He was responsible for helping create a legendary science fiction film, a Best Picture winning comedy and an iconic World War II movie making him a favorite among classic film buffs for generations. On April 25, 2018 we lost director Michael Anderson at the ripe old age of 98 due to heart disease. His directorial career spanned over 50 years and resulted in some of his era’s most iconic productions that today remain among the most cherished films within their respective genres. He was able to guide productions through nearly any genre and today I look back at his illustrious career. Let’s take a look at the life and legacy of director Michael Anderson in the latest edition of “In Memoriam”.
Michael Joseph Anderson, Sr. was born in London, England in January of 1920. From an early age the art of performing was ingrained in him as his parents, Lawrence and Beatrice Anderson, were both actors and his great-aunt, Mary Anderson, was one of America’s first Shakespearean actresses who today has a theater dedicated in her memory in Kentucky. His upbringing exposed him to the art of filmmaking in his childhood and by the time his father passed away in 1939 Anderson had made his acting debut in the film “Housemaster”. He also appeared as an actor in “In Which We Serve” in the 1940s, but acting never seemed to be his calling. Instead he found most of his success behind the scenes.
In 1936 he became a production runner for Elstree Studios and graduated to assistant director in 1938. Over the next ten years Anderson would serve as assistant director for numerous projects including “Spy for a Day”, “Freedom Road” and “Jeannie” before taking a break from the industry to serve in the Royal Signal Corps during World War II. There he connected with Peter Ustinov and the two teamed up to return to filmmaking in the late 40s on projects like “Vice Versa” and “Mr. Perrin and Mr. Traill”. In 1949 Anderson teamed with Ustinov as a lead director for the first time on “Private Angelo” and spent the next few years dabbling in B films before his big directorial break in 1953 when he signed a contract with Associated British Picture Corporation for five films.
During his time with the ABPC Anderson directed the comedy “Will Any Gentleman…?” and the mystery movie “The House of the Arrow”. In 1955 Anderson debuted a film that truly put his name on the map with the World War II movie “The Dam Busters” which dominated the box office in his native England that year. The next year he led the first cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” which was his first major directorial film with American interest. Anderson’s biggest and most important movie would come a year later in the form of “Around the World in 80 Days”, an adventure comedy that earned Anderson his first and only Golden Globe and Oscar nominations and eventually took the Academy Award for Best Picture. The 1950s continued to show Anderson’s diversity and talent as a director with another World War II film called “Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst”, the thrillers “Chase a Crooked Shadow” and “Shake Hands with the Devil”, and “The Wreck of the Mary Dreare”.
Anderson wouldn’t slow down, adding seven more films to his record in the 1960s including the melodrama “All the Fine Young Cannibals” and the spy thriller “The Quiller Memorandum”, but it was the 1970s that brought about another of Anderson’s most widely known movies. In 1976 “Logan’s Run” became a massive box office hit and was one of many projects distributed through a partnership between Anderson and MGM. Today the film remains one of the most iconic science fiction projects in history and earned several Academy Award nominations eventually claiming a Special Achievement award in the process. Anderson’s career started to slow in the 80s where he focused mostly on television miniseries but he did provide a handful of theatrical projects leading into the 90s and eventually he ended his directorial career in 1999 with “The New Adventures of Pinocchio”.
Anderson never forgot the influence his childhood upbringing had on his career. He cherished is so much that his children were also brought up in the film business and many of them remain part of the cinema landscape today. He was married three times, first to the late Betty Jordan with whom he had five children, second to Vera Carlisle which whom he had another child, and finally actress Adrienne Ellis where he inherited two step children. Among his children are his son Michael Anderson, Jr. who appeared in several of Anderson’s films as an actor including “Logan’s Run” and David Anderson who is currently a film producer. His step children were Laurie and Christopher Holden. Laurie is best known for her minor films roles and her part as Andrea on the first three seasons of “The Walking Dead” and Christopher is a film producer in Toronto, Canada.
Michael Anderson had a career most directors could only dream of. While he never took home a major award for directing, his ability to shift from one genre to the next seamlessly has made him an example of diversity in an art where specialty directors are becoming more and more numerous. He did receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Canada in 2012 but never went home with a personal Oscar or Golden Globe despite having a Best Picture winner to his credit. Still Anderson’s career provided the world with a handful of iconic pictures that are still cherished today and his family continues to be involved in the film industry even after his retirement and death. He was an incredible talent and a man who was born into the art and helped it evolve over more than 50 years of cinematic entertainment. His work will live on long after his death and for that I can’t help but thank him for setting the bar high right to the very end. Mr. Anderson, may you rest in peace!