Renowned for guiding actors to the Oscars and, as Robert Redford put it, bringing "sensitivity and intellect to seemingly intractable subjects," Alan J. Pakula built a successful career that was cut short by his death in a car accident in 1998. With his restrained, thoughtful filmmaking style, Pakula weathered industry upheavals and audience tastes that often preferred anything but intelligent subtlety, leaving a legacy that includes All the President's Men (1976).
Born and raised in New York, Pakula dabbled in high school theater, but he didn't consider a show business career until he took a summer job at Leland Hayward's talent agency. Pakula majored in drama at Yale, graduating in 1948. While working at Warner Bros. in 1949, Pakula directed a Los Angeles stage production of Antigone that caught producer Don Hartman's eye. Hartman got Pakula a job reading scripts at MGM in 1950, and took Pakula with him to Paramount in 1951, where Pakula eventually got to produce his first film, Fear Strikes Out (1957). A docudrama about a baseball player's mental illness, Fear Strikes Out was a critical success for Pakula and his novice movie director Robert Mulligan. The two native New Yorkers formed Pakula-Mulligan Productions and scored a substantial hit with their next film together, the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Starring Oscar winner Gregory Peck as noble lawyer Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird earned kudos for its smartly engaging examination of Depression-era racism and morality, and garnered Oscar nominations for Pakula and Mulligan. The pair's follow-up, Love With the Proper Stranger (1963), mixed humor with drama in a then-dicey story about premarital sex and abortion, earning star Natalie Wood a Best Actress Oscar nod.