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Hal Ashby
Born William Hal Ashby
(1929-09-02)September 2, 1929
Ogden, Utah, U.S.
Died December 27, 1988(1988-12-27) (aged 59)
Malibu, California, U.S.
Occupation Film director, editor
Years active 1956–1988
Spouse(s) Joan Marshall

William Hal Ashby (September 2, 1929 – December 27, 1988)[1] was an American film director and film editor.[2][3] He was part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking.

Before he made his career with directing, Ashby edited films for fellow director Norman Jewison, notably The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), which earned Ashby an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, and In the Heat of the Night (1967), which earned him his only Oscar for the same category.

Ashby received a third Oscar nomination; this time for Best Director for Coming Home (1978) but lost to Michael Cimino for The Deer Hunter. Other films Ashby directed include The Landlord (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), Being There (1979), The Slugger's Wife (1985) and 8 Million Ways to Die (1986).

Birth and early years[edit]

Ashby was born William Hal Ashby in Ogden, Utah, the son of Eileen Ireta (Hetzler) and James Thomas Ashby, a dairy owner.[4][5] Ashby grew up in a Mormon household and had a tumultuous childhood as part of a dysfunctional family which included the divorce of his parents, his father's suicide and his dropping out of high school. Ashby was married and divorced by the time he was 19.

Hollywood and career peaks[edit]

As Ashby was entering adult life, he moved from Utah to California where he soon became an assistant film editor. He edited the black comedy The Loved One which was released in 1965. After being nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing in 1967 for The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, his big break occurred in 1968 when he won the award for In the Heat of the Night. Ashby has often stated that film editing provided him with the best film school background outside of traditional university study and he carried the techniques learned as an editor with him when he began directing.

At the urging of its producer, Norman Jewison, Ashby directed his first film, The Landlord, in 1970. While his birth date placed him squarely within the realm of the prewar generation, the filmmaker quickly embraced the hippie lifestyle, adopting vegetarianism and growing his hair long before it became de rigueur amongst the principals of the Hollywood Renaissance. In 1970 he married actress Joan Marshall. While they remained married until his death in 1988, the two had separated by the mid-seventies, with Marshall never forgiving Ashby, along with Warren Beatty and Robert Towne, for dramatizing certain unflattering elements of her life in Shampoo.

Over the next 16 years, Ashby directed several acclaimed and popular films, many were about outsiders and adventurers traversing the pathways of life. They included the off-beat romance Harold and Maude (1971) and the social satire Being There (1979) with Peter Sellers, resuscitating the latter star's career after many felt it had lapsed into self-parody. Ashby's greatest commercial success was the aforementioned Warren Beatty vehicle Shampoo (1975), about a sex obsessed hair dresser, although the director effectively ceded control of the production over to his star. Bound for Glory (1976), a muted biography of Woody Guthrie starring David Carradine, was the first film to utilize the Steadicam.

Aside from Shampoo, where he was by all accounts a creative adjunct to Beatty and Towne, Ashby's most commercially successful film was the Vietnam War drama Coming Home (1978). Starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, both in Academy Award-winning performances, it was for this film that Ashby earned his only Best Director nomination from the Academy for his work. As Voight had reportedly been difficult and uncooperative during production, many feel that it was Ashby's skillful editing of a particularly melodramatic scene which earned him the nomination. Arriving in the post-Jaws and Star Wars era, from a production standpoint Coming Home was one of the last films to encapsulate the ethos of the New Hollywood era, earning nearly $15 million in returns and rentals on a $3 million budget.

The Last Detail (1973), Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There were respectively nominated for the Palme d'Or. American songwriter and guitarist, Guthrie Thomas, coordinated 100% of the music in "Bound for Glory" and also acted in the film and stated that Hal Ashby was one of the finest Directors in the history of film directing.

Sight & Sound magazine conducts a poll every ten years of the world's finest film directors to find out the Ten Greatest Films of All Time. This poll has been going since 1992, and has become the most recognised poll of its kind in the world. In 2012 Niki Caro, Wanuri Kahiu and Cyrus Frisch voted for "Harold and Maude".[6] Frisch commented: "An encouragement to think beyond the obvious!"

Ashby's Close friend, Guthrie Thomas, stated, "Hal Ashby was one of the finest motion picture directors of the 20th century."


Because of his critical and (relative) commercial success, shortly after the success of Coming Home, Ashby was able to form a production company, Northstar, under the auspices of Lorimar. After Being There (his last film to achieve widespread attention), Ashby became notoriously reclusive and eccentric, retreating to his spartan beachfront abode in Malibu. Later it was learned that Ashby was using drugs, and he slowly became difficult and unemployable.

The productions of Second-Hand Hearts and Lookin' to Get Out — the latter a Las Vegas caper film that reunited him with Voight and featured Voight's young daughter, Angelina Jolie — were plagued by Ashby's increasingly erratic behavior. Studio executives grew less tolerant of his increasingly perfectionist production—811,000 feet of film were used shooting Lookin' to Get Out – and editing techniques, exemplified by his laboring over a montage set to The Police's "Message in a Bottle" for nearly six months. Initially set to helm Tootsie after two years of laborious negotiations, reports of these bizarre tendencies resulted in his dismissal shortly before production commenced.

Shortly thereafter, Ashby – a longtime Rolling Stones fan – accompanied the group on their 1981 American tour, in the process filming the documentary Let's Spend the Night Together. The occupational hazards of the road were too much for Ashby, who overdosed before a show in Phoenix, Arizona. Although the film was eventually completed, it had limited theatrical release.

The Slugger's Wife, with a screenplay penned by Neil Simon, continued the losing streak. Ostensibly a commercially-minded romantic comedy, Simon was reportedly horrified when he viewed Ashby's rough cut of the first reel, sequenced as an impressionistic mood piece with the first half-hour featuring minimal dialogue. Remaining defiant in his squabbles with producers and Simon, Ashby was eventually fired in the final stages of production; the completed film was a critical and commercial failure. 8 Million Ways to Die, written by Oliver Stone, fared similarly at the box office; by this juncture Ashby's post-production antics were considered to be such a liability that he was fired by the production company on the final day of principal photography.


Attempting to turn a corner in his declining career, Ashby stopped using drugs, trimmed his hair and beard, and began to frequent Hollywood parties wearing a navy blue blazer so as to suggest that he was once again employable. Despite these efforts, he could only find work as a television director, helming the pilots for Beverly Hills Buntz (a Dennis Franz vehicle that purloined the premise of Beverly Hills Cop and lasted for 13 episodes) and Jake's Journey, a collaboration in the Arthurian sword and sorcery vein with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame.

Longtime friend Warren Beatty advised Ashby to seek medical care after he complained of various medical problems, including undiagnosed phlebitis; he was soon diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that rapidly spread to his lungs, colon and liver. Ashby died on December 27, 1988 at his home in Malibu, California.

Filmography (as director)[edit]

Year Film Academy Award Wins Academy Award Nominations
1970 The Landlord 0 1
1971 Harold and Maude 0 0
1973 The Last Detail 0 3
1975 Shampoo 1 4
1976 Bound for Glory 2 6
1978 Coming Home 3 8
1979 Being There 1 2
1981 Second-Hand Hearts 0 0
1982 Lookin' to Get Out 0 0
1983 Let's Spend the Night Together 0 0
1984 Solo Trans 0 0
1985 The Slugger's Wife 0 0
1986 8 Million Ways to Die 0 0
1987 Beverly Hills Buntz (TV) 0 0
1988 Jake's Journey (TV) 0 0


  1. ^ "Ashby, Hal". Who was who in America : with world notables, v. XI (1993–1996). New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 9. ISBN 0837902258. 
  2. ^ Glenn Collins (December 28, 1988). "Hal Ashby, 59, an Oscar Winner Whose Films Included 'Shampoo'". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Rodger Jacobs (September 25, 2009). "Hal Ashby: Hollywood Rebel". PopMatters. 
  4. ^ "Hal Ashby". Filmreference.com. 
  5. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/155205190/Being-Hal-Ashby
  6. ^ http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/voter/920

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Ashby — Please support Wikipedia.
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103 news items

Rotten Tomatoes
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 15:07:30 -0700

On screen, John Hawkes is something of a chameleon, looking completely at home on the dusty, swear-heavy roads of Deadwood, the raging seas of The Perfect Storm, the snowy fields of Winter's Bone, or the emotionally complicated modern world of Me ...
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:14:12 -0700

FILMMOBILE: The Echo Park Film Center's Filmmobile screens Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979, 130 min.) on Friday night somewhere between Echo Park to DTLA. Check out Echo Park Film Center on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for exact address.

Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood Reporter
Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:06:43 -0700

Harold and Maude: "Hal Ashby directed Ruth Gordon. Two creatives on a creative journey." Sixteen Candles: "John Hughes directed Molly Ringwald. He made a teen's hopes and hurts real." Rosemary's Baby: "Roman Polanski directed Mia Farrow in a ...
Broadway World
Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:45:00 -0700

RSA/Black Dog Films announced today that after the critically acclaimed world premiere at Sundance Film Festival, the taut directorial debut from Rose McGowan, DAWN, will have an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent starting ...
The Australian
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 07:05:06 -0700

I'm thanking of Marty, On Golden Pond, The Whales of August, Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude. To this select company we must now admit Sebastian Lelio's Gloria (Sunday, 10.50pm, World Movies), a Spanish-Chilean co-production about a lonely, ...


Fri, 22 Aug 2014 12:06:05 -0700

Comedy vs. drama: Weiner cites, like many before him, the gritty Hollywood films of the '70s, in particular Hal Ashby movies and “Five Easy Pieces.” He likes the way those films don't subscribe to one genre but have a more nebulous relation to more ...
Shelby Township Source Newspapers
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 04:09:29 -0700

"I'm a big fan of movies from the '70s, from directors like Hal Ashby and Brooks. This is a movie about being grateful for having the things that you do. It's a comedy, but it's also about real life. There's a compromise to being an adult that you have ...

We Got This Covered

We Got This Covered
Sat, 23 Aug 2014 09:18:08 -0700

It turns out it is all about who you know, after all – as Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan is about to demonstrate, by bringing new drama White City to AMC. He will direct the pilot and serve as co-executive producer on the geo-political drama about ...

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