One of Hollywood's most versatile directors, Canadian-born Daniel Petrie Sr., has died at his home in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 83.
Petrie, a native of Glace Bay, N.S., had a wide-ranging career, helming at least a dozen feature films, numerous episodes of series television, as well as movies-of-the-week, miniseries and specials, the last category earning him three Emmy Awards. Petrie also was active in the Directors Guild of America, most notably as chair of its negotiating committee in 1999, and served in various capacities at the American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies.
Petrie originally planned to be a teacher and received a BA in communications in 1942 from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. However, he decided to join the Canadian Army and, after the Second World War, he went to Columbia University in New York where he got an MA financed in part through the G.I. Bill of Rights.
He got his first taste of show business in the late 1940s when a chance meeting with a Broadway producer resulted in his being cast opposite Richard Widmark and Judy Holiday in the stage production of Kiss Them for Me. Thinking the actor's life was too risky, Petrie returned to academe, earning a PhD at Northwestern University in Illinois and becoming chair of the speech, radio and TV department at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
A stint directing a television show featuring author-broadcaster-raconteur Studs Terkel in Chicago, however, brought him back to show biz. By the early fifties Petrie was an active participant in New York's live-for-TV-drama world, directing the likes of Richard Burton and Paul Newman. He made his first feature film, The Bramble Bush, in 1960 and the next year garnered international acclaim for his direction of A Raisin in the Sun starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.
Throughout the sixties and seventies he alternated between film and television.
He directed episodes of such well-regarded series as The Defenders, The Bold Ones, McMillan and Wife, Medical Center and M arcus Welby, M.D.. His film credits included Lifeguard, The Betsy, Cocoon: The Return, Fort Apache the Bronx and Rocket Gibraltar.
In 1985 he made the movie best-known, perhaps, to Canadian audiences -- The Bay Boy, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Liv Ullmann.
Based on his childhood years in Atlantic Canada, the film went on to win six Genie Awards, including ones for best movie and best screenplay (by Petrie). That same year, from a Toronto studio, Petrie directed The E xecution of Raymond Graham , a rare live-to-air drama for ABC starring Morgan Freeman and Jeff Fahey, based on a true story about a family's attempts to save their son from death by lethal injection.
Petrie won his Emmys in 1976 and 1977 for directing, respectively, Eleanor and Franklin and Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, both of which starred Jane Alexander and Edward Herrmann, and in 1992 for producing Mark Twain and Me. In 1977 three of the five programs nominated for Emmys as best specials in drama or comedy were directed by Petrie. Besides The White House Years they included Sybil, starring Sally Field, and Harry Truman: Plain Speaking, with Ed Flanders (who was voted best actor). Petrie also earned a total of 11 directing nominations from the Directors Guild over his long career, winning four trophies.
Married for 57 years, Petrie and his wife, Dorothea, a producer in her own right, established a show-biz dynasty of sorts in Los Angeles. Son Donald has directed numerous TV shows and movies in the last 20 years, including Mystic Pizza, Grumpy Old Men, Welcome to Mooseport, Chicago Hope and Picket Fences while another son, Daniel Jr., is currently president of the Writers Guild of America West. His writing credits include Beverly Hills Cop, The Big Easy and Turner and Hooch. Daughters June Petrie and Mary Petrie also are active in the film business, the former as an executive, the last as an actor.