Yari Film Group Navigation
Adam Rapp

Film Profile

Mark Rydell is an Academy Award-nominated director, a classically trained actor, and an accomplished jazz pianist. Throughout his multi-hyphenated career Rydell’s films have received twenty-six Oscar nominations. Bette Midler, Marsha Mason, Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Sissy Spacek have all received Oscar nominations under his direction.

Rydell was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. Before a stint in the army, he studied with famed jazz pianist Teddy Wilson at the Juilliard School of Music. He then spent two years in Far East Japan developing entertainment for military personnel, and later began studies at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Musical College. He went on to major in English and philosophy at New York University.

His showbiz debut came as a jazz pianist, working the nightclubs of both New York and Chicago. He turned to acting when he won a scholarship to Sanford Meisner’s renowned Neighborhood Playhouse. Rydell then went on to join the Actors Studio, an arts organization of which he is still an active member.

After acting in numerous live television shows and eventually landing a continuing role on the CBS daytime drama “As The World Turns,” he made his Broadway debut in “Seagulls Over Sorrento” with Rod Steiger. Soon after, his feature film acting debut arrived opposite John Cassavetes and Sal Mineo in Don Siegel’s 1956 youth gang drama Crime In The Streets.

Rydell’s tenure as director began on television with the “Ben Casey” series. He also directed the first episode of “I Spy,” starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, and went on to helm more than fifty episodes of dramatic television, including an award-winning episode of “Gunsmoke.”

The director celebrated his debut in feature films with The Fox starring Sandy Dennis, Anne Heywood and Keir Dullea. Based on the D.H. Lawrence novella, The Fox won the Golden Globe Award for Best English Language Foreign Film.

Quickly after completing The Fox, he teamed up with actor Steve McQueen to bring William Faulkner’s final novel The Rievers (1969) to the screen. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Film Score by John Williams.

In 1971, Rydell and a partner formed their own production company, Sanford Productions, which went on to produce such films as Jeremiah Johnson (1972), starring Robert Redford, and Scarecrow (1973) starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. Scarecrow won the Cannes Film Festival’s top honor – The Palme D’Or.

Additional credits from this time period include: The Cowboys (1972), starring John Wayne which Rydell produced and directed; Cinderella Liberty (1973) starring James Caan and Marsha Mason, who was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress; and Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976) starring Elliott Gould, James Caan, Michael Caine and Diane Keaton.

In 1979, The Rose, directed by Rydell, gave moviegoers their first glimpse at the enormous talent of Bette Midler. Her powerful turn as a declining rock singer brought her an Oscar nomination as Best Actress and a nomination for Freddie Forrest as Best Supporting Actor.

Arguably the most well received and respected film of Rydell’s career came in 1981 when he directed On Golden Pond (1981), starring Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda. This film, about a family rediscovering their love for one another, received ten Oscar nominations including one for Rydell as Best Director. The film won Oscars for Henry Fonda (his first), Katherine Hepburn, and writer Ernest Thompson.

The River (1984), starring Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson, was next for the acclaimed director. The picture, about a farming family struggling to save their land, received five Oscar nominations.

Based on the profound successes of his prior collaborations, Rydell eventually gained fame as an “actor’s director,” evident once again in 1991 when he brought together two stars, both of whom received previous critical acclaim under Rydell’s direction: Bette Midler and James Caan in For the Boys, the story of a song and dance team who entertained American troops through half a century. Once again Midler received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

The director’s filmography went on to include “Crime of the Century” (1996) for HBO starring Stephen Rea and Isabella Rossellini, which earned five Golden Globe nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. Rydell also directed and produced TNT’s critically acclaimed “James Dean” (2001), directing himself in the role of studio mogul Jack Warner in the film opposite James Franco’s Golden Globe-winning portrayal of James Dean. Rydell was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for his work on the project, and in all “James Dean” received 11 Emmy nominations, including Best Picture Made-For-Television and Best Director.

Rydell recently completed his run as the lead in Moving Right Along, a three-part set of short comedies written by Elaine May and Jan Mirochek, which enjoyed a 9 week run at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre.