Today is the birthday of filmmaker Robert Altman, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1925. He directed several critically acclaimed films, including MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001).
He was a co-pilot on a B-24 bomber during World War II, and it was around that time that he came up with a system for tattooing identification numbers on pets in case they were lost. He even talked President Truman into having one of his dogs tattooed. His first post-war job was with a Kansas City film company that made industrial shorts. In his spare time, he wrote film scripts, and sold his first to Hollywood in 1948. In 1955, he made the move to television, directing several episodes of popular shows like Maverick, Peter Gunn, and Bonanza. He began directing feature films in the 1960s.
When he was 45, Altman agreed to direct a film written by Ring Lardner Jr. The script was based on a book by the same name, about a group of irreverent, anti-establishment doctors serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital on the front lines of the Korean War. Lardner’s screenplay had made the rounds and had been turned down by many other directors. Under Altman’s direction, MASH (1970) became the third-highest-grossing movie of the year, won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and became one of the most popular and influential films of the 1970s. Altman’s 14-year-old son, Mike, wrote the lyrics for the film’s theme song, “Suicide is Painless.” Although Altman had many other critical successes, MASH was his biggest box-office hit.
Of his career, Altman once said, “It’s all just one film to me. Just different chapters.”