DIRECTOR RONALD NEAME DIES AT 99




FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

RONALD NEAME, who began as an assistant camera operator on ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S first sound film before going on to photograph, produce and direct more than 70 films – among them GAMBIT, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE – died Wednesday in Los Angeles.

He was 99 and lived in Beverly Hills.

The cause was complications from a fall, his grandson GARETH NEAME said.

Mr. Neame, born 15 years after the first motion picture show in Paris, embodied much of movie history – particularly the more sophisticated British version.

His mother was a silent film star, his father was an early director and he himself went to work at a famous British studio ELSTREE at 16.

A leading cinematographer by 30, Mr. Neame teamed up with NOEL COWARD and director DAVID LEAN to make well regarded pictures like BLITHE SPIRIT (1945).

As a writer, Mr. Neame received one of his three OSCAR nominations for BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), again working with Mr. Lean and Mr. Coward as well as the producer and writer Anthony Havelock Allan and another for GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946), by the same team.

As a producer for the independent production company he formed with Mr. Lean and Mr. Havelock Allan, he oversaw the much admired adaptation of Dickens’ OLIVER TWIST (1948), which featured ALEC GUINNESS’ masterly performance as the archthug Fagin.

As a director for more than 40 years, he pioneered Technicolor and built a reputation for coaxing sterling performances from stars like MAGGIE SMITH, SHELLEY WINTERS, MICHAEL CAINE, JUDY GARLAND and especially ALEC GUINNESS, who was a close friend.

Mr. Neame was known for trying out stunts himself before asking an actor to attempt them. In the filming of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, for example, he climbed a Christmas tree before asking Ms. Winters to try it.

In 2003 THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE called Mr. Neame “a living embodiment” of cinema, “a sort of one man world heritage site.”

RONALD NEAME was born in London on APRIL 23, 1911. His mother IVY CLOSE was a silent movie star; his father ELWIN was a professional photographer who went on to direct films in Britain.

Ms. Close became an actor after winning a contest to determine the most beautiful woman in the world. It was during that event that she met her husband, who was snapping pictures of the 25 finalists.

ELWIN NEAME died in a motorcycle accident in 1923 and the resulting family budget problems impelled young Ronald to take a job as a messenger boy at ELSTREE STUDIOS at 16.

He claimed one ambition: to be the best assistant camera operator in England.

Two years later, Mr. Neame was playing that role for Alfred Hitchcock in the filming of BLACKMAIL (1929).

Sound technology arrived even as the film was being shot and dubbing did not yet exist. In a 2003 interview with THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE, Mr. Neame marveled at how Hitchcock had a female English actor quote the lines as the original Czech speaking performer silently acted the scene on screen.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Mr. Neame helped crank out numerous cheap pictures made under a law that required companies to produce certain percentages of British movies in order to exhibit in England. He once said the sheer volume of work helped him perfect his craft.

He often worked anonymously under the cinematographer Claude Friese Greene and in 1935 shared credit with him on the drama DRAKE OF ENGLAND. Seventeen years later, Mr. Neame produced THE MAGIC BOX, about the contributions Mr. Friese Greene’s father William made to early cinematography.

Another turning point came in 1941, when Mr. Neame was cinematographer on an adaptation of the Shaw play MAJOR BARBARA, directed by Gabriel Pascal.

DAVID LEAN, famed for his ambitious creativity on later pictures like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) and RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970), was assistant director.

The two began a professional association so close that THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1947 called them “twin cherries on a stalk.”

In the pair’s next collaboration, ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942), edited by DAVID LEAN, Mr. Neame was cinematographer and was nominated for an OSCAR for photographic special effects.

They also worked together — with Mr. Neame again as cinematographer — on IN WHICH WE SERVE (1942), a wartime film written by NOEL COWARD and directed by Mr. Coward and Mr. Lean.

The success of that film led Mr. Lean, Mr. Coward, Mr. Havelock Allan and Mr. Neame to form the production company CINEGUILD.

The company made three pictures from NOEL COWARD plays: THIS HAPPY BREED (1944), BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) and BLITHE SPIRIT (1945).

After that, Mr. Neame told THE NEW YORK TIMES, he and Mr. Lean decided they “had to prove ourselves apart from Mr. Coward.”

Their next two pictures were the Dickens adaptations GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, both directed by Mr. Lean and produced by Mr. Neame.

Their promising partnership collapsed when Mr. Neame responded angrily to DAVID LEAN’S replacing him as director on THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS (1949) after a dispute over the script.

Mr. Neame’s focus had begun to shift to the United States in the mid 1940s when J. Arthur Rank, the British entertainment mogul, asked him to go to Hollywood to study American film production methods. Mr. Neame then began directing pictures for Rank.

One of his earlier successes was THE PROMOTER (1952), a vibrant comedy starring ALEC GUINNESS.

That led to another comedy for the Rank studio, MAN WITH A MILLION(1953), starring GREGORY PECK. Mr. Neame left Rank in 1957, saying he felt stifled artistically. He then directed two highly regarded films that featured ALEC GUINNESS: THE HORSE’S MOUTH (1958) and TUNES OF GLORY (1960).

In the 1970s Mr. Neame, who by that time had moved to Beverly Hills, directed THE ODESSA FILE, HOPSCOTCH and FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER.

MAGGIE SMITH won an ACADEMY AWARD for BEST ACTRESS for her work in his film THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969).

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), for which Ms. Winters was nominated for an OSCAR as BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, made him rich.

Mr. Neame’s marriage to BERYL YOLANDA HEANLY ended in divorce. In addition to his grandson GARETH, a movie producer in London, Mr. Neame is survived by his wife DONNA FRIEDBERG and his son CHRISTOPHER, a film producer who lives near Avignon, France.

Mr. Neame maintained that his success with actors often resulted from simply getting out of their way.

Without direction, JUDY GARLAND in his film I COULD GO ON SINGING (1963) reached so deep into herself in one scene that the crew broke down in tears.

Mr. Neame had planned to spend a day on the critical scene, but Ms. Garland got it perfectly in three minutes.

“Suddenly, Judy had become the real Judy,” Mr. Neame said in his 2003 BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE interview.

“It was no longer acting…and it was absolutely wonderful.”

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