John Guillermin, director of The Towering Inferno, dies at 89

LOS ANGELES - British film-maker John Guillermin died in Los Angeles on Sept 27 at the age of 89 from a heart attack. The director, writer and producer was best known for glittery big-budget productions in the 1970s featuring all-star casts.

He is survived by his wife Mary and a daughter.

The Towering Inferno (1974) is probably his most famous hit and the top-drawer line-up included Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway. It was nominated for eight Oscars, including for Best Picture, and won for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Original Song (We May Never Love Like This Again).

The disaster flick about a high-rise building on fire was also the top-grossing film in the United States that year with US$116 million in earnings.

Guillermin also directed the 1976 remake of King Kong starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and the Agatha Christie murder mystery Death On The Nile (1978) with Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, David Niven and many more stars.

He was born Yvon Jean Guillermin in London in 1925 to French parents and later attended the University of Cambridge. After a stint as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War II, he started making documentaries in Paris and spent some time in Hollywood.

His debut feature was Torment (1950), a thriller which he both wrote and directed. In that prolific decade, he would also make war film I Was Monty's Double (1958), adventure flick Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959) and directed 15 episodes of the late 1950s British sitcom The Adventures Of Aggie.

According to The New York Times, the success of the Peter Sellers comedy he directed, Waltz Of The Toreadors (1962), caught the attention of American producers and landed him in Hollywood where he made films such as The Blue Max (1966) and Skyjacked (1972), in which Charlton Heston played a pilot.

The Telegraph noted that Guillermin could be a "short-fused martinet" on set.

Tanya Roberts, who played the titular role in Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle (1984), said: "John screams until you get it right. He shouted at me to be 'honest', and he wouldn't let up until I was. I'd be upset, but I worked harder until he was satisfied. He did his research, and he got sustained performances out of all of us."

His son, Michael-John, died at the age of 21 in a car accident during the filming of Sheena, said The Hollywood Reporter.

The New York Times noted that his "impeccable eye and ability to capture both intimate moments and large-scale action scenes usually overcame that reputation" of being a difficult director.

Nick Redman, founder of the DVD label Twilight Time and Guillermin's friend, told Entertainment Weekly: "He was a tough man but a very charming man. He was every inch the Hollywood director, the Hollywood figure, but he had very much a European sensibility. He was a very urbane person, and he made some great movies."