May 10, 1944
Shorewood, Wisconsin, United States
Director, Screenwriter, Actor, Producer, Private investigator
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With college friends Jerry and David Zucker, Jim Abrahams is co-founder of the Kentucky Fried Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1969. ZAZ (as they came to be known) subsequently moved their satirical group to Los Angeles and set up a theater there. They made their first venture into feature filmmaking with "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977). Directed by John Landis, the film was a memorable series of absurd, vulgar and (mostly) wildly funny send-ups of popular culture. Most of their subsequent work has been in a similar vein. "Airplane!" (1980), "Top Secret!" (1984) and "The Naked Gun" (1988) pay satirical homage to, respectively, the disaster film, the spy film and the police film. Trademark features include scattershot pop culture allusions, rapid-fire anything-for-a-laugh gags, and rugged, but notoriously stiff, second echelon actors from the 1950s (e.g., Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves).Like his creative partners, Abrahams has ventured into a solo career as a writer-director, making his directing debut with the slightly more restrained and traditional comedy, "Big Business" (1988) which presented Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as a pair of identical twins. He served as executive producer to John Water's "Cry Baby" (1990), a sweet-natured musical comedy homage to 50s juvenile delinquent dramas and the mystique of the teen rebel. His next solo effort, "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael" (1990), was a darker change-of-pace comedy featuring Winona Ryder as an outcast teen. Abrahams enjoyed his first solo hit with "Hot Shots!" (1991), an inspired spoof of "Top Gun" and other military flyboy movies. He expanded the parody to include "Rambo" and other commando rescue sagas in the sequel, "Hot Shots! Part Deux" (1992).Abrahams helmed a well-received 1997 TV-movie, ." . . first do no harm" (ABC), which featured Meryl Streep. The telefilm's subject was close to the director's heart: focusing attention on a controversial dietary treatment for epilepsy. Abrahams' son Charlie suffers with the disease and responded well to the diet.