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Sam O'Steen
Born Samuel Alexander O'Steen
November 6, 1923(1923-11-06)
Paragould, Arkansas
Died October 11, 2000
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Occupation film editor

Samuel Alexander O'Steen (November 6, 1923 – October 11, 2000) was an American film editor and director. He had an extended, notable collaboration with the director Mike Nichols, with whom he edited twelve films between 1966 and 1994. Among the notable films that O'Steen edited were Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (directed by Mike Nichols, 1966), Cool Hand Luke (directed by Stuart Rosenberg, 1967), The Graduate (directed by Mike Nichols, 1967), Rosemary's Baby (directed by Roman Polanski, 1968), and Chinatown (directed by Roman Polanski, 1974).[1]

As a child in Burbank, California, O'Steen would try to make it onto the Warner Bros. lot hoping that it could be an entree to work in the editing room. O'Steen was finally able to secure a position as an assistant editor in 1956, when he became George Tomasini's assistant editor on Alfred Hitchcock's 1957 film The Wrong Man.[1] As was typical at the time, he served as an assistant editor at Warner Brothers for eight years; his first credit as editor was on Youngblood Hawke (1964), which was directed by Delmer Daves.[2] Within a year, O'Steen had become the editor on Mike Nichols' first film as a director, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. O'Steen was Nichols' principal editor for nearly thirty years, during which he edited twelve of Nichols' films; their last film together was Wolf (1994).

O'Steen had been working as a principal editor for only three years when he edited Nichols' second film, The Graduate, but Patrick J. Sauer considers this film to be the epitome of O'Steen's editing:[3]

Nowhere are O'Steen's skills more apparent than in Dustin Hoffman's classic debut film, The Graduate. O'Steen gives the audience time to study the performer's face before cutting the scene. O'Steen allows for long, personal looks at Hoffman's facial expressions to give the viewers an idea of what the character is thinking instead of the "quick-cutting" seen so often in modern films. In The Graduate Hoffman's expressions at the party scene are as important to the character as any bit of dialogue and O'Steen does not cut the scene short.

In his volume from the History of American Cinema series, Paul Monaco emphasizes the innovative aspects of the editing of The Graduate:[4]

...with The Graduate, both Nichols and O'Steen had an opportunity to push their collaboration in the direction of a more innovative editing style. For example, one sequence in the film begins with the recent college graduate Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) floating on an air mattress in his parents' swimming pool. As he leaves the pool to walk back into their house, the scene cuts smoothly to a room where Benjamin is meeting an older woman ... for clandestine sex. Over the next couple of minutes through continuous editing the scenes shift back and forth between his parents' home pool and Benjamin's mental projections of his meetings with Mrs. Robinson. ... This associational montage shows adeptness of the editing technique and reinforces the inner sense of Benjamin's feelings of alienation and ambivalence ...
Cover of Sam O'Steen's memoir Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America's Favorite Movies.[5]

O'Steen directed seven films for television in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably the film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975). He also directed one feature film Sparkle (1976).

O'Steen's editing of The Graduate (1967) was honored by a BAFTA Award for Best Editing, and he was nominated for this award again for Chinatown (1974). He was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Film Editing for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), Chinatown (1974), and Silkwood (directed by Mike Nichols, 1983). In 1976, O'Steen won the "Most Outstanding Television Director" award from the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and his film Queen of the Stardust Ballroom won the "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television" award from the DGA. O'Steen was also nominated for an Emmy award for "Outstanding Directing in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy" for his work on Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.

O'Steen was married twice, and he had four daughters.[6] Sam O'Steen's memoir of his editing career, Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America's Favorite Movies,[5] was published in 2001, shortly after O'Steen's death, by his second wife Bobbie O'Steen (née Meyer).[7] The book is written mostly as a transcript of Sam O'Steen's responses to questions posed by Bobbie O'Steen, with sidebars about individual films and filmmakers. Ray Zone has characterized it as "one of the very best anecdotal histories of filmmaking in print."[2]

Filmography (Editor)

Year Film Director Other notes
1964 Youngblood Hawke Delmer Daves
Robin and the 7 Hoods Gordon Douglas
Kisses for My President Curtis Bernhardt
1965 None But The Brave Frank Sinatra
Marriage on the Rocks Jack Donohue
1966 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Mike Nichols (nominated) Academy Award for Film Editing
1967 Hotel Richard Quine
Cool Hand Luke Stuart Rosenberg
The Graduate Mike Nichols BAFTA Award for Best Editing
1968 Rosemary's Baby Roman Polanski
1969 The Sterile Cuckoo Alan J. Pakula
1970 Catch-22 Mike Nichols
1971 Carnal Knowledge Mike Nichols
1972 Portnoy's Complaint Ernest Lehman
1973 The Day of the Dolphin Mike Nichols
1974 Chinatown Roman Polanski (nominated) BAFTA and Academy Awards for Best Editing
1978 Straight Time Ulu Grosbard
1979 Hurricane Jan Troell
1982 Amityville II: The Possession Damiano Damiani
1983 Silkwood Mike Nichols (nominated) Academy Award for Film Editing
1986 Heartburn Mike Nichols
1987 Nadine Robert Benton
1988 Frantic Roman Polanski
Biloxi Blues Mike Nichols
Working Girl Mike Nichols
1989 A Dry White Season Euzhan Palcy
1990 Postcards from the Edge Mike Nichols
1991 Regarding Henry Mike Nichols
1992 Consenting Adults Alan J. Pakula
1994 Wolf Mike Nichols
1997 Night Falls on Manhattan Sidney Lumet
1999 The White River Kid Arne Glimcher


  1. ^ a b "Sam O'Steen, 76, Film Editor Nominated 3 Times for Oscars", The New York Times, October 18, 2000. Online version retrieved Feb. 11, 2008. Note that this article statement that O'Steen edited nine of Nichols' films is incorrect.
  2. ^ a b Zone, Ray (undated). "Recalling the Esteemed O'Steen," Editors' Guild Magazine (undated). Online version retrieved Feb. 10, 2008.
  3. ^ Sauer, Patrick J. (2000). "Sam O'Steen," in Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast (editors), International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers, Edition 4 (St. James Press), ISBN 978-1558624498. Online version of article retrieved February 13, 2008.
  4. ^ Monaco, Paul (2003). History of the American Cinema Volume 8: The Sixties, Charles Harpole, general editor (University of California Press), p. 97. ISBN 978-0520238046.
  5. ^ a b O'Steen, Sam (2002). Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America's Favorite Movies (Michael Wiese Productions). ISBN 978-0941188371.
  6. ^ Vallance, Tom (2000). "Obituary: Sam O'Steen," The Independent (London), Nov. 10, 2000. Online version retrieved Feb. 11, 2008.
  7. ^ CASA: Newsletter of the Stanford University program in cultural and social anthropology, Vol. 5, 2004/2005 issue. Online version retrieved Feb. 10, 2008. Bobbie Meyer graduated in 1974 from the program.

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