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Submitted by Roger Mellor
Obituary in The Guardian
Thursday 17 April 2003
By Brian Baxter
More than half a century ago David Greene, who has died aged 81, was an actor in British movies such as the wartime escape drama The Wooden Horse (1950). In the 1950s and 1960s, he was a film and television director here and in north America - his work included the Dirk Bogarde spy-spoof Sebastian (1968). By the 1970s, he had shifted his craft to Hollywood, where he was regarded as the ultimate professional. In the 1980s and 1990s he made more than 40 TV movies and miniseries, and was one of the highest paid producer-directors in the business. In the 1970s, he was directing episodes of the Ellery Queen detective series, before a breakthrough came with the miniseries of Irwin Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man (1976). Greene shared an Emmy for "outstanding directing in a drama series".
Alex Haley's bestseller on American slavery, Roots, transferred to the small screen in 1977, and Greene shared a second Emmy award for directing the first episode. He made it a hat-trick - this time for directing a "special" - with the Vietnam-war-set conspiracy theory drama, Friendly Fire (1979).
Greene, a Mancunian, entered show business working in repertory and at the Old Vic in London. His acting movie debut was in a modest, but effective, thriller, The Small Voice (1948), and a couple of appearances later came fourth billing on The Wooden Horse.
After a dire programmer, The Dark Light (1951), he toured with Laurence Olivier's company in the US, and then worked in Canadian television as a director. By the late 1950s he had begun freelancing in the US on such shows as Shirley Temple's Storybook (1958) and in 1959 The Twilight Zone and Five Fingers.
In London he worked on the TV series The Saint, Sir Francis Drake and Man Of The World (all 1962). In 1967, he directed the Coronet Blue series and that year, too, the melodramatic The Shuttered Room for the big screen.
Set in New England but filmed in rural Britain, the production imported Americans Gig Young and Carol Lynley to lend authenticity to the story of a couple who inherit a country house and are menaced by an insane old lady (Flora Robson), secreted in the attic, and by yobs led by a lascivious Oliver Reed. The mix of thriller and Hammer-style horror was successful enough for Greene then to be offered Sebastian, which was written by former code-breaker Leo Marks and produced by Michael Powell, the duo that had made, in 1960, the then reviled and latterly revered Peeping Tom.
In the late 1960s, British cinema's realist movement had given way to modishness. With a cast headed by a flamboyant Bogarde, Lilli Palmer and John Gielgud, Sebastian was flashily directed, but in the first half blended quirky humour with some darker undertones that gave it a modest cult following.
The Strange Affair (1968), with Michael York as a dedicated young copper, cast a critical eye on contemporary society, via a story of police corruption and gangland brutality. It anticipated early 1970s' works such as Performance and Get Carter.
After a less successful thriller, I Start Counting (1969), Greene's career stalled with a chaotic reworking of a television play, The People Next Door (1970), and the high camp Madame Sin starring Bette Davis (1972). There was little salvation with the flabby screen version of the musical Godspell (1973) or the lacklustre The Count Of Monte Cristo (1975), with Richard Chamberlain. Then came his permanent relocation to the US. Greene's final cinema works were the nuclear submarine thriller Gray Lady Down (1978), starring Charlton Heston, and the Texas-set Hard Country (1980).
His later TV work ranged from the superior whodunit Rehearsal For Murder (1982), with Lynn Redgrave and Robert Preston, to an indictment of the American legal system In The Best Interest Of The Child (1990). Other factually based dramas included Small Sacrifices (1989) and the depression-era After The Promise (1987).
Greene showed considerable chutzpah in reworking classic movies for TV. In Inherit The Wind (1988), Kirk Douglas and Jason Robards tackled barnstorming roles in the wake of Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. He also enjoyed success with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1991), where Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave replaced Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. An attempt at Charles Laughton's single directorial effort, Night Of The Hunter (1991), with Richard Chamberlain as the psychopath, proved that masterpieces should be left unsullied.
Greene continued directing into the late 1990s, with a two-part miniseries of Lynda La Plante's Bella Mafia (1997), which reunited him with Vanessa Redgrave. His last work was an efficient thriller, The Girl Next Door (1998), starring Sharon Gless, one of the actors who worked regularly with him.
Twice married, he had three sons and a daughter.
David Greene, director, producer and actor, born February 22 1922; died April 7 2003
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