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John Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary in 2005
John David Landis
August 3, 1950
|Residence||Beverly Hills, California, U.S.|
|Occupation||Director, producer, screenwriter, actor, comedian|
|Known for|| The Blues Brothers|
Michael Jackson music videos
National Lampoon's Animal House
Coming to America
An American Werewolf in London
Twilight Zone: The Movie (Prologue & "Time Out segment")
|Children||2, including Max Landis|
John David Landis (; born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, comedian, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is best known for the comedy films that he has directed, such as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983), Three Amigos (1986), Coming to America (1988) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), and for directing Michael Jackson's music videos for "Thriller" (1983) and "Black or White" (1991).
Landis was born into a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer and decorator. Landis and his parents relocated to Los Angeles when he was four months old. Though spending his childhood in California, Landis still refers to Chicago as his hometown, and is a big fan of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.
I had complete suspension of disbelief--really, I was eight years old and it transported me. I was on that beach running from that dragon, fighting that Cyclops. It just really dazzled me, and I bought it completely. And so, I actually sat through it twice and when I got home, I asked my mom, "Who does that? Who makes the movie?"
Landis began his film career working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. He worked as a "go-fer" and then as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969; he replaced the film's original assistant director, who became ill and was sent home. During that time Landis became acquainted with actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom would later work in his films. Following Kelly's Heroes, Landis worked on several films that were shot in Europe (especially in Italy and England), including Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard (a.k.a. A Town Called Hell). Landis also worked as a stunt double.
I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. ... I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.
Landis made his directorial debut with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies. The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker--the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Though complete in 1971, it was not released until 1973 that Schlock was released after it caught the attention of Johnny Carson. Carson was a fan of the film and invited Landis as a guest on The Tonight Show, showing clips from the film and in the process bringing attention to it. Schlock has since gained a cult following, but Landis has described the film as "terrible".
Landis was then hired to direct The Kentucky Fried Movie after David Zucker saw his Tonight Show appearance. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live. It is notable for being the first film written by the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker team, who would later have success with Airplane! and The Naked Gun trilogy.
Sean Daniel, an assistant to Universal executive Thom Mount, saw The Kentucky Fried Movie and recommend Landis to direct Animal House based on that. Landis says of the screenplay, "It was really literally one of the funniest things I ever read. It had a nasty edge like National Lampoon. I told him it was wonderful, extremely smart and funny, but everyone's a pig for one thing." While it received mixed reviews, it was a massive financial success, earning over $120 million at the domestic box office, making it the highest grossing comedy film of its time. Its success started the gross out film genre, which became one of Hollywood's staples. It also featured the screen debuts of John Belushi, Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon.
In 1980, he co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It featured musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was, at the time, one of the most expensive films ever made, costing almost $30 million (for comparison, Steven Spielberg's contemporary film 1941 cost $35 million). It is speculated that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie. The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers (as the unnamed desk clerk near the end) and Landis had made a cameo in 1941 as a messenger.
In 1981, Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. It was perhaps Landis's most personal project; he had been planning to make it since 1969, while in Yugoslavia working on Kelly's Heroes. It was another commercial success for Landis and inspired studios to put comedic elements in their horror films.
On July 23, 1982, during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) were killed in an accident involving an out-of-control helicopter. The three were caught under the aircraft when it crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:
The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.
Landis and four other crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless, and had not told the parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours. He admitted that he had violated the California law regulating employment of children, by using the children after hours, and conceded that that was "wrong." But he denied culpability. Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After a nine-month jury trial during 1986 and 1987, Landis, represented by criminal defense attorneys Harland Braun and James Neal, and the other crew members were acquitted of the charges.
Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws in California. The parents of the children sued, and eventually settled out of court with the studio for $2 million per family. Morrow's children, one of them being actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was 20 at the time, also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Landis said:
When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts--which we weren't--and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter--which it didn't. ... The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that the tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The special effects man who made the mistake by setting off a fireball at the wrong time was never charged.
Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. After filming ended, Landis and his family went to London.
Next, Landis directed Into the Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie. The film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis appeared in the film as an Iranian hitman. To promote the movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night".
His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to ... films of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the Landis film, portraying himself.
Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America, which was commercially successful. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.
In 1991 he directed Sylvester Stallone in Oscar, based on a Claude Magnier stage play. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, as an homage to old Hollywood films. In 1992 Landis directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.
In 1994, Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. In 1996 he directed The Stupids. Then he returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998 with John Goodman and, for the fifth time in a Landis film, Dan Aykroyd: during that same year, he directed Susan's Plan. The four movies did not score with critics and audiences.
Burke and Hare was released in 2010, Landis's first theatrical release for over a decade.
He has directed several music videos. He was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". The resulting video significantly impacted MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won numerous awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009 (months before Jackson died), Landis sued the Jackson estate in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claimed to be owed at least four years' worth of royalties.
In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White."
Landis has been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), Masters of Horror, and various episodes of Psych. He also made commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney. In 2011 he made an appearance in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's television series Psychoville.
Landis made his first documentary, Coming Soon in 1982; it was only released on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. Later in his career he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). These documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked on the Making of Thriller, which was filmed in 3-D. Landis appeared in the Spanish documentary The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which covered the career of Spanish movie director Paul Naschy.
Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman, an Oscar-nominated costume designer, two-term president of the Costume Designers Guild, and director of The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. They have two children: Max and Rachel. In a BBC Radio interview, he stated that he is an atheist. The family lives in Beverly Hills, California.
The moving image collection of John Landis is held at the Academy Film Archive.
Landis' work has received recognition from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences also known as the (ATAS), the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, the National Cable Television Association, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Rando Hatton Classic Horror, the Amiens International Film Festival, the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, the Fantafestival, the Fantasporto Film Festival, the Italian National Syndicated of Film Journalists, the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival.
|1970||Kelly's Heroes||Yes||Production assistant|
Uncredited role: Sister Rosa Stigmata
|1973||Battle for the Planet of the Apes||Yes||Role: Jake's Friend|
|1975||Death Race 2000||Yes||Role: Mechanic|
|1977||The Kentucky Fried Movie||Yes||Yes||Uncredited role: TV Technician|
|1980||The Blues Brothers||Yes||Yes||Yes||Role: Trooper La Fong|
Co-written with Dan Aykroyd
|1981||An American Werewolf in London||Yes||Yes||Yes||Uncredited role: Man Being Smashed Into Window|
|1982||Eating Raoul||Yes||Uncredited role: Man who bumps into Mary|
|1983||Trading Places||Yes||Yes||Uncredited role: Man with briefcase|
|1983||Twilight Zone: The Movie||Yes||Yes||Yes||Segments: "Prologue" and "Time Out"|
|1984||The Muppets Take Manhattan||Yes||Role: Leonard Winesop|
|1985||B.B. King "Into the Night"||Yes||Yes||Documentary|
Co-directed with Jeff Okun
|1985||Into the Night||Yes||Yes||Role: SAVAK|
|1985||Spies Like Us||Yes|
Co-written with Jonathan Lynn
|1987||Amazon Women on the Moon||Yes||Executive producer|
Directed five segments
|1988||Coming to America||Yes|
|1990||Spontaneous Combustion||Yes||Role: Radio Technician|
|1992||Sleepwalkers||Yes||Role: Lab Technician|
|1992||Body Chemistry II: Voice of a Stranger||Yes||Role: Dr. Edwards|
|1994||Beverly Hills Cop III||Yes|
|1994||The Silence of the Hams||Yes||Role: FBI Agent|
|1996||Vampirella||Yes||Role: Astronaut #1|
|1997||Laws of Deception||Yes||Role: Judge Trevino|
|1997||Mad City||Yes||Role: Doctor|
|1998||The Lost World||Executive producer|
|1998||Blues Brothers 2000||Yes||Yes||Yes||Co-written with Dan Aykroyd|
|1999||Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby||Yes||Role: Judge|
|2004||Spider-Man 2||Yes||Role: Doctor|
|2005||The Axe||Yes||Role: Père copain Maxime|
|2005||Torrente 3: El protector||Yes||Role: Embajador árabe|
|2007||Look||Yes||Role: Aggravated Director|
|2010||Burke and Hare||Yes|
|2011||Some Guy Who Kills People||Executive producer|
|2012||Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader||Yes||Role: Professor|
|2015||Wrestling Isn't Wrestling||Yes||Short film|
|2019||I Hate Kids||Executive Producer|
|1974||The Six Million Dollar Man||Yes||Role: Michael|
Episode: "The Pal-Mir Escort"
|1976||Holmes & Yo-Yo||Yes||Episode: "Key Witness"|
|1985||Disneyland's 30th Anniversary Celebration||Yes||Television documentary|
|1985||George Burns Comedy Week||Yes||Episode: "Disaster at Buzz Creek"|
|1990||Psycho IV: The Beginning||Yes||Television film|
Role: Mike Calveccio
|1990-1996||Dream On||Yes||Yes||Executive producer|
Directed 17 episodes
|1990||Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration||Yes||Television documentary|
|1994||Weird Science||Executive producer|
|1994||The Stand||Yes||Role: Russ Dorr|
Episode: "The Stand"
|1997-1999||Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show||Yes||Executive producer|
Directed episode: "Honey, Name That Tune"
|1999-2002||The Lost World||Executive producer|
|2002||The Kronenberg Chronicles||Yes||Executive producer|
|2005-2006||Masters of Horror||Yes||Yes||Directed and wrote episode: "Deer Woman"|
Directed episode: "Family"
|2007||Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project||Yes||Yes||Television documentary|
|2008||Fear Itself||Yes||Episode: "In Sickness and in Health"|
|2008||Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen||Executive producer|
|2011||Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV||Yes||Stand-up special|
|2012||Franklin & Bash||Yes||Episode: "Voir Dire"|
|1985||My Lucille||B.B. King|
|1985||Into the Night||B.B. King|
|1985||In the Midnight Hour||B.B. King|
|1986||Spies Like Us||Paul McCartney|
|1991||Black or White||Michael Jackson|