Veteran director Richard Donner is known for leaving a distinctive mark — sometimes chiding, sometimes chilling — on a vast list of American films, including "The Omen’’ (1976), "Superman: The Movie’’ (1978) and the four movies in the "Lethal Weapon’’ series, made between 1987 and 1998.
Early in his career, he was a TV actor and then a director. One of his most celebrated small-screen directing achievements was a Twilight Zone episode called "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’’ a story about a discharged mental patient aboard a storm-wracked airliner who sees a gremlin tamper with equipment on the wing.
"I visualized it as a page-turner,’’ he said in a recent interview. "You don’t think how do you make it scary: [The question is] how do you make it real?’’
In 1978, Donner’s "Superman’’ was a blockbuster and was later credited with reinvigorating the superhero movie genre. After testing numerous actors for the main role, Donner focused on the then little-known Christopher Reeve, figuring the actor’s relative anonymity might make the film seem more authentic.
"If you saw Bob Redford flying, it would be Bob Redford flying,’’ Donner told an interviewer. "You had to believe that a man could fly. I tested quite a few of the actors, but nothing worked. The producers even sent over their dentist. I swear to God that's true."
Donner became known for his ability to work with sometimes mercurial personalities. Trying to get Gene Hackman to shave off his mustache for the role of arch-villain Lex Luthor in "Superman,’’ Donner promised to shave off his own mustache—which, it turned out, was a real-looking fake from the makeup department.
Tough-guy Hackman chuckled when he realized he’d been had. "I owe you one,’’ he told Donner.
Mel Gibson, directed by Donner in the "Lethal Weapon’’ films, lauded him in a 2000 interview because "he allows you freedom to explore all kinds of areas.’’
"No matter what you say about Dick underrates him,’’ Gibson said.
In a behind-the-scenes conflict with the financiers of a "Superman’’ sequel, Donner was ousted as director. But in 2006 he released a DVD called "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut," which included much of his original footage.
Donner is married to another luminary on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: producer Lauren Shuler Donner.