For some reason, the directors that I love most always seem to be plagued with problems in their personal lives. That is certainly the case with Hal Ashby, whose childhood was a very rocky one. He was married and divorced by the time he was 19, having already dropped out of high school by that point. Ashby started his career in the movies as an assistant film editor, and he won an Oscar for his work on In the Heat of the Night. Thanks to his success in the editing room, Ashby was able to move into directing, making his debut with The Landlord. His second feature is one that ranks high among my favourite films of all time: Harold and Maude.
Other films directed by Ashby include The Last Detail, Shampoo, Being There, and Lookin’ to Get Out. Unfortunately, Ashby’s behaviour had become very tempestuous and erratic by this point, and people were beginning to refuse to work with him as he was becoming a liability. Even though he swore off drugs and attempted to clean himself up, Ashby was unable to recapture his former success as a director, and he died of cancer in 1988. He was 59. His legacy lives on, however, as Harold and Maude continues to be a favourite film of many, and Ashby’s influence can be easily seen and felt in the works of Wes Anderson.