Jack Clayton started his career in the British film industry as a child actor in ‘Dark Red Roses’ in 1929.
He joined the film industry in 1936 when he was only 14-year-old as a ‘tea boy’ and became a third assistant director under Alexander Korda’s ‘London Films’ at ‘Denham Studios’.
During this period he worked on different films such as ‘Wings of the Morning’ in 1937, ‘Q Planes’ in 1939, ‘Over the Moon’ and ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ in 1940.
During the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force film unit and worked as a photographer from 1940 to 1946. He directed his first documentary for the Royal Air Force Film Unit titled ‘Naples is a Battlefield’ in 1944 though he received no credit for it.
After the war he worked on a number of films such as ‘Bond Street’ in 1948 as an assistant director and on ‘An Ideal Husband’ in 1947 as production manager.
He became an associate producer later and produced the films ‘Moulin Rouge’ in 1952, ‘Beat the Devil’ in 1953 starring John Huston, ‘The Good Die Young’ in 1954 starring Laurence Harvey and ‘I Am a Camera’ in 1955. All these films were produced for the production company ‘Romulus’ run by James and John Woolf.
Clayton got his first credit as a director for the short film ‘The Bespoke Overcoat’ which was adapted from a ghost story written by Nikolai Gogol in 1955. In this film he explored the psychological effect that is produced by having a feeling of being haunted when a ghost created by the guilty imagination of a tailor visits him. The film won an Oscar and a ‘BAFTA'.
Producers John and James Wool gave him another chance to direct the film ‘Room at the Top’ in 1959 which was again an adaptation of a novel written by John Braine. This film heralded the launch of a new line of thinking in the British film industry of making more mature films in which sexual mores started to be treated more frankly. It starred Simone Signoret as a doomed woman.
Drawing from his experience in making his earlier film on ghost stories, he made a second film ‘The Innocents’ in 1961 starring Deborah Kerr which was based on a celebrated ghost story ‘The Turn of the Screw’ written by Henry James. This film was better than the earlier one and portrayed the sensitive character of women and the emotions of children.
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He made ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ in 1964 in which the emotionally disturbed heroine, played by Anne Bancroft, had the same fear of having a mental breakdown similar to the female character in ‘The Innocents’. The film portrayed marriage, adultery and divorce as the main topics and had James Mason and Peter Finch in the main cast.
He made the film ‘Our Mother’s House’ in 1967 in which the main theme was about the children trying to communicate with the spirit of their dead mother and the emotional upheavals that they went through while attempting it in an adult world which they were not able to comprehend fully.
Clayton moved to America after this and made two films, the first of which was ‘The Great Gatsby’ in 1974 adapted from a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and had Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the main roles. The film did not get a good review from the critics and failed at the box-office.
His next film in the US was ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ in 1983 for ‘Disney’ which was an adaptation of the novel written by Ray Bradbury in 1962. The film was about the emotional disturbances that are caused in children when they are exposed to evil and unearthly happenings.
In 1983 he served as one of the members of the jury at the ‘Venice Film Festival’.
He returned to England to make 'The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’ in 1987 which was set in the backdrop of Dublin, Ireland, but most of the shots were taken in England. It starred Maggie Smith in the role of a spinster.
His last film was made for BBC titled ‘Memento Mori’ in 1992 Both these films had Clayton’s characteristic eye for detail and the second one dealt with the disappointment of being unable to finish all the work a person has set out to do because of ageing.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married actress Christine Norden in 1947 and divorced her in 1953.
He married French actress Katherine Kath in 1953 and divorced her later.
He married Israeli actress Haya Harareet in mid 1960s. She had starred in the remake of ‘Ben Hur’ in 1959 along with Charlton Heston. She was with him till his death in 1995.
Jack Clayton died in Slough, Berkshire, England, of heart and liver problems on February 25, 1995 at the age of 73.