A Year: Day to Day Men: 2nd of September


September 2, 1929 was the birthdate of American film director and editor Hal Ashby.

Hal Ashby’s career gained momentum when he served as the lead editor of the 1965 “The Loved One”, a black and white comedy film about a funeral business in Los Angeles, based on a satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh. He was nominated for the 1967 Academy Award for Film Editing for his work on “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”,  a  Carl Reiner / Alan Arkin comedy spoof depicting the chaos following the grounding of a Soviet submarine off a small New England island during the Cold War.

Hal Ashby’s big break in his career was his winning the Academy Award for Best Editing for the Norman Jewison mystery drama film “In the Heat of the Night” starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. This tough, edgy major Hollywood film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Editing. At the urging of Norman Jewison, Ashby directed his first film, “The Landlord” in 1970. The film was an comedy drama starring Beau Bridges as a privileged and ignorant landlord of an inner-city tenement.

Hal Ashby directed his next film “Harold and Maude” in 1971, followed by “The Last Detail”, a comedy drama starring Jack Nicholson and Otis Young, assigned to the Navy Shore Patrol. escorting Randy Quaid to the Naval prison. Ashby directed the 1979 social satire cult film “Being There”, starring Peter Sellers. However, his greatest commercial success in films was the 1975 satire “Shampoo”, made on a budget of four million dollars and grossing worldwide over sixty million dollars, making it the fourth most successful film of 1975.

Because of his critical success and dependable profitability, Ashby was able to form a production company, Northstar, under the auspices of Lorimar Productions. After directing “Being There”, Ashby became more reclusive, often retreating to his home in Malibu Colony, a gated enclave in the city. Later, it was widely rumored in a whisper campaign that Ashby, a habitual marijuana smoker since the 1950s, had become dependent upon cocaine. As a consequence of these rumors, he slowly became unemployable.

Hal Ashby worked on several more productions; but the strained relationship between him and the Lorimar company increased. During this period, Lorimar executives grew less tolerant of his increasingly perfectionist production and editing techniques; a montage in the  film “Lookin’ to Get Out” took six months to perfect but ultimately proved to be logistically unusable. After several commercial failures of his next films, Ashby’s post-production process was considered to be such a liability that he was fired by the production company.

Longtime friend Warren Beatty advised Hal Ashby to seek medical care after he complained of various ailments, including undiagnosed phlebitis; he was soon diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that rapidly spread to his lungs, colon, and liver. Hal Ashby died on December 27, 1988 at his home in Malibu, California.

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