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John Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary in 2005
|Born||John David Landis
August 3, 1950
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Residence||Beverly Hills, California|
|Occupation||Actor, director, producer, screenwriter|
|Net worth||$70 million|
|Spouse(s)||Deborah Nadoolman (m. 1980)|
|Children||2; Max and Rachel Landis|
John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is known for his comedy films, his horror films, and his music videos with Michael Jackson. He directed National Lampoon's Animal House, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Michael Jackson's music video Thriller, The Blues Brothers, and Beverly Hills Cop III.
Landis was born into a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer and decorator. Landis and his parents relocated to Los Angeles when he was four months old. Though spending his childhood in California, Landis still refers to Chicago as his hometown, and is a big fan of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.
Landis began his film career working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. He worked as a "go-fer" and then as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969; he replaced the film's original assistant director, who became ill and was sent home. During that time Landis became acquainted with actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom would later work in his films. Following Kelly's Heroes, Landis worked on several films that were shot in Europe (especially in Italy and England), including Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard (a.k.a. A Town Called Hell). Landis also worked as a stunt double.
|“||I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. (...) I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.||”|
I had complete suspension of disbelief—really, I was eight years old and it transported me. I was on that beach running from that dragon, fighting that Cyclops. It just really dazzled me, and I bought it completely. And so, I actually sat through it twice and when I got home, I asked my mom, “Who does that? Who makes the movie?”
Landis made his feature debut in 1971 as a director in the US with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies. The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker—the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Schlock was a failure, and Landis was not offered another directing job for some time.
In his own words, he "parked a lot of cars" during this fallow period. In 1977, Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.
In 1978 Landis directed his first film for Universal Studios, National Lampoon's Animal House, which was financially successful. In 1980 he co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It featured musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was, at the time, one of the most expensive films ever made (cost: almost $30 million) (for comparison: the earlier Steven Spielberg's contemporary 1941 cost $35 million). It is speculated that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie. The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers (as the unnamed desk clerk near the end) and Landis had made a cameo in 1941 as a messenger.
In 1981, Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. It was perhaps Landis's most personal project; he had been planning to make it since 1969, while in Yugoslavia.
On July 23, 1982, during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) were killed in an accident involving an out-of-control helicopter. The three were caught under the aircraft when it crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:
|“||The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.||”|
Landis and four other crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless, and had not told the parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours. He admitted that he had violated the California law regulating employment of children, by using the children after hours, and conceded that that was "wrong." But he denied culpability. Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After a nine-month jury trial during 1986 and 1987, Landis, represented by criminal defense attorney Harland Braun, and the other crew members were acquitted of the charges.
Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws in California. The parents of the children sued, and eventually settled out of court with the studio for $2 million per family. Morrow's children, one of them being actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was 20 at the time, also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Landis has never acknowledged culpability for the accident. During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, he said:
|“||When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts—which we weren't—and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter—which it didn't. (...) The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The special effects man who made the mistake by setting off a fireball at the wrong time was never charged.||”|
Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. After filming ended, Landis and his family went to London.
Next, Landis directed Into the Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie. This film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis appeared in the film as an Iranian hitman. To promote the movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night".
His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to... films of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the Landis film, portraying himself.
Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America, which was commercially successful. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.
In 1991 he directed Sylvester Stallone in Oscar, based on a Claude Magnier stage play. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, as an homage to old Hollywood films. In 1992 Landis directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.
In 1994, Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. In 1996 he directed The Stupids. Then he returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998 with John Goodman and, for the third time in a Landis film, Dan Aykroyd: during that same year, he directed Susan's Plan. The four movies did not score with critics and audiences.
Burke and Hare was released in 2010, Landis's first theatrical release for over a decade.
He has directed several music videos. He was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". The resulting video significantly impacted MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won numerous awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009 (months before Jackson died), Landis sued the Jackson estate in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claimed to be owed at least four years' worth of royalties.
In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White".
Landis has been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), Masters of Horror, and various episodes of Psych. He also made commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney. In 2011 he made an appearance in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's television series Psychoville
Landis made his first documentary, Coming Soon in 1982; it was only released on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. However, later in his career, he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). These documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked on the Making of Thriller, which was filmed in 3-D. Landis appeared in the Spanish documentary The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which covered the career of Spanish movie director Paul Naschy.
Landis stated that he feels the deaths of the two children from the accident on the set of The Twilight Zone in 1982 stick with him daily and that he feels it has certainly affected the growth of his career.
Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman, an Oscar-nominated costume designer, two-term president of the Costume Designers Guild, and chair of The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. They have two children: Max, a screenwriter, and Rachel, a school teacher with a master's degree in Human Development. In a BBC Radio interview, he stated that he is an atheist.
The moving image collection of John Landis is held at the Academy Film Archive.
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Directed by Landis:
Co-directed by Landis:
Written by Landis:
As an actor:
Co-directed by Landis:
Short films for Michael Jackson:
For B.B. King (from film B.B. King "Into the Night"):
For Paul McCartney:
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