A successful director, John Landis is best known for his comedies, which include National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980) and Trading Places (1983). Branching out into television, Landis helped create the HBO comedy Dream On in the early 1990s. More recently, Landis has directed episodes of such television shows as Psych, Masters of Horror and Fear Itself.
Early Life and Career
Director, screenwriter and actor John Landis was born on August 3, 1950, in Chicago, Illinois. A successful director, John Landis is best known for his comedies, which include National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Trading Places (1983). He started out his career in the mail room at 20th Century Fox and soon found other behind-the-scenes jobs, including working as a stuntman.
Landis was also a member of the crew for the film Kelly's Heroes (1970), a World War II comedy starring Clint Eastwood, Don Rickles and Telly Savalas. An admirer of John Ford and Billy Wilder, he wanted to become a director. His first effort was the 1973 horror comedy Schlock, for which he wrote the screenplay. Landis also starred in it as the title character—a monster created by makeup artist Rick Baker.
For his next project, Landis directed the comedy Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), which featured a series of skits that spoofed a number of film genres and other forms of media. He went to direct his first big box office hit—National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). Written by Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney and Chris Miller, the film followed the exploits of a group of raffish fraternity brothers who live at the infamous Delta House. The film featured a number of talented performers, including comedian John Belushi as Bluto, the most brutish and funny member of the Deltas. While some were grossed out by some of the humor, others enjoyed this fun adventure as the Deltas struck back at their college administration and their fraternity enemies the Omegas.
Again working with Belushi, Landis directed The Blues Brothers (1980). The film, co-written by Landis and Belushi's co-star Dan Aykroyd, told the offbeat tale of two brothers who seek to reunite their blues band to save the orphanage they grew up in. Considered over the top by some critics, The Blues Brothers also received a lukewarm reception from filmgoers. Over the years, however, it has become revered as a comedy classic. The film also featured performances by such great blues and R&B performers as John Lee Hooker, James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
The following year, Landis returned to the horror comedy genre with An American Werewolf in London (1981), which starred David Naughton. He had reteamed with Rick Baker for this gory story of two Americans attacked by a werewolf while on vacation. Despite some mixed reviews from critics, the film was popular with movie audiences.
The next two years were a challenging time for Landis. For Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), which was inspired by the Rod Sterling television series, he wrote and directed one of the film's four segments and its prologue. His story focused on a big-mouthed bigot (played by Vic Morrow) who is forced to face his prejudices through a series of experiences that transport him to Nazi Germany, the Deep South and Vietnam.
While filming the Vietnam scenes, Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed after a helicopter crashed on top of them. Landis and several other members of the production were later charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to these deaths. In the subsequent trial, they were all found not guilty. The families of the slain actors all filed wrongful death suits, which were settled out of court.
Hit-and-Miss Film Career
While his reputation was somewhat sullied by the tragedy, Landis continued to find success on the big screen. He directed Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in the hit comedy Trading Places (1983). That same year, Landis surprised many by directing Michael Jackson's video for "Thriller." Both the song and the video became popular worldwide.
While the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America (1988) did well, Landis scored a number of misses during the 1980s and 1990s. He directed the lackluster sequel Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) and returned to territory with Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). With Belushi having died years earlier, the film featured Dan Aykroyd as the sole Blues brother.
Branching out into television, Landis helped create the HBO comedy Dream On starring Brian Benben in the early 1990s and even directed some of its episodes. He also served as executive producer for the comedy series' Weird Science and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, both based on hit films.
More recently, Landis has directed episodes of such television shows as Psych, Masters of Horror and Fear Itself. He also directed the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. In terms of feature films, Landis has been associated with a number of projects in recent years, including a big screen adaptation of Bat Boy: The Musical.
Landis has been married to costume designer Deborah Nadoolman since 1980. The couple has two children, Rachel and Max.
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