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Richard Fleischer, Director of 20,000 Leagues, Dies

Richard Fleischer, who directed almost 50 movies, died of natural causes on March 25, 2006, at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, said his son Mark. He was 89.

Son of famed animator Max Fleischer, he would direct 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA for Walt Disney, whose named was not spoken in their home. Max told his son that the opportunity was too important to pass up.

The lavishly produced 1954 live-action adaptation of the Jules Verne adventure was a box office hit and moved Fleischer from B-movies to the big time

He went on to direct such films as THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), THE BOSTON STRANGLER (1968), TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970), FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) and SOYLENT GREEN (1973).

Although Fleischer was born into a show-business family, he originally wanted to be a psychiatrist. While pre-med at Brown University, he ventured into musical theater, which spurred him to move to Yale University's School of Drama.

The soft-spoken director laid Hollywood secrets bare in his 1993 memoir, JUST TELL ME WHEN TO CRY. Chronicling his 46 years in the movie business, he told tales of working with actors he considered temperamental, including Robert Mitchum and Rex Harrison, whom he described as a petulant bully on the set of DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967).

He won his only Oscar in 1947 for producing the post-World War II documentary, DESIGN FOR DEATH, which was written by Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) and Geisel's first wife, Helen Palmer. On the day the 31-year-old received the Academy Award, his father sent him a telegram that read, "What took you so long?"

Born Dec. 8, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York, Fleischer was the second child of Max and Essie Fleischer.

In the early 1920s, his father and uncle Dave founded Fleischer Studios. His father also invented and patented the rotoscope. Another of Fleischer's uncles, Lou, ran the studio's music department, and for years voiced Wimpy, Popeye's hamburger-hungry friend.

THE HAPPY TIME, a 1952 film that featured Charles Boyer and Disney child star Bobby Driscoll, convinced Disney to give Fleischer his big break on 20,000. Disney was quoted as saying, "Anybody who can make an actor of Bobby Driscoll has to be a great director."

In addition to his son Mark, Fleischer is survived by his wife of 62 years; another son, Bruce; a daughter, Jane; and five grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be sent to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

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