Oscar Directors: Yates, Peter–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

August 18, 2020

Peter Yates Career Summary:

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Peter James Yates (July 24, 1929–January 9, 2011) was an English film director and producer. He was born in Aldershot, Hampshire.

The son of an army officer, he attended Charterhouse School as a boy, graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked for some years as an actor, director and stage manager. He directed plays in London and New York. He also spent two years as racing manager for Stirling Moss and Peter Collins.

In the 1950s, he started in the film industry doing odd jobs such as dubbing foreign films and editing documentaries. He eventually became a leading assistant director.

He was an assistant director to Mark Robson on The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), Terence Young on Serious Charge (1959) with Cliff Richard, Terry Bishop on Cover Girl Killer (1959), Guy Hamilton on A Touch of Larceny (1960), Jack Cardiff on Sons and Lovers (1960), Tony Richardson on The Entertainer (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961), J. Lee Thompson on The Guns of Navarone (1961) and José Quintero on The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).

Through the influence of Richardson, he directed Albee’s An American Dream and The Death of Bessie Smith at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Yates’ first feature as director was Summer Holiday, a “lightweight” vehicle for Cliff Richard, which was the second most popular movie at the British box office in 1963.[7]

Yates had seen the original Royal Court production of N.F. Simpson’s play One Way Pendulum and got the job of making the film version released in 1964. It was produced by Michael Deeley, but not widely seen.

During the mid 1960s, Yates directed episodes of TV, notably The Saint and Danger Man.

Yates’ third feature as director was the heist film Robbery (1967), a fictionalized version of the Great Train Robbery, starring Stanley Baker and produced by Deeley.

Robbery was a critical success in the US and led to an offer to direct Bullitt, his first American film–his reputation still rests most securely on this picture, and one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic.

Yates later said, “In Hollywood back then, everyone knew a British director couldn’t do action, so I think the studio had another motive in letting me come over. I think the reason they let McQueen bring me in was because if they let him have his way, they’d get him out of the studio – and out of their hair – for a while.”

Yates moved to New York. “A filmmaker must go where the stories are,” he said.

Bullitt was a huge success. Yates signed a contract with the Mirisch Company to make four films over seven years.

Yates followed Bullitt with a romantic comedy, John and Mary (1969) with Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow. “I like to change the kind of stories I do,” said Yates. “If you’re not careful, you get pigeonholed and sooner or later someone better will come along.”

In 1970, Yates said he would make Don Quixote with Richard Burton but the project stalled. Instead, he did a war film with Peter O’Toole produced by Deeley, Murphy’s War (1971).

Yates did another heist film, The Hot Rock (1972), based on a novel by Donald Westlake starring Robert Redford from a William Goldman script. After this he was going to make The Leatherstocking Saga and Jonathan Schwartz’s Almost Home but neither was made.

In 1972 he signed a four picture deal with Paramount which was to start with Deadly Edge from a Westlake novel.

Yates stayed with crime with The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) starring Robert Mitchum.

He then did two comedies: For Pete’s Sake (1974) with Barbra Streisand, and Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976); he produced the latter along with writer Tom Mankiewicz.

Yates had big commercial success with the adventure film The Deep (1977), where Mankiewicz did some uncredited writing.

Yates used his clout from The Deep to raise finance for Breaking Away (1979), written by Steve Tesich, whose play, The Passing Game, Yates had directed in New York.  Breaking Away was nominated for five Oscar Awards, including Best Director and Best Film for Yates. It led to a short-lived TV series that Yates also produced.

Yates and Tesich were reunited on the thriller Eyewitness (1981) starring William Hurt.

He tried fantasy with Krull (1983), but it was not a success at the box office.

Yates also produced and directed The Dresser (1983), an adaptation of the Ronald Harwood stage play. The film received seven BAFTA and five Oscar nominations, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film and for Best Direction and the Academy Award for Best Film and for Best Director for Yates. The Dresser was also entered into the 34th Berlin International Film Fest.

Along with Eddie Coyle and Breaking Away, The Dresser was one of Yates’ three favorite films.

“I’m ambitious in my own way,” said Yates. “I don’t crave power. I really wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone, not even Steven Spielberg. Look at what power can do to a gifted director like Robert Altman. It isn’t necessarily healthy. I just want to make the movies that I want to make and, if by chance a few of them should turn out to be important or influential or successful, well, that would be an accident, wouldn’t it?”

After The Dresser, Yates next four directorial efforts proved to be unsuccessful at the box office: Eleni (1985), written by Tesich; Suspect (1987), a thriller with Cher and Dennis Quaid; The House on Carroll Street (1988), which he also produced; and An Innocent Man (1989) with Tom Selleck.

In the early 1990s, after 18 years in New York, Yates moved to Los Angeles.

He made Year of the Comet (1992), which was a flop despite being based on a William Goldman script, or Roommates (1995). He was an executive producer on Needful Things (1992).

Yates went to Ireland to make The Run of the Country (1995) which he also produced.

In 1997 Yates returned to London. “The work was starting to close down,” he admitted. “Firstly, you’re supposed to be under 30, if possible. Secondly, I prefer to develop my own projects… There were a lot of teenage films around, which I wasn’t right for and didn’t feel connected to, and special-effects films of a kind I didn’t know enough about. You have to be brought up in a computer-literate generation.”

He made Curtain Call (1998) with Michael Caine, then a TV film of the Cervantes novel in 2000, with John Lithgow as Don Quixote.

Yates’ final film was A Separate Peace (2004)

Yates has two distinct styles: one used for his thriller, action and drama projects which frequently reflects on the principal character’s state of alienation with a humanistic perspective and another expressive and sentimental style which focuses on the moral dilemmas of the characters, predominantly seen in his coming-of-age and other dramatic films.

“I think there’s probably some truth in the theory that I prefer heroes who fight against adversity and make it through from being the underdog to winning,” said Yates.

Yates died from heart failure in London on 9 January 2011. He was 81 years old.

Filmography: Directing Credits

The Saint (TV series: 7 episodes 1963–1965)
Summer Holiday (1963)
One Way Pendulum (1964)
Danger Man (TV series: 7 episodes 1965–1967)
Robbery (1967)
Bullitt (1968)
John and Mary (1969)
Murphy’s War (1971)
The Hot Rock (1972)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
For Pete’s Sake (1974)
Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976)
The Deep (1977)
Breaking Away (1979)
Eyewitness (1981)
Krull (1983)
The Dresser (1983)
Eleni (1985)
Suspect (1987)
The House on Carroll Street (1988)
An Innocent Man (1989)
Year of the Comet (1992)
The Run of the Country (1995)
Roommates (1995)
Curtain Call (1998)
Don Quixote (2000) (TV)
A Separate Peace (2004) (TV)