Sam O’Steen, who edited such films as “The Graduate,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Sterile Cuckoo,” “Carnal Knowledge” and “Chinatown,” working with directors Roman Polanski, Alan Pakula and Mike Nichols and who himself helmed several TV films, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Atlantic City, N.J. He was 76.
O’Steen rose from the ranks of assistant film editor to eventually garner three Oscar nominations for editing: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “Chinatown” and “Silkwood.”
His association with Nichols began in the 1960s and he eventually edited 12 films for the director: “Wolf,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “The Graduate” (for which he won the British Film Academy Award for film editing), “Carnal Knowledge,” “Catch-22,” “The Day of the Dolphin,” “Silkwood,” “Heartburn,” “Working Girl,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Postcards From the Edge,” “Working Girl” and “Regarding Henry.”
Nichols once said, “Sam has a great feeling for what happens between people. And a feeling for rhythm and lengths. And a picture is made almost entirely of decisions on how long things should be. Sam O’Steen’s hallmark is simplicity and rightness.”
Praise from Polanski
O’Steen edited two of Polanski’s most famous films, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown.” Polanski once said that O’Steen had “a skill and imagination that takes my breath away.”
O’Steen was born in Arkansas but grew up in Burbank, Calif. Living close to Warner Bros. Studios he would bribe guards with newspapers from his paper route to let him onto the lot. He hung around the film editing room watching editors cut their film. The fascination with film editing soon became his passion.
Following World War II service in the U.S. Coast Guard, he worked in a print shop until he was able to join an editors union. In 1957, O’Steen received his first film editing credits as assistant editor for the Alfred Hitchcock-helmed “The Wrong Man.”
In 1964, he hit his stride editing three features: “Youngblood Hawke,” “Robin and the Seven Hoods” and “Kisses for My President.”
Additional film editing credits included: “Cool Hand Luke,” “None But the Brave” (Frank Sinatra’s only directorial venture), “The Sterile Cuckoo” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
In 1973 O’Steen added TV directing to his resume with credits including “A Brand New Life,” “I Love You, Goodbye,” “Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby” and “Kid’s Don’t Tell.”
In 1975 he was the recipient of the Director’s Guild of America award and an Emmy nomination for best television directing for “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.” The following year, O’Steen directed his only feature, “Sparkle.”
O’Steen is survived by his wife, Bobbie, and daughters Kathleen, Molly, Danielle and Wendy.