Director John Hancock’s early interest was music. As an adolescent, he was an accomplished violinist, and concertmaster of the Chicago Youth Orchestra. He became interested in the theatre while attending Harvard College and directed a number of plays there. Because of the promise he exhibited, he received a grant from Harvard to study theatre in Europe. He spent the time observing Bertolt Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble.
His directorial debut was the hit Off-Broadway production of Brecht’s A Man’s A Man. This was followed by Robert Lowell’s Endicott and the Red Cross at the American Place Theatre, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Theater de Lys with sets by Jim Dine, for which Hancock received the Obie Award. Cue Magazine noted, “This brutal, vulgar, and erotic production of Shakespeare’s sex fantasy is the most original and arresting I’ve ever witnessed. This is the best of all the Dreams and an important pioneering effort in re-interpreting the play.”
His success on the New York stage led to his being appointed Artistic Director of the famed San Francisco Actors Workshop and later to directing assignments at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the New Repertory Theatre Company in New York. Hancock has received widespread critical acclaim for his approach to the work of many contemporary and classic playwrights.
He worked closely on several occasions with Tennessee Williams, who says in his autobiography that of all the directors he ever worked with, Hancock was “the most gifted for cuts and transpositions.”
In 1970, with a grant from the American Film Institute, Hancock directed the short film, Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
Hancock’s feature film credits include Bang The Drum Slowly (Paramount), California Dreaming (AIP), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (Paramount), Baby Blue Marine (Columbia), Weeds (DEG), and the Christmas classic Prancer (Orion), starring Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda and Rebecca Harrell, which he shot on his family’s fruit farm in LaPorte County, Indiana. His current production brings him home again, physically and emotionally. He says he “tried to catch the sense of returning to this place where you grew up, and falling in love with what you were not truly able to see before.”
He particularly enjoyed filming the U-Pick sequences that climaxes the movie. “I always loved U-Pick as a kid. Our orchard would be filled with picnickers, fish fries, sing-alongs. Happy families. Buses from inner city Chicago would arrive so city kids could experience country living. Buddhist groups had services under the trees. It was like the United Nations. Of course afterwards you’d have to pick up some pampers, but so what? For the movie, we were lucky to have perfect weather. The orchard was big with big red apples. Twelve hundred extras showed up. It was clear they were enjoying themselves. There was even a nice wind to bend the boughs.”
He says, “I’ve made films in many places, but there’s no place like home. Childhood memories, the way the light falls on the barn at a certain time of day in Indian Summer, the naked orchards in winter, the ghosts of loved ones. I feel rooted in the Midwest, centered. Because of that I feel free of Hollywood’s fashions of the moment. This is a personal story about farmers, families, the simple, bittersweet stuff of life. My life, my family.
“It’s hard to say why you choose to do a given film. But Willa Cather put it better than I can: ‘What is any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.'”
JOHN HANCOCK DIRECTING CREDITS
BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
A PIECE OF EDEN
LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH
STEAL THE SKY
BABY BLUE MARINE
STICKY MY FINGERS, FLEET MY FEET (Academy Award Nomination)
Episodes of HILL STREET BLUES, TWILIGHT ZONE, CRACKER,
COVER UP, I HAD 3 WIVES, ETC.
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Obie Award for MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
at the Theatre de Lys, sets by Jim Dine
Brecht’s A MAN’S A MAN
Robert Lowell’s ENDECOTT AND THE RED CROSS
at the American Place Theatre
Ostrovsky’s THE STORM
The San Francisco Actor’s Workshop The Pittsburgh Playhouse
The New Repertory Theatre, NYC
Shakespeare’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Saul Bellow’s THE LAST ANALYSIS
Brecht’s EDWARD II
Strindberg’s THE FATHER
Williams’ MILK TRAIN
Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT
Brecht’s A MAN’S A MAN
O’Casey’s THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS
Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE
Brecht’s THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
Strindberg’s DREAM PLAY
Sartre’s THE RESPECTFUL PROSTITUTE
Holberg’s CHRISTMAS PARTY and HEALING SPRING
Cervantes’ THE JUDGE OF THE DIVORCE COURT
Williams’ THE TWO-CHARACTER PLAY
Mr. Hancock grew up in the Midwest, attended public high school, and graduated from Harvard. He studied theater in Europe on a grant from Harvard, taught directing at the Circle in the Square, and was a member of the The Directors Unit of Actors Studio. He has served on the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute. Besides the Obie and the Academy nomination, he received the Brandeis Citation in Film, the Christopher Award, first prize at Karlovy Vary, and other awards.