Beatles' Era - Richard Lester

Richard Lester (director) (born January 19, 1932) is an American-born British-based film director famous for his work with The Beatles in the 1960s.

Early years and television

Lester was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania He was something of a child prodigy, and at 15 began studies at the University of Pennsylvania, He started in television 1950, working as a stage hand, floor manager, assistant director, and then to director less than a year, because no-one else was around that knew how to do the work. In 1953, Lester moved to London and began work as a director in independent television, working for the legendary low cost television producers The Danziger Brothers on episodes of Mark Saber, a half-hour detective series.

A variety show he produced caught the eye of Peter Sellers, who enlisted Lester's help in translating The Goon Show to television as The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d. It was a hit, as were two follow-up shows, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred.

Film career

A short film Lester made with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers, The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, was a favorite of The Beatles, and in particular John Lennon. When the band were contracted to make a film in 1964, they chose Lester from a list of possible directors. A Hard Day's Night showed an exaggerated and simplified version of The Beatles' characters, and proved to be an effective marketing tool. Many of its stylistic innovations survive today as the conventions of music videos, in particular the multi-angle filming of a live performance. Lester was sent an award from MTV as "Father of the Music Video." See IMDB for full list of Films.

Lester directed the second Beatles film Help! in 1965. He then went on to direct several quintessential 'swinging' films, including the sex comedy The Knack...And How to Get It (1965), which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Petulia (1968) (both with scores by John Barry), as well as the 1967 darkly surreal anti-war movie How I Won the War co-starring John Lennon, which he referred to as an "anti-anti-war movie"; Lester noted that anti-war movies still took the concept of war seriously, contrasting "bad" war crimes with wars fought for "good" causes like the liberation from Nazism or, at that time, Communism, whereas he set out to deconstruct it to show war as fundamentally opposed to humanity. Although set in World War II, the movie is indeed an oblique reference to the Vietnam War and at one point, breaking the fourth wall, references this directly.

In the 1970s, Lester directed a wide variety of films, including the disaster film Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1976), starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn and the period romance Cuba (1979), also starring Connery. However his biggest commercial successes in this period were The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel The Four Musketeers (1974). The films were somewhat controversial at the time because the producers, Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, decided to split the film into two after principal photography was completed. Many of the cast sued the Salkinds as a result, stating that they were only contracted to make one film.


As the release of Superman neared, production on Superman II was halted to concentrate on getting the first movie completed. After the first Superman film was released in late 1978, the Salkinds went back into production on Superman II without informing Superman's director Richard Donner and placing Lester behind the camera for the completion of the film. Although Donner had shot approximately 75% of the film, Lester jettisoned or re-shot much of the original footage, resulting in Lester receiving sole credit for directing Superman II. Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor, did not return, and Lester instead used a stunt double and an impersonator to loop Luthor's lines into footage of Hackman shot during Donner's tenure on Superman II. The footage filmed by Donner was later integrated into television versions of the film with Lester's footage. In November 2006, Donner's footage was reedited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, using mostly Donner footage, with the only Lester footage being that which is necessary to cover scenes not shot during Donner's principal photography. Donner revealed on the new DVD of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut that he has never heard from Lester since his firing after the completion of the first film.

Lester also directed Superman III in 1983. The third Superman film fared poorly with critics, with fans divided, and did not perform quite as well at the box office as the previous two movies had, although actually, the film still managed to be within the top 10 most successful films of 1983; the number of blockbuster sequels released that year (two 007 movies, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, Return of the Jedi and Jaws 3) made for stiff competition for Superman III. Despite the competition, naysayers tend to overlook the financial success of the movie and deem it a flop. It is generally seen as the turning point where the series went into decline. As such, Lester is blamed by some fans for helping to ruin the Superman franchise.

Later years

In 1988, Lester reunited the entire Musketeers cast to film another sequel, The Return of the Musketeers. However, during filming in Spain, the actor Roy Kinnear, a close friend of Lester's, died after falling from a horse. Lester finished the film, then retired from directing, only returning to direct a concert film for friend Paul McCartney in 1991, Get Back.

In 1993, he presented Hollywood UK, a five-part series on British cinema in the 1960s for the BBC.

In recent years, director Steven Soderbergh has been one of many calling for a reappraisal of Lester's work and influence. Soderbergh wrote a 1999 book, Getting Away With It which consists largely of interviews with Lester.

Personal life

In Soderbergh's Getting Away With It, Lester reveals that he is a committed atheist and debates with Soderbergh (then an agnostic), largely based on the arguments of Richard Dawkins.

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