Robert Altman Biography

Robert Altman photo

Born: February 20, 1925


Date of Birth: February 20, 1925

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Altman was educated in Catholic schools until early high school. At Rockhurst high school he started to explore the art of sound by recording it on cheap recorders in his free time.

After attending Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Altman enlisted in the Air Force and became a co-pilot of a B-24.

Upon his discharge in 1947, Altman took engineering at the University of Missouri, later inventing a tattooing machine designed for the identification of dogs.

He entered filmmaking only on a whim, selling to RKO the script for the 1948 picture The Bodyguard. Altman's immediate success encouraged him to move to New York City, where he attempted to forge a career as a writer.

He had little luck, however, and after a similarly fruitless trip to the West Coast he returned to Kansas City, accepting a job as a director, writer, cameraman and editor of industrial films for the Calvin Company.

By 1955 Altman had secured over $60,000 in financing from local backers to make his own feature.

Two years later, the finished product, titled The Delinquents, was purchased by United Artists for $150,000, and while primitive, it contained the foundations of his later work in its use of casual, naturalistic dialogue.

After a series of unnoticed independent films, he was given his first directorial break by Alfred Hitchcock.

After directing just two Hitchcock episodes, Altman was fired, but the exposure enabled him to mount a successful TV career.

He went on to direct a large number of television shows, including Bonanza, and even formed his own production company, Lion's Gate Films.

A difficult man to work with, the studios only continued to hire him because of a lack of experienced directors.

Although he had lots of work, Altman struggled with gambling debts until he was offered the script for M*A*S*H in 1969. He was hardly the producer's first choice - more than fifteen other directors had already turned it down.

It was his first success.

Upon its 1970 release, M*A*S*H was widely hailed as a classic, winning the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and netting six Academy Award nominations, as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.

Now recognized as a major talent, Altman fielded countless offers to direct big-budget studio films, but instead opted to develop the surreal and experimental films.

For the next 20 years he would take a roller coaster ride with successes and failures.

After mounting the disappointing Popeye, a musical based on the classic E.C. Segar comic strip with comedian Robin Williams in the title role, he responded by selling Lion's Gate, effectively bringing to an end his career as a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker.

He turned to stage for a time, but it wouldn't be long before he returned to film.

In 1992 he brought out The Player, a brutal attack on Hollywood morality brimming with major stars. The film marked Altman's return, with strong box office receipts, three Oscar nominations and a BAFTA award for Best Director to prove it.

He followed up his success with two triumphs, Short Cuts(1993) and Cookies Fortune (1999), and a widely controversial film, an adaptation of the John Grisham story The Gingerbread Man (1998).

In 2002, he struck gold again when he was nominated for the fifth time by the Academy of Motion Pictures for his directorial work on the British murder mystery, Gosford Park (2001). Altman has been married three times, and divorced twice.

He has five children in total.


A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
The Company (2003)
Gosford Park (2001)
Dr. T and the Women (2000)
Cookie's Fortune (1999)
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Jazz '34 (1996)
Kansas City (1996)
Black and Blue (1993)
Short Cuts (1993)
The Player (1992)
Vincent & Theo (1990)
Aria (1987)
Beyond Therapy (1987)
Fool for Love (1985)
O.C. & Stiggs (1985)
Secret Honor (1984)
Streamers (1983)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
Popeye (1980)
H.E.A.L.T.H. (1979)
A Perfect Couple (1979)
Quintet (1979)
A Wedding (1978)
3 Women (1977)
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976)
Nashville (1975)
California Split (1974)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Images (1972)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Brewster McCloud (1970)
M*A*S*H (1970)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)
Countdown (1968)
The Katherine Reed Story (1965)
Pot au feu (1965)
United States Marshal (1959)
The James Dean Story (1957)
The Delinquents (1957)
The Perfect Crime (1955)
Better Football (1954)
The Builders (1954)
The Last Mile (1953)
King Basketball (1952)
Modern Football (1951)

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