Tony Richardson, 1928-1991
Story by Jessica Lange and Irwin M. Rappaport
Recording by Jessica Lange
“I hated all authority,” said Tony Richardson to a magazine interviewer in 1963. So, he was a perfect fit to be a director. I’m Jessica Lange.
In 1991, Tony directed me in Blue Sky. Blue Sky was his final film. Tony died of AIDS on November 15 of that same year at the age of 60, never publicly revealing his bisexuality until he was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.
Although he may have hated authority, you wouldn’t know it from the way he talked with his actors as we collaborated in the art of movie-making. Tony was and will always be one of my very favorite directors. He taught me so much about filmmaking and acting.
Tony, an Englishman born in Yorkshire, directed 23 films. The first, written by John Osborne and starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom, was Look Back in Anger, which Tony also directed as a stage play in London before it moved to Broadway and won the Drama Circle Critics Award. Other plays he directed and adapted into film were The Entertainers starring Sir Laurence Olivier and written by John Osborne, and A Taste of Honey about an inter-racial love affair.
His film adaptation of Tom Jones, starring Albert Finney, was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Score and Best Director. Tony is credited with launching the careers of Finney as well as Alan Bates and Tom Courtenay.
Tony was among the directors associated with the British “New Wave” of filmmakers whose films in the late 1950s and early 1960s had a documentary style and often used real locations and untrained real people as background actors. Their social realism approach tended to focus on the lives of working-class people or challenged the dominance of the upper classes. They wanted to make films of substance, as a reaction against the lightweight comedies and horror films that characterized popular mainstream movies at the time.
In 1960, Richardson explained:
“It’s impossible to make films that appeal to everyone, and the only solution is to make them at a non-prohibitive cost, and to try to adhere to a strong, independent point of view that will appeal to at least one body of customers: the ones who want to be stimulated by provocative ideas.”
It was a great tragedy to lose Tony so early in his life. He was only 60 years old. We can only imagine the amount of work that he would have still done had he still survived, and the art he would have brought to all of us.
Tony was survived by daughters Natasha Richardson and Joely Richardson, from his marriage to actress Vanessa Redgrave, and his third daughter, Katherine Grimond. After her father’s death, Natasha joined the boards of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, known as amFAR, and God’s Love We Deliver, which provided meals for people with HIV and AIDS. She supported the organizations until she passed away in 2009.