Director Howard Zieff dies at 81


Best known as the director of Private Benjamin and both My Girl movies, American director Howard Zieff died on Sunday in Los Angeles from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.

Zieff started out as a stills photographer the 1960s and moved into being a TV ad director, creating such memorable spots as the Alka Seltzer ad where an actor is forced to eat meatball after meatball when he flubs his lines, leading to of course, his need for the plop-plop, fizz-fizz.

Called the “master of the mini ha ha” but also a trailblazer for introducing the idea of having regular, everyday people be the focus of ads rather than perfect blonde-haired, straight-teethed ingenues, Zieff parlayed his 30-second spot talent into feature films, starting with Slither in 1973, starring James Caan and Peter Boyle.

But it was 1980’s Private Benjamin which was perhaps his most-recognized film, and his skillful direction earned Academy Award nominations for lead actress Goldie Hawn and supporting actress Eileen Brennan.

One of the last films Zieff made was My Girl in 1991, a coming of age film which starred Anna Chumlusky and included a somewhat controversial scene where then-“It” boy Macaulay Culkin gets stung to death by bees. After making the sequel three years later, Zieff retired from making movies.

He is survived by his wife, and his talent will be missed.

Posted on February 24, 2009 at 06:58 by Trisha Lynn · Permalink
In: News

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Kara
    on 2009-02-24 at 14:31

    When I saw My Girl, it was the saddest movie I had ever seen. And I had seen Old Yeller. sad.

  2. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2009-02-24 at 22:11

    @Kara: I know what you mean. For me, it was the simple fact that the her confusion about death is something that one rarely gets over, no matter how old you are.

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