Alan Metter, Director of Rodney Dangerfield's 'Back to School,' Dies at 77

Courtesy Julian Max Metter
Alan Metter

He also helmed 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun,' Richard Pryor's 'Moving' and the last 'Police Academy' movie.

Alan Metter, who directed several big-screen comedies, including Back to School, starring Rodney Dangerfield, has died. He was 77.

Metter died June 7 of a heart attack in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his son, assistant director Julian Max Metter, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Alan Metter, who started his career in advertising, also helmed Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985), starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt; Moving (1988), starring Richard Pryor and Randy Quaid; Working Tra$h (1990), starring George Carlin and Ben Stiller; and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994), the seventh and final installment in the franchise.

Metter had directed the 1984 video Rodney Dangerfield: Rappin' Rodney when he reteamed with the legendary stand-up comedian on Back to School. In the 1986 film, Dangerfield stars as Thornton Melon, a fun-loving millionaire and former diving champion who enrolls in college to help his son (Keith Gordon) make it through fictional Grand Lakes University.

In a 2015 interview, Metter said Orion Pictures was about ready to give up on the movie because of script problems before Caddyshack's Harold Ramis came on for a rewrite.

A version of the screenplay "had Rodney losing all his money in a divorce and going up to college and working in the student union and schlepping," Metter said. "Harold said, 'Make him rich; he's funny when he's tipping.'" 

THR's review called Back to School "unabashedly light and lowbrow" and a "loony, carefully conceived comedy." Made for $11 million, it grossed $109 million around the world.

Alan Dennis "Butch" Metter was born on Dec. 19, 1942, in Sharon, Massachusetts. He majored in philosophy at the University of Arizona, graduating in 1965 in what he called the middle of his class. "I made the upper class possible," he said.

He landed a job as a copywriter at the advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDM), where he began writing TV spots for such brands as Volkswagen, Jack in the Box and American Airlines.

One of the first projects he directed was a commercial for Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra, and he went on to work with the likes of Steve Martin, Don McLean and Olivia Newton-John. (He hired famed cinematographers Owen Roizman and Vilmos Zsigmond to shoot music videos featuring the Australian songstress.)

In 1983, Metter directed Martin's one-hour NBC comedy special, The Winds of Whoopie.

After retiring, Metter moved from Los Angeles to Florida in 2009 and met the "love of his life," Katherine O'Flynn Christian, his son said. They designed a summer home in Truro, Massachusetts, that graced the cover of New England Home magazine last year.

In addition to his son and Christian, survivors include daughter-in-law Kelsey; granddaughters Jasmine and Kaiya; grandchildren Rhys, Owen and Jack; and Christian's children, Gillian and Simon.

"The movies I love the most pick you up in the fade in and drop you off at the fade out, and in between these two events you cross into the story and are totally absorbed by it," he once said. "No bumps. That's the game. No bumps. Smooth editing with nothing to jar you from the story, giving the audience nothing to think about but the story."