Study Guide

Martin Scorsese Biography

  • Biography

    What was American cinema like before Martin Scorsese came along? It's a tough world to imagine. In dozens of films - including classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed and more - Scorsese has raised more bars and pushed more envelopes than most people working in movies today. Having spent nearly half a century behind the camera, Scorsese has influenced countless filmmakers, and his unique vision has changed cinema forever.

    People don't just love Martin Scorsese films. They love Martin Scorsese. With his bushy eyebrows, trademark glasses, compact frame (he's 5'3) and mile-a-minute Little Italy-inflected speech, Scorsese is an iconic Hollywood figure. His devotion to his craft has often come at the expense of his personal life, and Scorsese has endured some serious lows alongside his career triumphs. But as Scorsese's films prove to us time and again, it's the complicated lives that are the most interesting.

  • Childhood

    Martin Charles Scorsese was born 17 November 1942 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York. His parents, Luciano Charles and Catherine Cappa Scorsese, were second-generation Sicilian-Americans who worked in New York City's Garment District as a presser and a seamstress. His older brother Frank was born in 1936. When Martin was seven, economic pressures forced the Scorsese family to move from the relative comfort of the Queens suburbs to the tenements of the Lower East Side. Scorsese grew up in an apartment on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan's Little Italy neighborhood. "The world I came from was very much based on loyalty and trust, and even beyond family ties; it comes from the old Sicilian world where godparents were as important as blood relatives," Scorsese has said of the impact his upbringing had on his art. "And I think that's why so many of the stories I've done are rooted in a kind of tribal behavior that has to do with betrayal." he later said. At the age of 14 he enrolled at Cathedral College seminary on the Upper West Side. His vocation coincided with a surge of teenage hormones, and his interest in girls and rock n' roll soon distracted him from his studies. He was kicked out of the seminary after a year. A movie career it would have to be.

  • Early Career

    In 1960, Scorsese enrolled at New York University to study film. He busied himself making short student films, including the Roman epic Vesuvius VI and a cop comedy called It's Not Just You, Murray! By the time he left NYU in 1966, he had a master's in fine arts degree, a handful of films under his belt, and a wife and child. Scorsese married Laraine Marie Brennan in 1965, and the couple's daughter Catherine was born later that year.

    In 1967, Scorsese released his first feature film, Who's That Knocking At My Door? It starred a young and unknown actor named Harvey Keitel. Foreshadowing themes that Scorsese would mine in later films, the movie followed a young Italian-American man navigating the rough streets of New York City. The movie attracted the attention of the director Roger Corman, who took an interest in the young director and served as his mentor. Over the next few years, Scorsese supported himself and his young family by teaching, editing and working odd jobs while continuing to make his movies. His marriage ended in 1971.

    In 1973, Scorsese released Mean Streets, a gritty autobiographical drama starring Keitel and Robert DeNiro, who was working with Scorsese for the first time. The breakthrough film earned great reviews and established Scorsese as a promising young director to watch. The following year he directed the drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which won a Best Actress Oscar for leading lady Ellen Burstyn. Scorsese married the writer Julia B. Cameron in 1975 and had a second daughter, Domenica, but that marriage too ended in two years. Not for the last time, Scorsese's obsession with his work would wound his personal life.

  • Taxi Driver and Raging Bull

    Then Scorsese made a movie called Taxi Driver. "Bob [DeNiro] was the actor, I was the director, and Paul [Schrader] wrote the script," Scorsese said of the film's team. "The three of us just came together. It was exactly what we wanted."

    Between these two career triumphs came the lowest point of Scorsese's life. His film New York, New York flopped, launching him into severe depression. He was crippled by phobias and a serious cocaine problem. His second marriage ended and a third ill-fated union with actress Isabella Rossellini soon crumbled as well. Scorsese checked himself in to a hospital to recover, and was on his way back from the edge by the time Raging Bull came out.

  • Goodfellas

    Scorsese spent the 1980s making a string of well-received films, including The King of Comedy (in which Scorsese feels DeNiro did his best work for him); the commercially successful The Color of Money, starring Paul Newman; and The Last Temptation of Christ. Temptation, based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, imagined the life of Jesus Christ if Jesus had been simply a mortal human and not a divine figure. Scorsese made the film, he said, in part because he wanted to know Jesus better. It was by far his most controversial film to date. The Italian director Franco Zeffirelli refused to allow his film shown in the same festival as Scorsese's ostensibly blasphemous film. Church groups around the world protested its release, others called it anti-Semitic, and one theater in Paris was firebombed during a showing.

    In 1990, Scorsese released Goodfellas, an Italian-American gangster drama set in the Little Italy of his childhood. The film, starring Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, became one of his best-loved movies and earned Scorsese his third Best Director Academy Award nomination, though he lost yet again. (Scorsese's six-year marriage to producer Barbara DeFina, who worked with him on Goodfellas, ended in 1991.) He followed that up with a string of commercially successful films including Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, as well as smaller and less-seen films such as 1997's Kundun, about the early life of the Dalai Lama, a four-hour documentary about American cinema called A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. He married his fifth wife, Helen Morris, in 1999. Daughter Francesca Scorsese was born later. The couple remains married.

  • Recent Films & DiCaprio

    In 2002, Scorsese released the epic drama Gangs of New York. Part period piece and part homage to the bloody history of the city he loves, the film was about the violent clashes between nativists and immigrants in the 19th century. It marked his first time working with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who would soon become the DeNiro of Scorsese's new millennium. The pair worked together again on 2004's The Aviator, a splashy, epic biopic about the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. The film was a hit and Scorsese was nominated for his sixth Best Director Oscar. Though Cate Blanchett took home a statue for her dead-on portrayal of Katherine Hepburn, Scorsese lost. Again.

    In 2006, Scorsese released The Departed, a suspenseful, action-filled drama about the Irish mafia in Boston. It starred DiCaprio as a tormented undercover cop and Jack Nicholson as the terrifying Mob boss. Critics called it one of Scorsese's best films since Raging Bull. At the Oscar ceremony on 25 February 2007, directors Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas stepped to the microphone to present the Best Director Oscar - to their old friend, Marty Scorsese. It was his seventh nomination and first win. "Could you double-check the envelope?"

    • Family

      Father: Luciano Charles Scorsese (1913-1993)
      Mother: Catherine Cappa Scorsese (1912-1997)
      Brother: Frank Scorsese (b. 1936)

      Wife 1: Laraine Marie Brennan (b. ?) married (1965-1971)
      Daughter: Catherine Scorsese (b. 1965)

      Wife 2: Julia B. Cameron (b. 1948) married 1976-1977
      Daughter: Domenica Cameron-Scorsese (b. 1976)

      Wife 3: Isabella Rossellini (b. 1952) married 1979-1983

      Wife 4: Barbara De Fina (b. 1949) 1985-1991

      Wife 5: Helen Morris (b. ?) 1999-present
      Daughter: Francesca Scorsese (b. 1999)

    • Education

      Bachelor's, New York University (1960)
      Masters in Fine Arts, New York University (1966)

    • Work Experience

      Film Director (1960-present)

    • Major Works

      Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)
      Boxcar Bertha (1972)
      Mean Streets (1973)
      Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
      Taxi Driver (1976)
      New York, New York (1977)
      The Last Waltz (1978)
      Raging Bull (1980)
      The King of Comedy (1982)
      After Hours (1985)
      The Color of Money (1986)
      The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
      Made in Milan (1990)
      Goodfellas (1990)
      Cape Fear (1991)
      The Age of Innocence (1993)
      Casino (1995)
      Kundun (1997)
      My Voyage to Italy (1999)
      Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
      Gangs of New York (2002)
      The Blues (2003)
      The Aviator (2004)
      No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
      The Departed (2006)
      The Key to Reserva (2007)
      Shine a Light (2008)
      Shutter Island (2010)

    • Awards

      Golden Palm, Cannes Film Festival (1976)
      Blue Ribbon Award, Best Foreign Film (1977)
      National Society of Film Critics Award (1977)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Director (1981)
      National Society of Film Critics Award (1981)
      Best Director, Cannes Film Festival (1986)
      Independent Spirit Award (1986)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Director (1989)
      New York Film Critics Circle Award (1990)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Director (1991)
      National Society of Film Critics Award (1991)
      Independent Spirit Award (1991)
      American Cinematheque Award (1991)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay (1991)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay (1994)
      Career Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival (1995)
      Board of Governors Award, American Society of Cinematography (1995)
      Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute (1997)
      National Society of Film Critics Special Award (2002)
      Hollywood Film Award (2002)
      Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2003)
      Golden Globe, Best Director (2003)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Director (2003)
      Academy Award Nomination, Best Director (2005)
      Grammy Award, Best Long Form Music Video (2006)
      New York Film Critics Circle Award (2006)
      Golden Globe, Best Director (2007)
      Academy Award, Best Director (2007)
      Directors Guild of America Award (2007)
      Cecil B. DeMille Award, Golden Globes (2010)