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Higgins, Colin  (1941-1988)   
 
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The Australian-American writer, director, and producer Colin Higgins is perhaps best known for his screenplay of the cult classic Harold and Maude, the story of a love affair between a 79-year-old woman and a death-obsessed young man, as well as writing and directing the more mainstream comedies Foul Play and 9 to 5.

He also established the Colin Higgins Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting glbtq youth in underserved communities with programs and organizations "that foster and build leadership and empowerment."

Sponsor Message.

The actress Shirley MacLaine once described Higgins, with whom she had both a "creative and personal friendship," as "about five eleven, storybook handsome, with a brown mane of hair so luxuriously rich that on first meeting him I had the impulse to run my fingers through it but hesitated for fear the tresses would come unglued in my hand. A baseless fear. The hair was real."

One of six sons, Higgins was born on July 28, 1941 in Nouméa, New Caledonia, a French territorial island in the South Pacific, to an American father and an Australian mother. He spent most of his early childhood in Hunters Hill, a suburb of Sydney, Australia and attended Saint Ignatius' College, a Catholic school for boys located in Riverview, a nearby suburb located on the Lower North Shore of Sydney.

In 1957, Higgins and his family moved to Redwood City, California, where he attended the local public high school. In 1959, he was awarded a scholarship to attend nearby Stanford University.

He excelled at Stanford his freshman year, and became a well-known figure on campus for his standout performance in a student-written musical comedy. Although he was initially interested in English literature as his major, and thought he might become a writer, his surprising onstage triumph instead drew him toward acting as a possible profession.

As a result, Higgins dropped out of Stanford his sophomore year, and hitchhiked to New York City to take acting classes at the acclaimed Actors Studio. He also found employment as a page at the ABC Television Studios in Manhattan's theater district.

Acting jobs were difficult to find, however. Thus, in 1961 he volunteered for active service in the United States Army. He was stationed in Germany for three years and wrote frequently for Stars and Stripes, a newspaper distributed to the U.S. military community abroad.

He was honorably discharged in 1965. Rather than return home immediately, Higgins decided to live in Paris and study at the Sorbonne. Six months later, he went back to Stanford University and took classes in creative writing. He helped pay his college tuition by working as an actor in local professional theatrical productions in and around Stanford and the San Francisco area.

Higgins received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Stanford in 1967.

Unable to find a job in the arts, Higgins signed on for a six-month stint as a merchant seaman on a freighter bound for Eastern Asia. He was fired, however, for insubordination, while docked in Guam, and was forced to pay for his own transportation back home.

Without a job and at loose ends, Higgins next decided to hitchhike to Montreal to attend the Montreal World's Fair (commonly known as Expo 67). He was inspired by many of the innovative films presented at the Expo, and determined to become an filmmaker.

Toward that goal, in the fall of 1968 Higgins moved to Los Angeles and entered the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Three years later, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting. His Master's thesis was a 20-minute draft of the script for the film that would eventually become Harold and Maude.

After graduating from UCLA, Higgins went to work for Edward Lewis, a Hollywood producer, and his wife Mildred, as a part-time chauffeur and pool cleaner in exchange for free accommodations in the Lewis's guest house.

One day Higgins showed Lewis the draft of the Harold and Maude script; Lewis was impressed and, in turn, showed the script to Robert Evans, who at the time was head of production at Paramount Pictures. Evans liked the script and Higgins was hired to expand it into a feature-length film.

Higgins originally contracted to direct the film himself, and was assigned to shoot a scene as a test. Paramount executives were not impressed with his work, however, and direction of the film was turned over to Hal Ashby. As a goodwill gesture to help Higgins learn more about the film industry, Ashby made him a co-producer on the film.

Harold and Maude (1971) is a dark, existential comedy about a death-obsessed young man (played by Bud Cort) and his romantic relationship with a free-spirited, 79-year-old woman named Maude (Ruth Gordon). Ultimately, Maude teaches Harold to "live life to its fullest" and to regard life "as the most precious gift of all."

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