Artist was a staple in Prague theater

Ladislav Rychman, director of the Czech smash hit communist-era musical “The Hop Pickers,” died in Prague April 1. He was 84.

The survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, Rychman studied film after the war at FAMU, the same film school Oscar winners Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel later would attend.

After working in theater in Prague, Rychman apprenticed in film under the tutelage of Borivoj Zeman and Elmar Klos, and worked in all genres from documentary to Czech Television variety programs, for which he created a precursor to the music video in 1958, known as “staged songs.”

Having demonstrated an alacrity for pop music on camera, Rychman struck gold in 1964 with “The Hop Pickers,” a tale of romance among high school volunteer work crews at harvest time. Two young lovers, one to become a teen heartthrob, Vladimir Pucholt, run afoul of the central planners and are kicked out of the labor co-op in the musical, which some still refer to as “Hop Side Story.”

Jirina Bohdalova, a Czech actress who starred in Rychman’s “Lady on the Tracks” in 1968, about a tram driver who uses sex appeal to win back a straying husband, recalled Rychman as “a pioneer of Czech musicals” whom audiences forgot after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Her film, which turned out to constitute one of the best-remembered roles for Bohdanova, a frequent star of the 1960s Czechoslovak film world, was called “a socialist fairy tale — as cheery and optimistic as a Tide commercial” in a New York Times review of November 1968.

That year saw the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, under which Rychman’s career went into decline. He continued to work into the mid-90s and, though he never again drove audiences as wild, witnessed generations of teens enthralled by the guitar-slinging numbers in “The Hop Pickers,” which still gets television and film fest play today.

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