography Just Tell Me When to Cry, described his many difficulties with actors, writers and producers. He died in his sleep at the age of 89 after having been in failing health.[6]

Japanese film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa expresses admiration for Fleischer.[17]


Year Title Notes
1946 Child of Divorce
1947 Design for Death Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature
1948 Bodyguard
So This Is New York
1949 Trapped
Make Mine Laughs
Follow Me Quietly
The Clay Pigeon
1950 Armored Car Robbery
1951 His Kind of Woman Uncredited; replaced John Farrow[a]
1952 The Narrow Margin
The Happy Time Nominated- Golden Globe Award for Best Director
1953 Arena
1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
1955 Violent Saturday
The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing
1956 Bandido
Between Heaven and Hell
1958 The Vikings Nominated- Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1959 These Thousand Hills
Compulsion Nominated- Palme d'Or
Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Film
Nominated- Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
1960 Crack in the Mirror
1961 The Big Gamble
1966 Fantastic Voyage Nominated- Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1967 Doctor Dolittle
1968 The Boston Strangler
1969 Che!
1970 Tora! Tora! Tora!
1971 See No Evil
The Last Run
10 Rillington Place
1972 The New Centurions
1973 Soylent Green Nominated- Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
The Don Is Dead
1974 Mr. Majestyk
The Spikes Gang
1975 Mandingo
1976 The Incredible Sarah
1977 The Prince and the Pauper
1979 Ashanti Replaced Richard C. Sarafian
1980 The Jazz Singer Replaced Sidney J. Furie

Nominated- Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director

1982 Tough Enough
1983 Amityville 3-D Nominated- International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film
1984 Conan the Destroyer
1985 Red Sonja
1987 Million Dollar Mystery

Short films

Year Film Notes
1943 This Is America Documentary series
1943-48 Flicker Flashbacks Compilation series
1944 Memo for Joe Documentary short
1947 Mr. Bell
1967 Think Twentieth Compilation film
1989 Call from Space
1989 The Betty Boop Movie Mystery As creative consultant
Directed by George Evelyn



Awards and honors

Year Award / Association Category Work Result
1947 Academy Awards Best Feature Documentary Design for Death Won
1953 Golden Globe Awards Best Director The Happy Time Nominated
1959 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Compulsion Nominated
1959 Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directing – Feature Film The Vikings Nominated
1960 Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Compulsion Nominated
1960 BAFTA Film Awards Best Film from any Source Compulsion Nominated
1966 Hugo Awards Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Fantastic Voyage Nominated
1973 Hugo Awards Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Soylent Green Nominated
1974 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival Grand Prize Soylent Green Won
1975 Saturn Awards Best Science Fiction Film Soylent Green Won
1981 Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Director The Jazz Singer Nominated
1986 Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film Amityville 3-D Nominated
1995 Saturn Awards Special Award (for career in film) Won


  1. ^ According to his book Just Tell Me When to Cry, executive producer Howard Hughes ordered extensive rewrites, recastings, and reshoots after the end of principal photography, and hired Fleischer to direct the new scenes. This process saw the majority of the film more-or-less completely remade in the span of 10 months, with only a small portion of original director Farrow's scenes remaining the final film. Despite this, Farrow received sole directorial credit.


  1. ^ a b Jewish Daily Forward: "The Animated Life of a Film Giant" by Mindy Aloff October 14, 2005
  2. ^ "Anthology Film Archives : Film Screenings". Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  3. ^ "5 reasons to see films in the Richard Fleischer retrospective at EIFF 2013". The List. June 4, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  4. ^ Kehr, Dave (February 17, 2008). "In a Corrupt World Where the Violent Bear It Away". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  5. ^ "Richard O. Fleischer Biography (1916-)". Film Reference.
  6. ^ a b Robertson, Campbell (March 27, 2006). "Richard Fleischer, Director of Popular Films, Is Dead at 89". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Richard Fleischer, Director of Popular Films, Is Dead at 89 The New York Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  8. ^ RICHARD O. FLEISCHER, BIOGRAPHY Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 5, 2022.
  9. ^ Baxter, Brian (March 28, 2006). "Obituary: Richard Fleischer". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Fleischer p 42
  11. ^ Fleischer p 43-44
  12. ^ Fleischer p 84-85
  13. ^ Fleischer p 123
  14. ^ Fleishcer p 179
  15. ^ Fleischer p 227-228
  16. ^ Fleischer p 229
  17. ^ Guillen, Michael (August 13, 2008). "KIYOSHI KUROSAWA BLOGATHON—CURE: Confusion and Sophistication". Twitch Film. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  18. ^ Goble, Alan (2008). "The Complete Index to World Film, since 1885".