Robert Allan Ackerman, Director of ‘The Reagans’ and ‘Life With Judy Garland,’ Dies at 77

Film, theater and TV director was a five-time Emmy nominee

Robert Allan Ackerman
Ann Dowd and Robert Ackerman in 2000/Getty Images

Robert Allan Ackerman, a director of film, TV and theater known for his work on the TV movie “The Reagans” and the miniseries “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” has died. He was 77.

Ackerman died peacefully on Monday, Jan. 10, a rep announced Thursday.

Ackerman was a five-time Emmy nominee and two-time Golden Globe nominee. In his career he worked extensively with talent on screen and on stage such as Al Pacino, Ann Bancroft, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Richard Gere, Richard Chamberlain, John Malkovich, Victor Garber, Farrah Fawcett, Kirstie Alley and Judy Davis.

“I love Bob. I loved being around him, his aurora, his steady peace,” Pacino said in a statement remembering Ackerman. “To work with him was joyous. He understood the language of theater art and communicated it with such ease. His gift was intangible and there’s no way of understanding how he created. When an artist has that special gift it is unexplainable, it just happens. When he stopped directing, he started writing again and his writing also had that same magic. He will be missed.”

Ackerman started his directing career in the late 1970s for the New York Shakespeare Festival and Public Theatre, directing several of Thomas Babe’s original works. Into the ’80s he directed Broadway productions of Martin Sherman’s “Bent,” starring Richard Gere and David Dukes, “Slab Boys” with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Val Kilmer, and “Extremities” starring Susan Sarandon. He’d later direct Peter Allen in “Legs Diamond” and Pacino in Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.”

He would re-team with Sarandon for the 1994 film “Safe Passage,” as well as transition to other film and long-form TV projects. In 2001 he directed “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” starring Judy Davis and Victor Garber, which netted him a DGA Award and Emmy nomination, among others. He’d earn his second Emmy nomination for “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” starring Anne Bancroft and Helen Mirren.

In 2003 he directed a TV movie intended for CBS called “The Reagans” starring James Brolin and Davis, but a month before the film was to air, the film was caught in controversy when conservatives criticized the portrayal of the Reagan family and felt what was intended to be a love story of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan was too overtly political. Much of the criticism however was aimed at scenes from a leaked script that were edited, changed or did not make it into the final film, but the TV movie ultimately aired on Showtime rather than on CBS. Despite the controversy, Ackerman still received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Made for Television Movie.

Robert Allan Ackerman’s son Nicholas, who was a bassist for the New York rock band The Virgins, died in 2017. Ackerman is survived by his sister Suzanne Ackerman and his niece Jennifer Lehman Cashman.