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William A. Graham, who directed Elvis Presley‘s final film and the pilots for The Big Valley and Police Story, died Sept. 12 of complications from pneumonia, his wife told the Los Angeles Times. He was 87.
During his career that spanned nearly a half-century, Graham also helmed the movies Honky (1971), Where the Lilies Bloom (1974) and Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991); earned an Emmy nomination for directing the telefilm Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980), with Powers Boothe as the head of the 1970s suicidal cult; and directed three episodes of The X-Files in the 1990s.
A native of New York who served in the Navy and attended Yale, Graham in the mid-1950s began directing segments of TV anthology programs like Kraft Theatre and Omnibus. In the ’60s, he hemmed multiple installments of the series Naked City, Breaking Point, 12 O’Clock High, The F.B.I. and The Fugitive and did the two action-packed False Face episodes on Batman.
His telefilm credits also include Get Christie Love! (1974), starring Teresa Graves; The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996), with Robert Duvall as Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann; and Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story (1993), with Rob Youngblood as Elvis Presley and Beau Bridges as Col. Tom Parker.
Earlier, Graham directed the real Elvis in Change of Habit (1969), which has the rock ‘n’ roll legend, in his last film, playing a doctor opposite Mary Tyler Moore as a nun.
In a 2005 interview, Graham noted that he talked Presley into changing his famous hairstyle for the film.
“He had a kind of a pompadour in front and his hair was full of grease. And because this was a movie about a doctor working in the ghetto, it just didn’t seem to be quite the right hairstyle,” Graham recalled. “So I talked to him and I said, ‘Elvis, how would you feel about changing your hair a little bit?’ Well, he said he would be open to the idea, and so then we talked about who would do it.
“And I said, ‘Well, do you like the way my hair is done?’ I had a Japanese lady in Beverly Hills who was cutting my hair at the time, and he said, ‘Yes’. So we went to see Jan, and she washed all the grease out of his hair and modified the styling and it was quite a landmark achievement. It was pretty unusual to get that done. And Elvis actually liked it very much.”
Graham’s survivors include his wife Janet, an actress who also co-produced Hackers (1995), starring Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie.
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