Pioneering film editor Dede Allen, who helped shape classic films including “Bonnie and Clyde,” died Saturday after suffering a stroke. She was 86.
Allen, who brought a fresh approach to shaping the look and sound of American movies, was Oscar-nommed for her work on 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon,” 1981’s “Reds” (shared with Craig McKay) and 2000’s “Wonder Boys.”
Born Dorothea Corothers Allen in Cincinnati to an actress mother, Allen quit college for showbiz nearly 55 years ago. Starting out as a messenger at Columbia, she worked her way up to assistant film editor. The first major pic she cut was Robert Wise’s “Odds Against Tomorrow” in 1959. Wise, who himself began as an editor, mentored Allen, who became the first editor to get an exclusive title card on a film, for “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Allen was the first American to embrace European methods of editing by beginning sequences with closeups or jump cuts and overlapping sound from one shot to another, a trick she learned from cutting commercials.
She worked on nearly 20 major pics, with helmers including Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Missouri Breaks”), Sidney Lumet (“Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon”), Elia Kazan (“America, America”) and George Roy Hill (“Slaughterhouse-Five”).
In 1992, Allen went to Warner Bros. as an exec and rose to head of post-production. In 2000, when she returned to the field to cut “Wonder Boys” for Curtis Hanson, Allen had to learn the newer, faster, digital methods of editing.
In a 2002 interview with Variety, Allen said since the new technology has arrived, “many more hands get into the process. It does get everybody and their cousin into it.”
She didn’t care for the advent of MTV and its influence on editing. “That’s badly influenced a lot of narrative editing,” she told the ACE guild mag in 2002. “I used to cut trailers, and God knows I’ve been a big one for breaking the rules. But you have to know the rules to break the rules, and a lot of people don’t know the rules.”
Still she thought the sped-up process had lots of benefits. “Young directors who don’t come from a theatrical background can greatly benefit if they have an editor who can help navigate the differences between MTV, say, and the three-act form. They can search for a balance between flashy editing and making characters work.”
At a Variety Women in Showbiz panel in 2002, Allen discussed ageism and sexism in Hollywood and working as a female editor.
“The good thing about it is that when you get past a certain age, they start calling you a legend,” she said.
A member of Acad’s board of governors, she repped the editors branch from 2000-06 and again in 2007. She was honored by the American Cinema Editors with a career award in 1994 and received a BAFTA for “Dog Day Afternoon.”
Survivors include her husband of 63 years, Stephen Fleischman; her son, sound re-recording mixer Tom Fleischman; her daughter, Ramey Ward; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
(Wire services contributed to this report.)