Film editor gave up nursing for movies

Anne V. Coates
Anne V. Coates

NEW YORK • Anne V. Coates, an English surgical nurse who forsook her calling to perform surgery on some of the best-known motion pictures of the 20th century, earning an Oscar for film editing in 1963, died on Tuesday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She was 92.

One of the most celebrated film editors of her era, she won the Oscar for her work on the 1962 desert epic, Lawrence Of Arabia, one of the most visually stunning films in history. Directed by David Lean and starring Peter O'Toole, the film won six other Oscars, including Best Picture.

In a six-decade career, she worked alongside directors such as Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, David Lynch and Steven Soderbergh. She worked into her 90s - her final credit was on the sexually charged 2015 film, Fifty Shades Of Grey.

"Can you imagine a job," she once said, "where you get paid to look into the eyes of George Clooney and Peter O'Toole?"

Anne Voase Coates was born on Dec 12, 1925, in Reigate, England. Her father was an architect. She became enchanted with movies when she watched Wuthering Heights (1939), starring Laurence Olivier.

She worked as a nurse in a plastic surgery centre before her uncle, studio chief J. Arthur Rank, helped find her a film-making job in the 1940s - working behind the scenes on religious films. "He thought, 'That'll cool her down,'" she said in 2016. "Didn't work."

After her apprenticeship, when she ran the projector and made the tea, she caught on as a cutting-room assistant at Pinewood Studios, which her uncle had established outside London, and she knew she had found her calling: Editing was one of the few branches of the industry relatively hospitable to women.

"Women are mostly mothers and directors are mostly children, so the two go very well together," she said in 2005. Her first credit as a film editor came in 1952 with The Pickwick Papers.

Her marriage to English film and television director Douglas Hickox ended with his death in 1988. She is survived by her sons, Anthony and James, both directors, and her daughter, Emma, a film editor.

While making Out Of Sight (1998), Coates became friends with the film's star, Clooney, telling him her job was "saving an actor's performance".

"George thought that was funny," she told the Los Angeles Times. "Jennifer Lopez, who was the female lead, came by and George said, 'This is the editor, Anne Coates, who is going to save your performance.' Jennifer did not think it was funny."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'Film editor gave up nursing for movies'. Print Edition | Subscribe