Richard Fleischer, director of such hit features as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “The Boston Strangler,” “Fantastic Voyage” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!” died Saturday. He was 89.
Fleischer died of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., said his son, Mark Fleischer.
Richard Flesicher’s father, Max, and uncles Dave and Louis pioneered animated shorts in New York, starting in 1920 with the “Out of the Inkwell” series. In the ’30s, they became rivals to Walt Disney with their popular Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor comedy shorts.
A quiet-spoken but firm-minded director, Fleischer never achieved the recognition of his more flamboyant contemporaries, but his name was on a wide variety of well-known films including “Doctor Dolittle” (1967), “Che!” (1969), “The New Centurions” (1972), “Soylent Green” (1973), “Mr. Majestyk” (1974), “Mandingo” (1975), “Conan the Destroyer” (1984) and “Red Sonja” (1985).
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in “Conan the Destroyer,” Fleischer “a true Hollywood legend.”
“He was a man of great talent and an extraordinary director who leaves behind a legacy of amazing films,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Fleischer initially appeared to be headed on a different career path, earning a degree in psychology at Brown U. after being advised by his father to “avoid anything to do with Hollywood.”
But after graduation, he enrolled in the Yale Drama School, where he founded a company that toured New England hotels.
A talent scout for RKO recommended him for a job, and he was hired to write scripts for RKO Pathe newsreels. He soon graduated to directing shorts, and after a wartime stint in the Army, returned to the studio.
His breakthrough came with 1952’s “The Narrow Margin,” hailed by film historian Leonard Maltin as “one of the best B pictures ever made.” A thriller, it was filmed almost entirely in a railroad car on a screen stage.
He followed it with “The Happy Time,” a film starring Charles Boyer and Disney child star Bobby Driscoll that led to an offer from Walt Disney himself to direct “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
When he asked Disney why he’d been chosen to helm the big-budget film of the Jules Verne classic, he was told, “Anybody who can make an actor of Bobby Driscoll has to be a great director.”
Before he could take the job, however, Fleischer told Disney he’d have to get his father’s permission to work for the family’s longtime rival. The elder Fleischer quickly gave his hearty consent.
Born in New York, Fleischer married Yale classmate Mary Dickson, and the couple had two sons and a daughter.
He is survived by his wife, their three children and five grandchildren. Funeral plans were pending.