A major figure in 20th century Hollywood history has died. Norman Jewison, the man behind some of the most famous and popular movies of the 1960s, ’70s, and 80s passed away last weekend at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97 years old.
The Canandian-born Jewison got his start in the entertainment industry working in the early days of Canadian TV. He eventually moved to America to work for NBC, directing various projects for the channel. Tony Curtis then brought Jewison to Hollywood direct his first feature for Curtis’ Curtleigh Productions company, 40 Pounds of Trouble.
Jewison’s first major hit as a film director was 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid, starring Steve McQueen as an up-and-coming poker player. The movie remains one of the most popular films ever madeabout gambling and card playing.
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Jewison’s follow-up, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, earned a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards; his next film after that, In the Heat of the Night, actually won Best Picture at the Oscars. Starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, the film was a crime procedural about a detective from up north (Poitier) who winds up investigating a killing in Mississippi.
The film’s timely subject matter about race in America also proved popular with audiences; In the Heat of the Night spawned two sequels about Poitier’s character, and many years later became the inspiration for a TV series.
That trio of films catapulted Jewison into the upper echelons of Hollywood directors, a status he held for much of the 1970s, when he made very successful and critically acclaimed hits like the movie adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof and the original version of Rollerball, about a popular but extremely violent sport played in a bleak dystopian future.
Jewison continued working steadily until the start of the 21st century, directing a movie every few years through 2003’s The Statement, starring Michael Caine. Probably the best-known of his movies from the later stages of his career is Moonstruck, his hugely popular romantic comedy from 1987 starring Chef, who won an Oscar for her role, and Nicolas Cage.
Jewison’s work rarely inspired the fervent passionate level of fandom of some of his contemporaries in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But I dare say Jewison’s filmmography holds up to most of those more famous names — all of those movies I’ve already mentioned plus other winners like The Thomas Crown Affair, Other People’s Money, The Hurricane with Denzel Washington, and the very underrated rom-com Only You starring Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei.
Although he never won a Best Director Oscar he was nominated on three separate occasions: for In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck. It was, by any measure, an incredible career. If you love old movies at all, odds are you love at least a couple directed by Norman Jewison.
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