"Mockingbird" director Robert Mulligan dead at 83

Mon Dec 22, 2008 8:43am EST
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By Duane Byrge

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Robert Mulligan, who received an Oscar nomination for directing "To Kill a Mockingbird," died Friday of heart disease at his Connecticut home. He was 83.

Known for his diffident nature and sensitivity toward players, Mulligan directed five different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Gregory Peck and Mary Badham in "Mockingbird," Natalie Wood ("Love with the Proper Stranger"), Ruth Gordon ("Inside Daisy Clover") and Ellen Burstyn ("Same Time, Next Year"). Peck won the Oscar for his lead role as attorney Atticus Finch in "Mockingbird."

He also elicited consistently fine performances from a range of his players, including Anthony Perkins in "Fear Strikes Out," Jennifer O'Neill in "Summer of '42," Robert Redford in "Inside Daisy Clover" and Richard Gere in "Bloodbrothers."

The older brother of late actor Richard Mulligan, he earned his stripes in live TV in New York in the early 1950s on such productions as "Studio One" and "Playhouse 90" before becoming a movie director in 1957 with "Fear Strikes Out," the story of baseball pitcher Jimmy Piersall.

Self-effacing with a nonflamboyant filmic style, Mulligan didn't receive the acclaim of such ex-TV contemporaries as Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn and John Frankenheimer. His films were more popular with audiences than with critics.

While some debated whether he had a discernible personal vision in his films, Mulligan was known for his casting and direction of children, including "Up the Down Staircase," where he personally interviewed more than 500 New York high school students.

Sensing a kindred spirit, Francois Truffaut was a vocal champion, particularly cognizant of what he perceived as undue criticism of Mulligan's work for lacking a particular "style."

Mulligan himself was dismissive of critics/cineaste talk: "I don't know anything about 'the Mulligan style,'" he told the Village Voice in 1978. "If you can find it, well, that's your job."   Continued...