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Kleiser, Randal (b. 1946)   
 
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Although best known for his direction of Grease, the highest-grossing movie musical to date, and such teen-oriented films as The Blue Lagoon, the writer, director, and producer Randal Kleiser made his most significant contribution to gay cinema with the 1996 AIDS-themed It's My Party, about the planned suicide of an HIV-positive man. The film is based, in part, on Kleiser's own experience with his partner of eight years who killed himself after struggling with complications due to AIDS.

Kleiser had been openly gay with family, friends, and colleagues for many years, but he did not come out publicly until 1996, when he gave an interview to the Advocate. In the interview, Kleiser said, "I've never hidden being gay, and I never pretended to be straight."

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Born John Randal Kleiser in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 20, 1946, he is the first of two sons of Harriet and John Raymond Kleiser, a psychologist. He grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and attended Radnor High School.

Kleiser's interest in movies began early. As he explained in an interview, when he was around ten years old he saw The Ten Commandments (1956), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and "with the opening of the Red Sea [a celebrated scene in the film], I decided I wanted to become a director."

Toward that goal, after graduating from high school in 1964, Kleiser moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California and study filmmaking at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. To help finance his college education, Kleiser worked part-time as a model and actor, appearing in television commercials and as an uncredited extra in several Elvis Presley movies, as well as the big-budget musicals Camelot (1967) and Hello, Dolly! (1969).

His college roommate at USC was the future film director and producer, George Lucas. In fact, as a freshman, Kleiser starred in Lucas' first student film Freiheit (1966).

After earning his B.A. from USC in 1968, Kleiser found employment working in post-production on educational films. But he was unhappy, "editing these stupid little films about weaving," as he explained years later. At the advice of his father, Kleiser returned to USC for his Master's degree in film studies.

Kleiser's M.A. thesis film was Peege (1972), a 28-minute meditation on aging and mental decline, based on his memories of a Christmas visit to his grandmother in a nursing home. In 2007, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, only the second student production chosen for the Registry, a compendium of films recognized as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The film impressed several executives at Universal Studios and Kleiser was soon hired to direct television shows. In a two-year period, beginning in 1974, Kleiser directed episodes for such series as Marcus Welby, M.D. (1974-1975), Lucas Tanner (1975), Starsky and Hutch (1975-1976), The Rookies (1976), and Family (1976).

He also directed several made-for-television movies, including All Together Now (1975), about four orphaned children who are given 30 days to prove they can remain together as a family; Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976), about a 15-year-old girl who runs away from home and subsequently turns to prostitution; and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), which featured John Travolta in one of his earliest starring roles as a young man born with a deficient immune system who must spend his life in a completely sterile environment.

Kleiser's television work also included two other movies about aging, building on themes he first explored in his student film. Portrait of Grandpa Doc (1977), which first aired on ABC Weekend Specials, is about a grandfather's relationship with his grandson, while The Gathering (1977), also for ABC-TV, focuses on a dying man's attempt to reconcile with the family he abandoned years before. The Gathering won the 1978 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special, while Kleiser himself was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Special Program.

Although Kleiser had never directed a feature-length film, John Travolta personally requested him as the director of his first movie musical, Grease (1978). Travolta appreciated the critical success of the television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, and the affable relationship the two men had developed during its making.

Based on the 1971 musical of the same name, with music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease focuses on the relationships among a group of high school students in the late-1950s. Co-starring Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing, the movie was a commercial success upon its release and has gone on to become the highest-grossing movie musical to date.

After the phenomenal success of Grease, Kleiser was given free rein to pick his next project. He chose to make The Blue Lagoon (1980), based on the 1908 novel by Irish writer Henry De Vere Stacpool, which Kleiser had read several years prior and greatly admired.

The film explores the growing romance between young teenagers, played by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, marooned on a lush tropical island. Promotional materials for the movie called it a "a sensual story of natural love."

Noted for its sumptuous cinematography by Néstor Almendros, the film nevertheless took a critical drubbing on its release--the film critic Roger Ebert, for example, called it "the dumbest movie of the year." Despite negative reviews, the film was a commercial success, due mainly to the supposed nudity of its two stars (although it was later revealed that body doubles were used throughout the film).

Kleiser went on to direct such feature films as Summer Lovers (1982), for which he also wrote the screenplay; Grandview, U.S.A. (1984); Flight of the Navigator (1986); Big Top Pee-wee (1988), starring Paul Reubens as his comic fictional character Pee-wee Herman; Getting It Right (1989), featuring Sir John Gielgud; White Fang (1991), based on the 1906 classic adventure novel by Jack London; and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992). He was also the executive producer of the sequel Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991).

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