John Frankenheimer, 72, the much-honored director who helped create television's golden age of live drama and then brought the edge and excitement of political intrigue to the big screen with two film classics, "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Seven Days in May," died July 6 in Los Angeles.
His business manager told the Associated Press that Mr. Frankenheimer died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of a stroke after complications that followed spinal surgery.
During a working life that spanned six decades and began with a brief spell as an actor, Mr. Frankenheimer was nominated 14 times for television's Emmy Award, was asked to play secret agent James Bond in the movies and was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with his friend Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 when Kennedy was shot.
His interest in reality-based material was demonstrated almost 50 years ago as an assistant director on such fondly remembered television shows as "You Are There" and "Person to Person" (under Edward R. Murrow) and continued through "Path to War," an HBO movie aired this year about how the nation became enmeshed in the Vietnam War.
His 1962 suspense masterpiece, "The Manchurian Candidate," with its chilling and satirical plot involving brainwashing, helped to promote a sense of paranoia and techno-threat. Starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey, it was hailed as one of the 100 best American movies and perhaps the outstanding political thriller ever.
Regarded as no less gripping was 1964's "Seven Days in May," a Cold War thriller, with Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner and Frederic March, revolving about a plan by a military cabal to take over the government.
The movies may be a collaborative medium, but Mr. Frankenheimer, in recent interviews at least, left little doubt that he believed that the director was boss.
"On a movie set," the Houston Chronicle quoted him as saying two years ago, "I'm not really interested in anybody else's opinion. I'll listen to it, but at the end of the day, it's what I want and what I say."
As much as any director active, through days in which his reputation soared, plummeted and rose again, Mr. Frankenheimer earned the right to have his views heeded.
He was born Feb. 19, 1930, in New York, and after La Salle Military Academy, enrolled at Williams College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1951. By that time, he had already determined on a career in drama.
He once told the Kansas City Star that it happened when he was 17, seeking his path in life, and saw the young Marlon Brando illuminate a Broadway theater in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
"I realized I wanted to be part of something like this," he said.
But as a performer, he said, he was never truly at ease, never able to surrender himself emotionally to the character he was playing, but rather standing outside and critiquing himself as he spoke his lines. It turned out that what he could not do himself was something he could help others do.
After college, he served in an Air Force filmmaking squadron, then talked his way into a job at CBS.
During the 1950s, when television brought live drama into the nation's living rooms several times a week, Mr. Frankenheimer directed more than 150 episodes of such mainstays as "Playhouse 90" and "Studio One."
What vaudeville had been for so many comedians, these shows were for Mr. Frankenheimer. "Everything I learned about what I do, I got out of live TV," he told the Kansas City Star. "It was an incredible education in working with actors. I had 152 different casts. I also had 152 scripts."
As he told it, he did not give up willingly on this way of working. "I never wanted to leave TV," he said. "I loved being a TV director." But by 1960, the day of the live electronic drama had all but ended.
To Hollywood he went with the beliefs and habits he had developed: concern for story above all, content over form, working hard and fast without excessive rehearsal or wasted time. And as television had been, so most of his first movies were: shot in black and white.
The first movie he made was in 1956, called "The Young Stranger." Before 10 years were out, in addition to "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Seven Days in May," he had imposed his vivid cinematic stamp on such other productions as "Seconds," "All Fall Down," "The Young Savages," "Birdman of Alcatraz" and "The Train." He later directed the well-received "Black Sunday."
His career took a downturn, possibly, according to students of his work, occasioned at least in part by the psychic blow dealt by Kennedy's assassination. There were reports of excessive drinking. Some of his movies ("Dead Bang," "Year of the Gun") did not do well in the 1980s and early '90s, and "the phones stopped ringing," he once said.
But he said his career was resurrected by the opportunity to make films for cable television, which brought four Emmys, for "Against the Wall," "The Burning Season," "Andersonville" and "George Wallace."
"Full bore. You gotta give it everything. You just got to give it everything," he said in a 1998 interview with the Associated Press. "And sometimes that's not even enough."
His first marriage, to Carolyn Miller, ended in divorce, and he later married Evans Evans. He had two daughters.