John Landis Biography

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Birth Name: John Landis
Born: 08/03/1950
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Born on Aug. 30, 1950 in Chicago, IL, Landis was raised by his father, Marshall, an interior decorator, and mother, Shirley. When he was just four months old, his family relocated to Los Angeles, where he spent the remainder of his childhood. Landis began his Hollywood career the old fashioned way - he worked in the mailroom at 20th Century Fox. He soon found himself in Yugoslavia as an assistant director on "Kelly's Heroes" (1970), which starred Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland as World War II Army misfits who lead a unit behind Nazi lines to steal $16 million in gold. Landis made a cameo appearance as a nun after falling short in trying to round up enough females to fit the bill. After the production wrapped, Landis decided to stick around Europe and work as a stunt double on countless German action movies and Spanish spaghetti Westerns. Once he made his way back stateside, he made his directorial debut with "Schlock" (1973), a low-budget satirical horror comedy about an ape-like creature (Landis in a gorilla suit) who terrorizes a sleepy Southern California suburb that does not really find him all that menacing.

Four years later, Landis directed one of his most subversive movies, "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977), a series of unconnected sketches lampooning television commercials, educational films and drive-in movies that was written by the comedy trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. Full of hilarious bits like "Zinc Oxide and You," "United Appeal for the Dead" and "That's Armageddon," Landis' madcap spoof lived a long-life as a cult classic. He followed up with perhaps his most revered movie, "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), a raucous frat-house comedy set in 1962 that launched the careers of Tom Hulce, Tim Matheson and Karen Allen as well as propelled then "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) cast member John Belushi into superstardom, and became a cultural milestone that remained relevant and popular generations later. Though rude and crude on the outside, what separated "Animal House" from other teen sex comedies was the sly allegory about the Nixon administration, as represented by the ruthless dean (John Vernon) and his two clean-cut, uptight lackies (James Daughton and Mark Metcalf), who seek to destroy the loveable lugs at Delta House.

After appearing in a cameo for friend Steven Spielberg's reviled farce, "1941" (1979), Landis had the acclaimed director return the favor for the much funnier and more beloved comedy, "The Blues Brothers" (1980), which starred Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues, two lowlife criminal blues singers in dark suits and shades who go on a "mission from God" to raise $5000 to save their old orphanage. But standing in their way are a pair of Neo-Nazis, a spurned country music band, half of the Illinois state police and Jake's machine gun-wielding ex-girlfriend (Carrie Fisher), all of whom want the Blues Brothers dead or in jail. The filming of the car-crash epic drained Landis, due in no small part to his lead actor's (Belushi) colossal cocaine habit which effected filming in a variety of ways. According to Bob Woodward's decidingly dark look at the comic's short life in his book Wired, Landis was concerned enough to confront the comic in his trailer and attempt to flush his stash down the toilet. Though not a huge hit upon release due to its overblown budget, "The Blues Brothers" had a long shelf life on television and in video stores and went down in the annals of comedy history as an all-time classic and the definitive onscreen teaming of Belushi and Aykroyd. He next wrote and directed "An American Werewolf in London" (1981), a thinly-plotted, but nonetheless frightening horror flick with touches of comic wit about two American college students (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne); one of whom gets bitten in the shoulder and slowly transforms into a lycanthrope. Though dismissed at the time by critics, "American Werewolf" developed a following that turned yet another Landis film into a cult classic and helped put makeup artist/creature maker Rick Baker on the map for his inventive work with prosthetics as he turns a naked Naughton into a werewolf in the film's classic metamorphosis scene.

Thanks to "American Werewolf," pop icon Michael Jackson hired Landis to direct the music video for "Thriller" (1983), widely considered to be the most successful music video ever made. Clocking in at over 13 minutes long, the video featured Jackson in several elaborate dance numbers alongside the living undead while trying to convince his date (Ola Ray) that it is all only dream. At the beginning of the video, while Jackson and his date are in a movie theater watching a horror movie, one of the characters on screen says the line, "See you next Wednesday," a recurring phrase that first appeared in "Schlock" as the title of a movie and subsequently was referenced in the "Fell-Around" sketch in "The Kentucky Fried Movie," on a billboard in "The Blues Brothers" and on a porn theater marquee in "An American Werewolf." The phrase also appeared as a movie poster hanging on an apartment wall in his next movie, "Trading Places" (1983), a rags-to-riches comedy starring Eddie Murphy as a street hustler who is given the keys to the Wall Street kingdom as an experiment being conducted by billionaire-bad guys, Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). In return, they plan to reduce a successful businessman (Dan Aykroyd) into abject poverty to see whether nature or nurture makes the man. "Trading Places" went on to become a top-grosser at the box office while solidifying Murphy's status as a fast-rising star.

Landis had a brush with tragedy on the ill-fated production of "Twilight Zone - The Movie" (1983), which he co-directed with Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller. During the filming of his own segment in 1982, a low- flying helicopter spun out of control and crashed onto the set following the detonation of pyrotechnic explosions, killing veteran actor Vic Morrow and two child extras, Myca Dinh Le, age seven, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen, age six, who struggled through a pond below the crashing helicopter. Overshadowing the film itself - which opened to mixed reviews and poor box office totals - the accident led to charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment against Landis and several crew members. After a long legal battle, which also brought to light the director's bullying style and a perceived lack of concern for other's well-being, Landis and his co-defendants were acquitted. But in a civil suit, the families of the two children were awarded $2 million each. Meanwhile, Morrow's daughters, Carrie Morrow and Jennifer Jason Leigh, also sued and settled for an undisclosed sum. Ultimately, the tragedy led to stricter child safety and labor laws in California and a reluctance by Hollywood to film many helicopter scenes until the advent of better CGI technology, while Landis emerged from the ordeal with his reputation in tatters.

The tragedy that overwhelmed "Twilight Zone" appeared to have knocked Landis off his creative game. He stumbled with several forgettable comedies for the remainder of the decade, including the comedic thriller "Into the Night" (1985), the Cold War spy comedy "Spies Like Us" (1985), starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, and the period slapstick farce "Three Amigos!" (1986), with Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short. Landis went back to the "Kentucky Fried Movie" well with the lowbrow spoof, "Amazon Women on the Moon" (1987), co-directing the segments "Video Date," "Blacks without Soul" and "Don 'No Soul' Simmons." Landis had a much-need commercial hit with "Coming to America" (1988), starring Eddie Murphy as the crown Prince of Zamunda, who spurns an arranged marriage and travels to Queens, NY to find his real bride. Both lightly funny and emotionally endearing, "Coming to America" marked a return to form for the flailing director. However, tension hung over the shoot, as one-time compatriots Landis and Murphy butted heads, with Landis citing the personality change in his star between "Trading Places" and superstardom by likening to him to "a pig of the world," while Murphy famously stated that his director had a "better chance of working with Vic Morrow again" than with him. After the huge box office success of "America," Landis threw away any built-up good will with the dreadful screwball comedy "Oscar" (1991), which starred Sylvester Stallone as a 1930s Mafia don who promises his dying father (Kirk Douglas) that he will give up crime and live the straight life. Landis earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Director following a poor showing at the box office.

Once again collaborating with Michael Jackson, Landis directed the music video for "Black or White" (1991), which featured an extended dance intro; Macaulay Culkin, George Wendt and Tyra Banks in cameo roles; and one of the first uses of morphing technology in a music video. Not as seminal as "Thriller," it nonetheless was another huge hit, thanks in part to the simulcast debut on MTV, VH1, BET and Fox. He next directed "Innocent Blood" (1992), a horror comedy about a modern day vampire (Anne Parillaud) whose code of honor limits her blood-sucking to criminals, including a would-be victim-turned-undead gang boss (Robert Loggia). After cameo acting appearances in "Sleepwalkers" (1992) and "Silence of the Hams" (1994), Landis and Eddie Murphy made nice in an effort to bolster Murphy's then-sagging box office fortunes by directing the underperforming action-oriented sequel, "Beverly Hills Cop III" (1994). Though generally perceived as superior to the second installment, the feature failed to re-establish Murphy's prominence with a tired viewing audience. Landis fared even worse with "The Stupids" (1996), a grating slapstick comedy starring Tom Arnold that awaited distribution for over a year and was met with hostile critical reaction.

As a result of his diminishing film career, Landis devoted more of his time to television as a producer and director, enjoying his greatest success in the medium as the executive producer and occasional director of the ribald movie-mad sitcom, "Dream On" (HBO, 1990-96). Meanwhile, he executive produced the first season of the sci-fi adventure series "Sliders" (Fox, 1995-96), becoming an executive consultant after the show returned from hiatus. He also executive produced "Weird Science" (USA, 1994-97) and the made-for television movie, "Here Come the Munsters" (Fox, 1995). Going back to the well once again, he directed the ill-conceived "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998), which featured Aykroyd reprising Elwood Blues, minus John Belushi as Jake, who was conveniently described in the movie as having died in prison. Filling those rather large shoes was John Goodman, who joined Aykroyd and Landis on a journey that many felt never should have been taken without Belushi. A pale imitation of the original, "Blues Brothers 2000" was a huge box office flop that perhaps gave Landis pause about rehashing his classic material.

Turning to more independent filmmaking, Landis directed "Susan's Plan" (2000), a comedy thriller about a woman (Nastassja Kinski) plotting to kill her ex (Adrian Paul) with an insurance salesman (Billy Zane). Back to working in television, he helmed episodes of "Masters of Horror" (Showtime, 2005-07), "Psych" (USA, 2006- ) and the horror-suspense anthology series, "Fear Itself" (NBC, 2008-09). He also executive produced the biographical documentary, "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project" (HBO, 2007), which highlighted the life and career of his old friend from "Kelly's Heroes." After almost a decade-long absence, Landis returned to feature film directing with "Burke and Hare" (2010), a black comedy about two Irish immigrants, William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis), who kill 17 victims in order to sell their corpses for dissection.




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