John Landis
John Landis

John Landis
White" (1991). Landis was born into a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer

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American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer For the academic, see John D. Landis (urban planner).

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Find sources: "John Landis" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (August 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) John LandisJohn Landis at The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary in 2005BornJohn David Landis
(1950-08-03) August 3, 1950 (age 68)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.ResidenceBeverly Hills, California, U.S.NationalityAmericanOccupationDirector, producer, screenwriter, actor,comedianYears active1969–presentKnown for The Blues Brothers
Michael Jackson music videos
National Lampoon's Animal House
Coming to America
An American Werewolf in London
Trading Places
Twilight Zone: The Movie (Prologue & "Time Out segment")Spouse(s)Deborah Nadoolman
(m. 1980)Children2, including Max LandisSignature

John David Landis[1] (/ˈlændɪs/; born August 3, 1950)[2] is an American film director,comedian, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is best known for the comedy films that he has directed, such as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983), Three Amigos (1986), Coming to America (1988) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), and for directing Michael Jackson's music videos for "Thriller" (1983) and "Black or White" (1991).

Contents Early life

Landis was born into a Jewish family[3] in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall Landis, an interior designer and decorator.[4] Landis and his parents relocated to Los Angeles when he was four months old. Though spending his childhood in California, Landis still refers to Chicago as his hometown, and is a big fan of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.

When Landis was a young boy, he watched The 7th Voyage of Sinbad which inspired him to become a director:[5]

I had complete suspension of disbelief—really, I was eight years old and it transported me. I was on that beach running from that dragon, fighting that Cyclops. It just really dazzled me, and I bought it completely. And so, I actually sat through it twice and when I got home, I asked my mom, "Who does that? Who makes the movie?"[6]

Career Early

Landis began his film career working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. He worked as a "go-fer" and then as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969; he replaced the film's original assistant director, who became ill and was sent home.[7] During that time Landis became acquainted with actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom would later work in his films. Following Kelly's Heroes, Landis worked on several films that were shot in Europe (especially in Italy and England), including Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard (a.k.a. A Town Called Hell).[7] Landis also worked as a stunt double.

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I worked on some pirates movies, all kind of movies. French foreign movies. I worked on a movie called Red Sun where Toshiro Mifune kills me, puts a sword through me. ... I worked as a stunt guy. I worked as a dialogue coach. I worked as an actor. I worked as a production assistant.[7]

Landis made his directorial debut with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies.[7] The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker—the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker. Though complete in 1971, it was not released until 1973 that Schlock was released after it caught the attention of Johnny Carson. Carson was a fan of the film and invited Landis as a guest on The Tonight Show, showing clips from the film and in the process bringing attention to it. Schlock has since gained a cult following, but Landis has described the film as "terrible".[8]

Landis was then hired to directed The Kentucky Fried Movie after David Zucker saw his Tonight Show appearance.[8] The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.[7] It is notable for being the first film written by the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker team, who would later have success with Airplane! and The Naked Gun trilogy.


Sean Daniel, an assistant to Universal executive Thom Mount, saw The Kentucky Fried Movie and recommend Landis to direct Animal House based on that. Landis says of the screenplay, "It was really literally one of the funniest things I ever read. It had a nasty edge like National Lampoon. I told him it was wonderful, extremely smart and funny, but everyone’s a pig for one thing."[9] While it received mixed reviews, it was a massive financial success, earning over $120 million at the domestic box office, making it the highest grossing comedy film of its time.[10][11] It's success started the gross out film genre, which became one of Hollywood's staples. It also featured the screen debuts of John Belushi, Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon.

In 1980, he co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It featured musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was, at the time, one of the most expensive films ever made, costing almost $30 million (for comparison, Steven Spielberg's contemporary film 1941 cost $35 million). It is speculated that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie.[7] The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers (as the unnamed desk clerk near the end) and Landis had made a cameo in 1941 as a messenger.

In 1981, Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. It was perhaps Landis's most personal project; he had been planning to make it since 1969, while in Yugoslavia working on Kelly's Heroes. It was another commercial success for Landis and inspired studios to put comedic elements in their horror films.

Twilight Zone deaths Main article: Twilight Zone accident

On July 23, 1982, during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) were killed in an accident involving an out-of-control helicopter. The three were caught under the aircraft when it crashed.[12] The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:

The probable cause of the accident was the detonation of debris-laden high temperature special effects explosions too near a low-flying helicopter leading to foreign object damage to one rotor blade and delamination due to heat to the other rotor blade, the separation of the helicopter's tail rotor assembly, and the uncontrolled descent of the helicopter. The proximity of the helicopter to the special effects explosions was due to the failure to establish direct communications and coordination between the pilot, who was in command of the helicopter operation, and the film director, who was in charge of the filming operation.[13]

Landis and four other crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless, and had not told the parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours.[12] He admitted that he had violated the California law regulating employment of children, by using the children after hours, and conceded that that was "wrong." But he denied culpability.[12] Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After a nine-month jury trial during 1986 and 1987, Landis, represented by criminal defense attorneys Harland Braun and James Neal, and the other crew members were acquitted of the charges.[14][15]

Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws in California.[14] The parents of the children sued, and eventually settled out of court with the studio for $2 million per family. Morrow's children, one of them being actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was 20 at the time, also settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

During an interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Landis said:

When you read about the accident, they say we were blowing up huts—which we weren't—and that debris hit the tail rotor of the helicopter—which it didn't. ... The FBI Crime Lab, who was working for the prosecution, finally figured out that the tail rotor delaminated, which is why the pilot lost control. The special effects man who made the mistake by setting off a fireball at the wrong time was never charged.[7]

Subsequent film career

Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. After filming ended, Landis and his family went to London.

Next, Landis directed Into the Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie. The film was inspired by Hitchcock productions; Landis appeared in the film as an Iranian hitman. To promote the movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night".

His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to ... films of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the Landis film, portraying himself.[citation needed]

In 1986 Landis directed Three Amigos, which featured Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin.

Landis co-directed and produced Amazon Women on the Moon. It is a satirical comedy film that parodies the experience of watching low-budget movies on late-night television.

Landis next directed the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America, which was commercially successful. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.[citation needed]

In 1991 he directed Sylvester Stallone in Oscar, based on a Claude Magnier stage play. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, as an homage to old Hollywood films.[citation needed] In 1992 Landis directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film.

In 1994, Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. In 1996 he directed The Stupids. Then he returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000 in 1998 with John Goodman and, for the fifth time in a Landis film, Dan Aykroyd: during that same year, he directed Susan's Plan. The four movies did not score with critics and audiences.

Burke and Hare was released in 2010, Landis's first theatrical release for over a decade.

In August 2011, Landis said he would return to horror and would be writing a new film.[16] He was the executive producer on the comedy horror film Some Guy Who Kills People.

Music videos

He has directed several music videos. He was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller".[7] The resulting video significantly impacted MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won numerous awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009 (months before Jackson died), Landis sued the Jackson estate in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claimed to be owed at least four years' worth of royalties.[17][18]

In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White."


Landis has been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), Masters of Horror, and various episodes of Psych. He also made commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney. In 2011 he made an appearance in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's television series Psychoville.


Landis made his first documentary, Coming Soon in 1982; it was only released on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. Later in his career he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). These documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth. He worked on the Making of Thriller, which was filmed in 3-D.[19] Landis appeared in the Spanish documentary The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, which covered the career of Spanish movie director Paul Naschy.[20]

Personal life

Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman, an Oscar-nominated costume designer, two-term president of the Costume Designers Guild, and director of The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA. They have two children: Max, a screenwriter, and Rachel, an early childhood educator with a master's degree in Human Development. In a BBC Radio interview, he stated that he is an atheist.[21] The family lives in Beverly Hills, California.[22]


The moving image collection of John Landis is held at the Academy Film Archive.[23]


Landis' work has received recognition from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences also known as the (ATAS), the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, the National Cable Television Association, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Rando Hatton Classic Horror, the Amiens International Film Festival, the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, the Fantafestival, the Fantasporto Film Festival, the Italian National Syndicated of Film Journalists, the Monte-Carlo Comedy Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival.



Filmography Film Year Title Director Producer Writer Actor Notes 1970 Kelly's Heroes Yes Production assistant
Uncredited role: Sister Rosa Stigmata 1973 Schlock Yes Yes Yes Role: Schlock 1973 Battle for the Planet of the Apes Yes Role: Jake's Friend 1975 Death Race 2000 Yes Role: Mechanic 1977 The Kentucky Fried Movie Yes Yes Uncredited role: TV Technician 1978 Animal House Yes 1979 1941 Yes Role: Mizerany 1980 The Blues Brothers Yes Yes Yes Role: Trooper La Fong
Co-written with Dan Aykroyd 1981 An American Werewolf in London Yes Yes Yes Uncredited role: Man Being Smashed Into Window 1982 Coming Soon Yes Yes Yes Documentary 1982 Eating Raoul Yes Uncredited role: Man who bumps into Mary 1983 Trading Places Yes Yes Uncredited role: Man with briefcase 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie Yes Yes Yes Segments: "Prologue" and "Time Out" 1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan Yes Role: Leonard Winesop 1985 B.B. King "Into the Night" Yes Yes Documentary
Co-directed with Jeff Okun 1985 Into the Night Yes Yes Role: SAVAK 1985 Spies Like Us Yes 1985 Clue Yes Executive producer
Co-written with Jonathan Lynn 1986 Three Amigos Yes 1987 Amazon Women on the Moon Yes Executive producer
Directed five segments 1988 Coming to America Yes 1990 Spontaneous Combustion Yes Role: Radio Technician 1990 Darkman Yes Role: Physician 1991 Oscar Yes 1992 Innocent Blood Yes 1992 Sleepwalkers Yes Role: Lab Technician 1992 Body Chemistry II: Voice of a Stranger Yes Role: Dr. Edwards 1992 Venice/Venice Yes Role: Himself 1994 Beverly Hills Cop III Yes 1994 The Silence of the Hams Yes Role: FBI Agent 1996 The Stupids Yes 1996 Vampirella Yes Role: Astronaut #1 1997 Laws of Deception Yes Role: Judge Trevino 1997 Mad City Yes Role: Doctor 1998 The Lost World Executive producer 1998 Blues Brothers 2000 Yes Yes Yes Co-written with Dan Aykroyd 1998 Susan's Plan Yes Yes Yes 1999 Diamonds Yes Role: Gambler 1999 Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby Yes Role: Judge 2004 Surviving Eden Yes Role: 2004 Spider-Man 2 Yes Role: Doctor 2005 The Axe Yes Role: Père copain Maxime 2005 Torrente 3: El protector Yes Role: Embajador árabe 2007 Look Yes Role: Aggravated Director 2010 Burke and Hare Yes 2011 Some Guy Who Kills People Executive producer 2012 Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader Yes Role: Professor 2015 Wrestling Isn't Wrestling Yes Short film
Role: Therapist Television Year Title Director Producer Writer Actor Notes 1974 The Six Million Dollar Man Yes Role: Michael
Episode: "The Pal-Mir Escort" 1976 Holmes & Yo-Yo Yes Episode: "Key Witness" 1985 Disneyland's 30th Anniversary Celebration Yes Television documentary 1985 George Burns Comedy Week' Yes Episode: "Disaster at Buzz Creek" 1990 Psycho IV: The Beginning Yes Television film
Role: Mike Calveccio 1990–1996 Dream On Yes Yes Executive producer
Directed 17 episodes
Role: Herb 1990 Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration Yes Television documentary 1994 Weird Science Executive producer 1994 The Stand Yes Role: Russ Dorr
Episode: "The Stand" 1995 Sliders Executive producer 1997–1999 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show Yes Executive producer
Directed episode: "Honey, Name That Tune" 1999–2002 The Lost World Executive producer 2002 The Kronenberg Chronicles Yes Executive producer
Pilot 2004 Slasher Yes Television documentary 2005–2006 Masters of Horror Yes Yes Directed and wrote episode: "Deer Woman"
Directed episode: "Family" 2007 Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Yes Yes Television documentary 2007–2008 Psych Yes 3 episodes 2008 Fear Itself Yes Episode: "In Sickness and in Health" 2008 Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen Executive producer
Television documentary 2011 Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV Yes Stand-up special 2012 Franklin & Bash Yes Episode: "Voir Dire" Music videos Year Title Artist 1983 Thriller Michael Jackson 1985 My Lucille B.B. King 1985 Into the Night B.B. King 1985 In the Midnight Hour B.B. King 1986 Spies Like Us Paul McCartney 1991 Black or White Michael Jackson Other works References
  1. ^ "John Landis - NNDB". Retrieved July 28, cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ "John Landis - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  3. ^ Bloom, Nate (February 2, 2012). "Jewish stars: Whales, ghosts and 'Smash'". Cleveland Jewish News.
  4. ^ John Landis bio @ Yahoo! Movies
  5. ^ As told to Robert K. Elder for The Film That Changed My Life,
  6. ^ Landis, John. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p. 223. Print.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan (2008). John Landis. M Press. ISBN 978-1-59582-041-9.
  8. ^ a b filmSCHOOLarchive (May 6, 2018), John Landis on "Schlock" & "Kentucky Fried Movie", retrieved February 23, 2019
  9. ^ Cheney, Alexandra; Cheney, Alexandra (February 25, 2014). "John Landis on Harold Ramis: He Was Very Angry Not to Be Cast in 'Animal House'". Variety. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  10. ^ "National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  11. ^ "Animal House: The Movie that Changed Comedy | Stumped Magazine". Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c Farber, Stephen; Green, Marc (1988). Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego and the Twilight Zone Case. Arbor House (Morrow). ISBN 978-0877959489.
  13. ^ Airplane disaster report Archived March 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b Noe, Denise. "The Twilight Zone Tragedy". Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved December 26, 2008.
  15. ^ Weber, Bruce. "James F. Neal, Litigated Historic Cases, Dies at 81", The New York Times, October 22, 2010,
  16. ^ Chitwood, Adam (August 11, 2011). "John Landis Co-Writing New Horror Movie". Collider.
  17. ^ Legal Thriller: Michael Jackson Sued by John Landis Yahoo News, January 27, 2009
  18. ^ "Michael Jackson sued by 'Thriller' director". January 27, 2009.
  19. ^ "Michael Jackson's Thriller to Get 3D Treatment?". DreadCentral.
  20. ^ "Naschy Documentary to Debut This Fall".
  21. ^ "Interview: John Landis, conducted by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode". Kermode and Mayo's Film Review, BBC Five Live. London. November 11, 2011. Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  22. ^ "John Landis' House in Beverly Hills, CA - Virtual Globetrotting". January 29, 2009.
  23. ^ "John Landis Collection". Academy Film Archive. August 20, 2015.
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