Helmer and producer Peter Yates, who died Sunday in London at age 81 after a long illness, helped Steve McQueen gain his cool status after directing him in “1968’s “Bullitt” and directed a string of memorable Hollywood films ranging from small-town coming-of-age tale “Breaking Away” to thrillers “Eyewitness” and “Suspect.”
He was Oscar-nommed twice, for “Breaking Away” and “The Dresser,” both of which also garnered best picture consideration.
But it was the cop pic ‘Bullitt,” with its thrilling car chase in San Francisco that made both the director and the star a hot property in Hollywood. The Brit filmmaker tapped into a stint as a racing car driver to provide “Bullitt” its car-chase excitement. In its review, Variety praised the pic’s “low-key direction” and called the 11-minute chase sequence a “breathtaking chase reminiscent of Cinerama’s famed roller-coaster ride.” Automaker Ford even used some of the film’s sequences in an ad.
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he started his career as a dubbing assistant before eventually working his way up to assistant director to Tony Richardson on “A Taste of Honey.”
Yates made his feature directing debut with 1963 musical pic “Summer Holiday,” starring Cliff Richard. He then carved a name for himself with 1967 thriller “Robbery,” a dramatization of the 1963 Great Train Robbery, before descending on Hollywood the following year with “Bullitt,” which toplined McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset.
Bisset said in a statement, “Peter Yates was a very civilized and cultured man, which certainly added to his cinematic contribution. He was courageous, even intrepid, during the shooting of ‘The Deep’ and ‘Bullitt.’ ”
“The Deep,” based on a Peter Benchley novel, was a box office hit in 1977.
Later in his career, Yates enjoyed Academy recognition with the 1979 pic “Breaking Away,” a comedy about a group of teenagers who take on students from a local college in a cycle race. The Dennis Quaid-Dennis Christopher starrer garnered five Oscar noms, including best film, director and screenplay, for which it won.
Albert Finney starrer “The Dresser,” a 1983 adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play about an aging thesp’s personal assistant, also received five Oscar noms, including film and director.
His other credits include “For Pete’s Sake” (1974), “Eyewitness” (1981), “Suspect” (1987) and “An Innocent Man” (1989). His last feature film was 1999’s “Curtain Call,” starring James Spader, Michael Caine and Maggie Smith.
Most recently, Yates helmed TV adaptations of John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” in 2004 and Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” in 2000.
Survivors include his wife, Virginia, a son and a daughter plus two grandchildren.