David Lean (1908-1991) b. Croydon, England.
Director, writer, and producer David Lean came out of a strict religious background in which movies were forbidden to become one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers. Beginning as a tea-boy in the mid-1920s, he was lucky enough to move into editing just as sound films (with their special requirements) were coming in, and by the mid-1930s was regarded as one of the top men in his field. Lean turned down several chances to become a director in low budget films, and got his first chance to direct (unofficially) on Major Barbara (1941), one of the most celebrated movies of the early 1940s. Noel Coward hired Lean as his directorial collaborator on his wartime classic In Which We Serve (1943), and from there Lean’s career was made – for the next 15 years, he became known throughout the world for his close, intimate, serious film dramas. Some like This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945), and Brief Encounter (1945) were based on Coward’s plays, which the author had given Lean virtual cart blanche to film. Others ranged from Charles Dickens adaptations Oliver Twist (1948), Great Expectations (1946) to stories about aviation The Sound Barrier (1952). In 1957, in association with producer Sam Spiegel, Lean moved out of England and into international production with his epic adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s Japanese prisoner-of-war story The Bridge on The River Kwai (1957), a superb drama starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and William Holden that expanded the dimensions of serious filmmaking. Lean’s next film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), based on the life and military career of World War I British hero T.E. Lawrence, became the definitive dramatic film epic of its generation. Doctor Zhivago (1965), a complex romantic tale about life in Russia before and during the revolution, opened to mixed reviews but went on to become one of the top-grossing movies of the 1960s, despite a three-hour running time. With an armload of Oscars behind him from his three most recent pictures, and massive box office earnings between them, Lean was established as one of the top “money” directors of the 1960s. His next movie, the multi-million dollar, 200-minute Ryan’s Daughter (1970) fared far less well, especially before the critics, who nearly universally condemned the slowness and seeming self-indulgence of its drama and scale. Disheartened by its reception, Lean took over 10 years to release his next movie, the critical and box office success A Passage to India (1984). He was working on his next movie, Nostromo, based on Joseph Conrad’s book, at the time of his death.