David Lean Biography

Sir David Lean was an Academy award-winning British film director, producer and cinematographer. This biography profiles his childhood, life, film career, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: March 25, 1908

Nationality: British

Famous: Directors Cinematographers

Also Known As: Sir David Lean

Sun Sign: Aries

Died At Age: 83

Born in: Croydon, Surrey, England

Famous as: Film Director, Producer & Screenwater

Spouse/Ex-: Ann Todd (1949–1957; divorced), Isabel Lean (1930–1936; divorced), Kay Walsh (1940–1949; divorced), Leila Matkar (1960–1978; divorced), Sandra Cooke (1990–1991; his death), Sandra Hotz (1981–1984; divorced)

father: Francis William le Blount Lean

mother: Helena Tangye

Died on: April 16, 1991

place of death: Limehouse, London, England

Cause of Death: Cancer

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Sir David Lean was a British film director and cinematographer famous for the spectacular scenes of breathtaking locales in his epic films. He used the screen to its maximum effect which very few directors ever could. He created backdrop scenes that were fantastic like the vast expanse of grey tarmac with a single motorcycle or the scene of a huge dam from which uniformed workers looking like small ants coming out from tunnels. He rose gradually from a tea-boy to a director par excellence. He made only 16 films over a career spread over 42 years. His last five films made with American finances, are claimed to be the best British films, which speaks volumes of his talent as a great director and cinematographer. He was sometimes compared to a general leading his troops into battle when shooting any of his films irrespective of the location. He won 31 awards including ‘Academy Awards’, ‘Golden Globe Awards’, ‘BAFTA Awards’, and many other awards for the ‘Best Director’ and other achievements from various film institutions around the world and was nominated 27 times for different awards during his entire film making career.

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David Lean
Childhood & Early Life
  • David Lean was born in Croydon, Surrey, England on March 25, 1908. His father was Francis William le Blount Lean and his mother was Helena Tangye.
  • He had a younger brother named Edward Tangye.
  • He left the boarding school in his mid-teens in 1926 and became an apprentice at his father’s accountancy firm.
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  • David Lean started his career in films as teaboy at ‘Gaumont-British Studios’, then as a clapboard boy, and became the highest paid editor by the end of the 1930s.
  • In 1938 he worked on ‘Pygmalion’ and in 1941 on ‘One of Our Aircraft is Missing’. He also worked in his first unofficial directional effort ‘Major Barbara’ in 1941.
  • In 1942 he co-directed the film ‘In Which We Serve’ with Noel Coward and co-founded a production company named ‘Cineguild’ with Noel Coward, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan.
  • His first solo directorial effort ‘This Happy Breed’ in 1944, his second film ‘Blithe Spirit’ in 1945 and the third film ‘Brief Encounter’ in 1945 were all based on Noel Coward’s plays.
  • His next two films based on Charles Dickens’ classics were ‘Great Expectations’ in 1946 and ‘Oliver Twist’ in 1948.
  • He made ‘The Passionate Friends’ in 1949.
  • In 1950 Lean started working for the British producer Alexander Korda at ‘Shepperton Studios’ when ‘Cineguild’ disbanded.
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  • He made ‘Madeline’ in 1950 and ‘The Sound Barrier’ in 1952.
  • His ‘Hobson’s Choice’ in 1954 and ‘Summertime’ in 1955 were mediocre films.
  • He returned to prominence with ‘The Bridge on River Kwai’ in 1957.
  • In 1962 he made his finest epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’ in 1965
  • He made a romantic film ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ in 1970. He did not make a film for the next 14 years after getting negative reviews about the film.
  • His last film was ‘A Passage to India’ in 1984, based on the novel written by E. M. Forster.
  • At the time of his death, he was working on a screen version of Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Nostromo’.
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Awards & Achievements
  • David Lean won the ‘AGFA Silver Condor’ and nomination for ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director’ in 1942 for ‘In Which We Serve’.
  • In 1945 he won the ‘Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation’ for ‘Blithe Spirit’ and ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ in 1946 for ‘Brief Encounter’.
  • In 1947 he received ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ for ‘Great Expectations’.
  • In 1948 he won the ‘Golden Lion’ and was nominated for ‘BAFTA for Best Film’ for ‘Oliver Twist’.
  • In 1955 Lean received the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director’, nominations for ‘Academy Award for Best Director’ and ‘BAFTA Award for Best Film’ for ‘Summertime’.
  • In 1957 he won the ‘Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film’, ‘BAFTA Award for Best Film’, ‘Academy Awards’ for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’, ‘Golden Globe Awards’ for the ‘Best Director – Motion Picture’, ‘National Board of Review for Best Director’ and ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for best Director’ for the film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’.
  • In 1962 he won the ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’, ‘Golden Globe’ award for ‘Best Director – Motion Picture’ and ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama’, ‘Director’s Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film’, ‘National Board of Review Award for Best Director’ and ‘Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon – Best Director of a Foreign Film’ for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
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  • In 1965 he won ‘Golden Globe’ award for ‘Best Director – Motion Picture’ and ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama’ and ‘David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Director, was nominated for ‘Academy Awards’ for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’, ‘BAFTA Award for Best Film’ and ‘Golden Palm’ award for ‘Dr. Zhivago’ and tied with Roman Polanski for the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director’.
  • In 1970 Lean won the ‘Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Director’ and was nominated for the ‘BAFTA Awards’ for ‘Best Director’ and Best Film, and the ‘Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film’ for ‘Ryan’s Daughter’.
  • In 1984 he won the ‘Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film’, ‘Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for best Director’, ‘National Board of Review Award for Best Director’, ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director’, and ‘Academy Award’ nominations for ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ and ‘Best Film Editing’, ‘BAFTA Award nominations for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ and ‘Best Film’, ‘ and nominations for ‘Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film’, ‘Writers Guild of America Award’ and Golden Globe Award’ nomination for ‘Best Adapted screenplay’ for ‘A Passage to India’.
  • He was knighted in 1984 and awarded the ‘American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1990.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married his first cousin, Isabel Jean on June 28, 1930 and divorced her in 1936. He had his only son, Peter from this marriage.
  • He married actress Kay Walsh on November 23, 1940 and divorced her in 1949.
  • He married actress Ann Todd on May 21, 1949 and divorced her 1957.
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  • His married Leila Matkar on July 4, 1960 and the couple separated in 1978.
  • He married Sandra Holtz on October 28, 1981 and divorced her in 1984.
  • His married his sixth wife Sandra Cooke on December 15, 1990.
  • David Lean died on April 16, 1991 in London from throat cancer.
  • His film ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ found a place in the ‘Library of Congress National Film Registry’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in the ‘National Film Registry’.
  • ‘The British Film Institute’ named a theater in Croydon, South London, as ‘David Lean Cinema’ in 2008.
  • David Lean edited about 25 films in his entire career.

See the events in life of David Lean in Chronological Order

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How To Cite

Article Title
- David Lean Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- November 06, 2017

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