Richard Fleischer was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of famed animator and producer Max Fleischer who created such iconic cartoon characters as Betty Boop and who brought Popeye the Sailor and Superman to the screen for the first time. Fleischer worked for his father’s animation studio then obtained a job at RKO Pictures where he directed and produced the series Flicker Flashbacks which featured re-edited footage from the turn of the 20th century. This led to Fleischer’s first feature film, Child by Divorce (1946). Fleischer then created the documentary Death by Design (1947) which examined the cultural factors that led to Japan’s imperialism through World War II. This won Fleischer an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1948, just a few years after he first moved to Hollywood. The success of that documentary led to Fleischer receiving more offers to direct dramatic features such as the film noir thrillers Bodyguard (1948), The Clay Pigeon (1949), Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952). Fleischer was then hired by Walt Disney, ironically his father’s primary professional rival, to direct Disney’s first science fiction feature, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). The film’s success led to Fleischer receiving work on big-budget action films such as Violent Saturday (1955), Bandido (1956), The Vikings (1958) Barabbas (1961), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and Mr. Majestyk (1974). Fleischer’s other notable films include Compulsion (1959), The Boston Strangler (1968), Che! (1969), 10 Rillington Place (1971), Soylent Green (1973), Mandingo (1975), Amityville 3-D (1983), Conan the Destroyer (1984), and Red Sonja (1985).
For a time Fleischer acted as chairman of his father’s Fleischer Studios which holds the rights to the Betty Boop character. Fleischer has written two books, the first, a memoir of his father; Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution, and the second, his own memoirs of the difficulties of working with actors, producers and writers; Just Tell Me When to Cry. For his directorial efforts Fleischer has been nominated for two DGA Awards for Compulsion in 1959 and The Vikings in 1960, as well as winning an Oscar for the documentary Design for Death in 1948.