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Submitted by Roger Mellor

Obituary in The Independent
11 April 2003

David Brian Green (David Greene), film director, producer and writer: born Manchester 22 February 1921; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Ojai, California 7 April 2003.

The director and occasional writer and producer David Greene made some inventive and unusual films, including the spy thriller Sebastian, but found his greatest success as a television director, winning the Emmy Award four times for his work on such landmark shows as Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man.

He was also brave enough to make television versions of several classic movies, including The Night of the Hunter (1991) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991), the latter starring the sisters Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave. Working into his seventies, he directed Lynda La Plante's melodramatic mob saga for television Bella Mafia (1997), which starred Vanessa Redgrave and Nastassia Kinski.

Born David Brian Green in Manchester in 1921 (he added the extra "e" later), he began his career as an actor, working in repertory at the Old Vic and appearing in the films The Small Voice (1948), Daughter of Darkness (1948), The Golden Madonna (1948) and The Wooden Horse (1950). At the Old Vic he acted with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and in 1951 went on an American tour with Olivier's production of Antony and Cleopatra.

The following year he moved to Canada, where in four years he became one of the country's leading television directors. He moved to the United States in 1956 to direct television drama, then commuted between the US and the UK as a freelance director for television, movies and the stage.

Green's first feature film was The Shuttered Room (1967), starring Gig Young and Carol Lynley and shot in Cornwall (effectively substituting for New England). It was a standard tale of a locked room at the top of an old house, but Greene was praised for his moody and atmospheric direction and for the performances of his cast, including a broodlingly malevolent Oliver Reed and a chillingly eccentric Flora Robson.

His next film, Sebastian (1968), also won him personal plaudits for his handling of an offbeat comedy thriller in which Dirk Bogarde played a mathematics expert who is employed by the British government to decipher enemy codes. With Susannah York as Bogarde's girlfriend and John Gielgud stealing every scene he was in as Bogarde's boss, it was a genial piece that, like many of Greene's feature films, just lacked the spark to make it truly memorable.

The Strange Affair (1968) was a competent thriller notable for showcasing Susan George in an early role as the pawn of a pornographic ring, and Greene followed this with a film he also co- produced, I Start Counting (1969). A forerunner of the serial-killer thrillers that were to proliferate a decade later, it starred Jenny Agutter as a teenager with a crush on the chief suspect, her stepbrother.

In 1969 Greene won his first Emmy, for his direction of J.P. Miller's play The People Next Door, produced for CBS Television Playhouse. A less effective film version in 1970 starred Julie Harris and Eli Wallach as a suburban couple who discover their daughter is taking LSD and that she is being supplied drugs by the seemingly innocent son of the high school's head teacher.

Greene made only three more films for the cinema, the simplistic musical depicting Jesus as a New York hippie, Godspell (1973), a dull adventure yarn of a trapped submarine, Gray Lady Down (1978) starring Charlton Heston, and a good rural drama, Hard Country (1981). The last, starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Kim Basinger as factory workers in a small Texan town, was unfortunately overshadowed by the inferior Urban Cowboy (1980) which starred John Travolta and Debra Winger in similar roles.

David Greene's prolific work for television included the enjoyably outlandish movie Madame Sin (1971). Starring Bette Davis as an evil genius plotting to take over a Polaris submarine, it was released theatrically in the UK. Greene won his second Emmy for his work on the 12-hour mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) . he directed episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8.

In 1977 he directed the first episode of Roots, a history-making series that gained the largest audience for the time of any dramatic show in television history . approximately 100 million viewers watched the last of the eight consecutive nights on which it was scheduled. Greene later said that when he read the script, adapted from Alex Haley's book about his family's history as slaves, "I couldn't stop crying". On the 20th anniversary of the series, he recalled, "I was very overwhelmed being asked to do it."

He won a fourth Emmy for Friendly Fire (1979), an exceptionally moving story of a couple (Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty) who meet lies and evasion when they try to find out how their son was killed in Vietnam, ultimately discovering that he was accidentally killed by his colleagues. Greene was nominated for another Emmy for the mini- series Fatal Vision (1984), telling the true story of a Green Beret captain, Dr Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters at an army camp in 1970.

The director's last television film was the mystery thriller The Girl Next Door (1998).

Tom Vallance

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