Oscar-winning director William Friedkin honored with street naming near Senn High School

Senn High School graduate and director William Friedkin was posthumously honored with a street naming Monday afternoon near his North Side alma mater.

A stretch of North Ridge Avenue near Senn High School is now William Friedkin Way. The director, producer and screenwriter — who was best known for his crime thriller “The French Connection” and the horror film “The Exorcist” — graduated from the school at 5900 N. Glenwood, in 1953.

Friedkin died last year at 87. His widow, Sherry Lansing, spoke at the unveiling ceremony Monday afternoon, saying the Academy Award winner was a “great gift.”

In 1972, Friedkin won the Academy Award for directing “The French Connection,” which also picked up that year’s Best Picture Oscar. Two years later, he was nominated for directing “The Exorcist.” But his widow said Monday’s honor was right up there with the many other awards he’d won.

Sherry Lansing, William Friedkin and Linda Blair attend the Saturn awards in Los Angeles in 1999. Chicago native Friedkin was honored with a street named for him outside his alma mater, Senn High School. Lansing, his widow, attended the ceremony on Monday. “Billy loved Chicago, no matter where he went, this was always his home,” Lansing said.

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“Billy loved Chicago, no matter where he went, this was always his home,” Lansing, who also grew up in Chicago, said. “When we first met, he told me stories about Senn. … Of all the awards he ever got, I think this is the one that would’ve meant the most to him.”

Sherry Lansing, widow of Academy Award winner William Friedkin, speaks at an unveiling of a street renamed after him next to Senn High School, which he graduated from in 1953.


The new signs — from 5855 to 5920 N. Ridge — designate the part of the diagonal avenue that runs along the school’s baseball fields and basketball court, a fitting tribute given Friedkin played basketball at the school. Lansing described Friedkin as a “mischievous kid” who would throw erasers in class, but she said he managed to graduate with honors.

His big-screen dream began in 1955, when he saw Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” at the old Surf Theater at Dearborn and Division. Friedkin then sat through the landmark movie three more times and vowed to become a filmmaker.

Friedkin said his work reflected his time in Chicago and his love of dramatic radio,

“‘The French Connection’ was more about my experiences in Chicago than about that [heroin] case,” Friedkin told the Sun-Times in 1986. “It was about the things I felt about cops in Chicago and life in Chicago — that kind of frantic, frenetic, jagged pace.”

Friedkin was a nephew of well-known Chicago police Officer Harry Lang, who shot Al Capone associate Frank Nitti.

At left, Philip D’Antoni, producer of the “French Connection” at the 44th Academy Awards with Gene Hackman (Best Actor) and William Friedkin, right, (Best Director). Jane Fonda, second from right, won Best Actress for the film “Klute.”


Friedkin’s other film credits included “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “Cruising,” “Rules of Engagement” and a TV remake of the classic play and Sidney Lumet movie “12 Angry Men.” Friedkin also directed episodes for TV shows, including “The Twilight Zone,” “Rebel Highway” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

The measure to rename the street was introduced by Ald. Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th) in April and passed almost unanimously a month later.

Lansing said she hopes Friedkin’s legacy, both at the school and beyond, inspires the students at his former school.

“Billy truly did do everything his way,” she said. “He followed his own rules. He was the most authentic person in the world. … I hope students will come by here and say, ‘I’m also going to do things my way.’”

Contributing: Associated Press

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