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Hollywood Film Director Annakin Looks Back on Globe-Trotting Career

British-born filmmaker Ken Annakin has made more than 50 movies and become known as one of Hollywood's most versatile directors. He spoke with Mike O'Sullivan about a career that has taken him from the beaches of Normandy to South Africa and Malaysia.

Were it not for some twists of fate, might have had a career in the British civil service.

"My uncle was the chancellor of the exchequer in England, my uncle Philip Snowdon," he said. "And it was he who advised my father that I should go into the income tax department. And so that is what I was for three years."

But the young Annakin yearned for adventure, and he got lucky. He won 100 pounds, a lot of money in those days, at the race track, and he used the money set off for New Zealand, Australia and America. He would prospect for gold, sell insurance and do odd jobs, and returned to Britain in time for World War II.

He joined the Royal Air Force, was injured and hospitalized, and ended up making propaganda films for the British government.

"I had to learn my job in film very quickly, and made 14 documentaries, including some explaining the war," said Annakin.

Another urged British mothers to breastfeed their babies.

After the war, Annakin made family films, including comedies and adventures. He also co-directed two well-received films that dramatized short stories by British writer Somerset Maugham, one called Quartet and the other called Trio. A later movie, Across the Bridge, was based on a story by Graham Greene, and starred Rod Steiger.

There were four Disney films, including The Story of Robin Hood and Swiss Family Robinson, the famous tale of a shipwrecked family.

He would make a classic war film. In 1962, Annakin was one of three directors for The Longest Day, a big-screen epic with a huge all-star cast.

Three years later, he directed another war film, Battle of the Bulge.

Another big success was the popular comedy, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, which also had a big ensemble cast.

Annakin has worked with some of Hollywood's biggest-name performers, from Henry Fonda to Charlton Heston. He says he was able to bring out the best in actors, which is the most important quality for a director.

"I would have liked to be an actor. I would have liked to have been a top writer. I have done both," he said. "But something told me that there were other people who I could see were better than I was at that. And I found that handling other people and bringing out their talents was something that I could do."

Annakin inadvertently gave his own name to a film character, although the spelling is slightly different, when the actor Alec Guinness suggested the name to director George Lucas for a character in the Star Wars films.

At a screening of the film, Annakin asked Lucas about it.

"He was running his picture with Anakin Skywalker in it, and I went over to him and said, 'you know, you never got permission for this.' He said, 'but I dropped an "n" and therefore I got away with it,"' Annakin said.

Now 93, Annakin says he has had fabulous adventures all over the world, making films that included the western-themed The Hellions in South Africa, the colonial drama The Planter's Wife in Malaysia, and dozens of other films shot on location.

His last, in the 1990s, was called Genghis Khan, and was filmed in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China. The film's Italian producers went bankrupt and it has not yet been released.

But Annakin is looking for backers for yet another project, a tale of lost aviator Amelia Earhart. He says that, just as his other films, this one will be good family entertainment.

Ken Annakin has chronicled his globe-trotting adventures in the book So You Wanna Be a Director? which was published in Britain.