His films, bleak yet hugely popular, tackled tough intellectual themes like the tyranny of technology and the power of the state over individuals. But on his 117-acre compound near London—a home he rarely left—director Stanley Kubrick worried about more prosaic problems. Warner Bros, executive Julian Senior recalls that late last year, while working on Eyes Wide Shut, his pal Kubrick "called me up to bring my boat over because one of the ducks on his pond didn't look well at all. In the middle of a Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman movie, we walked around the pond while the vet waded in with a net."

The mallard made it—and so did the film, a sexual thriller that took nearly two years to complete and will finally be released July 16. Cruise and Kidman viewed the first full-length print on March 2. But five days later their excitement was dashed when the 70-year-old Kubrick died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep.

Kubrick had called the new film his best work yet, but that would be a tall order. A perfectionist who obsessed over every detail of filmmaking, he made only 13 features and just nine since 1960—most of them masterpieces, including Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971).

A common Kubrick theme—man's inability to control his own destiny—seemed to drive his reclusive personal life as well. He stopped giving interviews years ago and shot his films under total secrecy. But friends recall a different Kubrick: gentle, jovial and ever interested in news of the world—especially his beloved New York Yankees. He worshipped Joe DiMaggio, who outlived him by just one day. The New York City-born expatriate, who moved to England in the 1960s, still watched games via satellite. During the O.J. Simpson trial, Kubrick phoned pal Jack Nicholson (star of Kubrick's The Shining) for frequent updates. "His mind was always whizzing along," says friend and author John le Carré. "He was a vacuum cleaner."

Still, Kubrick wasn't exactly a regular guy—or even a regular director. Despite holding a pilot's license, he loathed flying. Fearing high speeds, he insisted his chauffeur drive his vintage Rolls Royce no faster than 30 mph; on sets he would shoot as many as 100 takes to perfect a minor scene, but he cared little for his own appearance. The last three of his films were shot within a two-hour drive of the home he shared with his third wife, artist Christiane Harlan, 66 (both of his brief earlier marriages ended in divorce), and he rarely socialized outside its gates.

In fact, Kubrick's 19-bedroom manor was not so much a cocoon as a hive, buzzing with four dogs, five cats and a constant stream of guests. On their frequent visits, his three daughters—Katharina, 45; Vivian, 38; and Anya, 40—were as likely to find their doting father lunching with pals like le Carré as with his wife's artist friends. Keir Dullea, the star of 2001, recalls lively soirees chez Kubrick. But "in spite of anyone he invited," says Dullea, "he was the most fascinating person of all." Kubrick was born in Manhattan, the son of a doctor and his wife. In high school, recalls classmate Eydie Gorme, "the teachers thought he was an idiot because he kept walking around with a box camera." He worked as a magazine photographer after graduating, but soon switched to filmmaking. Despite his fabled artistic temperament, actors were eager to work for him. Kidman and Cruise, who regarded Kubrick "like family," flew to London to join friends like Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw and Matthew Modine at the funeral last week. Among those who couldn't make it was 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke, who recently wrote a "history" of the 21st century for a British newspaper. "I had Stanley receiving a special Oscar for lifetime achievement on his 80th birthday," he says. "Well, I hope it happens posthumously."

Anne-Marie O'Neill
Matthew Beard, Joanna Blonska and Jane Cornwell in London, Cynthia Wang in New York City and Julie Jordan in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Matthew Beard,
  • Joanna Blonska,
  • Jane Cornwell,
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Julie Jordan.