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Ted Kotcheff

Ted KotcheffWilliam Theodore Kotcheff
b. April 7, 1931, Toronto, Ontario


A talented, multi-faceted journeyman director in the tradition of Leo McCarey or Robert Wise, Ted Kotcheff has a straightforward style, an innate ability to please an audience and the proven capacity to excel in a variety of genres. Though the quality of his film work has generally tapered off in recent years, he continues to work consistently with verve and energy well into his seventies and has made many significant contributions to international cinema during his long career.

The son of Bulgarian immigrants, Kotcheff graduated in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1952 and landed a job as a stagehand at the nascent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He soon worked his way up to story editor and, at the age of twenty-four, became the CBC’s youngest director. He continued working there – with future NFB commissioner Sydney Newman – until 1959, when he moved to England to make television dramas (again, with Newman).

On his way to London, Kotcheff stopped in France, where he met Montreal native Mordecai Richler at a wine garden in Paris; the two men, who would become lifelong friends, decided to share a flat together in London. Richler asked Kotcheff to read his latest manuscript, called The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Kotcheff fell in love with it and swore to Richler that someday he would return to Canada and make it into a film.

Meanwhile, Kotcheff’s TV work in Britain became part of the new wave of working-class actors and drama that changed British theatre and television in the late fifties. He twice won the British Emmy for Best Director and also directed several successful stage productions. He made his feature debut with the class satire Tiara Tahiti (1962), starring James Mason, and followed with the Richler-scripted Life at the Top (1965) and Two Gentlemen Sharing (1969), which was Britain’s official entry in the Venice International Film Festival.

Kotcheff next ventured to Australia, where he directed Outback (1971, a.k.a. Wake in Fright), a psychologically taut descent into barbarism considered by many to be one of the finest Australian films ever made; it also heralded the beginning of the Australian film renaissance of the seventies. He then returned to Canada in 1972 and began work on the fulfillment of his promise to Richler. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), starring Richard Dreyfuss and Micheline Lanctôt, became the most critically and financially successful Canadian film to date and received the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as an Academy Award® nomination and a Writer’s Guild of America Award for Richler’s screenplay. It is still widely considered one of the best Canadian films ever made.

Following Duddy’s success, Kotcheff embarked on his Hollywood apprenticeship: he directed Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) with Jane Fonda and George Segal and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) with Segal and Jacqueline Bisset, then wrote and directed North Dallas Forty (1979) with Nick Nolte, considered one of the best sports movies ever made. His string of successes continued with the thoroughly ridiculous, but swiftly entertaining, First Blood (1982) – which introduced Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo franchise – and the thematically similar Gene Hackman vehicle, Uncommon Valor (1983).

Kotcheff returned to Canada to work on his third collaboration with Richler – an adaptation of Richler’s novel Joshua Then and Now. The film, which starred James Woods and Alan Arkin, was hotly anticipated and premiered as the Opening Night Gala of the Toronto Festival of Festivals (now the Toronto International Film Festival®) in 1985. Joshua Then and Now comes closest to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz in terms of articulating Kotcheff’s quirky personal vision. The film garnered thirteen Genie nominations and five awards, but was a critical and box-office disappointment.

Kotcheff’s projects that followed tended to be screwball/slapstick comedies and were of decreasing quality and success. Some, such as Switching Channels (1988) – a remake of Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940) – and Folks! (1992), were unqualified disasters. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) was reviled by critics, but was successful enough to spawn a sequel, which Kotcheff also directed. He directed movies for television throughout the nineties and found a new niche for himself when he was hand-picked by series creator Dick Wolf to executive produce the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He lives with his second wife in Los Angeles, has a second home in Toronto, and commutes to New York for the highly successful show.

By Andrew McIntosh

Film and video work includes

Distinguished Gathering, 1956 (producer; TV)
No Trams to Lime Street, 1959 (director; TV)
After the Funeral, 1960 (director; TV)
Lena, O My Lena, 1960 (director; TV)
Tiara Tahiti, 1962 (director)
The Dragon Slayer, Espionage series, 1963 (director; TV)
Life at the Top, 1965 (director)
The Gordie Howe Story, 1966 (co-writer with Norman Klenman)
The Human Voice, 1967 (director; TV)
Two Gentlemen Sharing, 1969 (director)
Edna, the Inebriate Woman, 1971 (director; TV)
Outback, 1971 (director) a.k.a. Wake in Fright
Billy Two Hats, 1974 (director) a.k.a. The Lady and the Outlaw
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, 1974 (director)
Fun with Dick and Jane, 1976 (director)
Why Shoot the Teacher?, 1977 (production consultant)
Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, 1978 (director)
North Dallas Forty, 1979 (director; writer)
Split Image, 1982 (director; producer) a.k.a. Captured
First Blood, 1982 (director)
Uncommon Valor, 1983 (director; executive producer)
Joshua Then and Now, 1985 (director)
Switching Channels, 1988 (director)
Weekend at Bernie’s, 1989 (director; actor)
Winter People, 1989 (director)
Folks!, 1992 (director)
Just Like That, Red Shoe Diaries series, 1992 (director; TV)
Red Shoe Diaries 3: Another Woman’s Lipstick, 1993 (co-director with Zalman King, Rafael Eisenman, Michael Karbelnikoff)
What Are Families For?, 1993 (director; TV)
Love on the Run, 1994 (director; TV)
Red Shoe Diaries 5: Weekend Pass, 1995 (co-director with Peter Care, Dominique Othenin-Girard)
Hidden Assassin, 1995 (director)
Family of Cops, 1995 (director; TV)
A Husband, a Wife and a Lover, 1996 (director; TV) a.k.a. A Strange Affair
Borrowed Hearts, 1997 (director; TV)
The Truth is in the Trash, Buddy Faro series, 1998 (director; TV)
Who’s the Muse?, Buddy Faro series, 1998 (director; TV)
Crime in Connecticut: The Story of Alex Kelly, 1999 (director; TV)
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, series, 1999- (director; co-executive producer with Dick Wolf, Neal Baer, Peter Jankowski; TV)
Shattered Glass, 2003 (actor)

Note:  Updated to April 5, 2004.



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