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A consummate craftsman known for eliciting fine performances from his casts, Norman Jewison has addressed important social and political issues throughout his directing and producing career, often making controversial or complicated subjects accessible to mainstream audiences. Like so many of his peers, he got his start in TV, but unlike the ones who made their marks in the live dramas of the day (i.e., Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, John Frankenheimer), Jewison's domain was the musical special. After serving in the Navy at the close of WWII and completing college in his native Canada, he moved to London in the early 1950s and finally broke into the business as an actor-writer with the BBC. An invitation to join a television training program at the CBC brought him home, where he rose rapidly and within a few years was directing and producing major variety programs (e.g., "Showtime", "The Big Revue"). CBS took note of his skills and hired him in 1958 to revitalize the live weekly music show "Your Hit Parade", and for the next four years, he solidified his reputation working with such artists as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. Disillusioned by the effects of the ratings...
A consummate craftsman known for eliciting fine performances from his casts, Norman Jewison has addressed important social and political issues throughout his directing and producing career, often making controversial or complicated subjects accessible to mainstream audiences. Like so many of his peers, he got his start in TV, but unlike the ones who made their marks in the live dramas of the day (i.e., Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, John Frankenheimer), Jewison's domain was the musical special. After serving in the Navy at the close of WWII and completing college in his native Canada, he moved to London in the early 1950s and finally broke into the business as an actor-writer with the BBC. An invitation to join a television training program at the CBC brought him home, where he rose rapidly and within a few years was directing and producing major variety programs (e.g., "Showtime", "The Big Revue"). CBS took note of his skills and hired him in 1958 to revitalize the live weekly music show "Your Hit Parade", and for the next four years, he solidified his reputation working with such artists as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. Disillusioned by the effects of the ratings wars on the quality of TV programming, Jewison relocated from NYC to Hollywood to helm his first Hollywood feature, "40 Pounds of Trouble" (1963), starring Tony Curtis in an updating of the classic "Little Miss Marker" about a selfish casino manager who "adopts" a spunky orphaned waif. The picture did so well that Universal offered a seven-picture contract, and his second film, "The Thrill of It All" (1963, scripted by Carl Reiner), a vehicle for Doris Day and James Garner, became one of the studio's big moneymakers that year. Jewison also banged out "Send Me No Flowers" (1964), which paired Day with Rock Hudson, and reteamed with Reiner and Garner for "The Art of Love" (1965) but was growing tired of the lightweight scripts the studio was offering. Eager to delve into more serious fare, he found a loophole in his contract and switched to MGM, replacing Sam Peckinpah at the helm of "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965), a tale of professional gamblers starring Steve McQueen, with whom he would also make the sumptuous, no-think entertainment "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968), a triumph of style over substance which he has called "the only amoral-immoral film I've ever done." Jewison achieved complete artistic control on "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966) and has enjoyed the coveted final cut on every film since. A farcical take on the Cold War, it featured an all-star cast and scored pre-Glasnost points by emphasizing the shared humanity of Russians and Americans alike, earning its first-time feature producer an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. He followed its success with the gripping, pioneering civil rights drama "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), which boasted the dynamic pairing of Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger against the claustrophobic, small-town backdrop vividly photographed by Haskell Wexler. Despite losing head-to-head at the box office against "Bonnie and Clyde", it still managed to beat out the competition for Best Picture, in addition to garnering four other Oscars, including one for editor Hal Ashby. Jewison returned to comedy for "Gaily, Gaily" (1969), adapted from Ben Hecht's autobiographical novel of his apprenticeship on a Chicago paper, and though the expensive sets and period flavor evoked nostalgia, he fared better as producer of Ashby's feature directing debut, "The Landlord" (1970). Jewison's next two movies were adaptations of very successful stage musicals. For the first, "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), he faced one of the most agonizing casting decisions of his career, turning down both Zero Mostel (who had originated the role of Tevye on Broadway) and his good friend Danny Kaye in favor of the little-known Topol. He told the LOS ANGELES TIMES (March 14, 1999), "I wanted an Israeli actor who didn't speak English very well to play this first-generation Russian Jew. I didn't think it would ring true with a New York Yiddish actor." Filmed on location in Yugoslavia, it received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, earned three, for Best Sound, Best cinematography (Oswald Morris) and Best Musical Scoring (John Williams) and raked in the profits. A similar commercial fate awaited "Jesus Christ Superstar", which he filmed in Israel while managing to simultaneously produce Ted Kotcheff's offbeat Western "Billy Two-Hats" (both 1973), proving his flexibility, if nothing else. The sci-fi drama "Rollerball" (1975) also pointed up his incredible versatility, earning somewhat of a cult following. Jewison's labor movement picture, "F.I.S.T" (1978), was a giant flop despite the director's careful attention to detail, and when he focused his attention on the legal system, not even a powerhouse performance by Al Pacino could overcome the weak script (by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin) of "...And Justice for All" (1979), though it performed better commercially than had its predecessor. When he reteamed with Levinson and Curtin for "Best Friends" (1982), the picture failed to meet audience expectations for a Goldie Hawn-Burt Reynolds vehicle, resulting in tepid ticket sales. He finally turned it around with the socially conscious "A Soldier's Story" (1984), adapted from the 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Charles Fuller. A solid whodunit plus a probing look at racism within blank ranks during WWII, it featured most of its original Negro Ensemble Company cast, including Adolph Caesar in his Oscar-nominated role as the bigoted master sergeant found shot to death on a country road near a Louisiana army base. It also marked Jewison's first collaboration with Denzel Washington, as well as his return to the ranks of Oscar nominees (Best Picture). "A Soldier's Story" had not completely escaped its theatrical origins but was still a riveting picture. The same cannot be said for Jewison's next two stage-to-film transfers "Agnes of God" (1985) and "Other People's Money" (1991), with neither coming up to the level of its forerunner. In between, however, Jewison enjoyed a mighty box office at the helm of playwright John Patrick Shanley's original screenplay "Moonstruck" (1987), deftly handling the romantic comedy which won Oscars for Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Screenplay (Shanley). "In Country" (1989), however, despite a fine performance by Bruce Willis as a cynical, shell-shocked recluse and beautifully-handled concluding scenes at the Washington (DC) Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was a disappointing treatment of Bobbie Ann Mason's acclaimed novel. Jewison reemerged from a three-year hiatus with the tepid romantic comedy "Only You" (1994), starring 1993 Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei as a bride-to-be who leaves her groom at the altar to search for her true soul mate (Robert Downey Jr.), followed by the treacly comedy-drama "Bogus" (1996), featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu in a story of a young boy's reliance on an imaginary friend to cope with the death of a parent. Jewison returned to TV as executive producer of the TNT biopic "Geronimo" (1993) and two years later served as an executive producer for Showtime's "Picture Windows" anthology, as well as directing its "Soir Bleu" segment. In Canada, he executive-produced Bruce McDonald's feature "Dance Me Outside" (1994) and then shared executive producing responsibilities with McDonald on the Canadian TV series "The Rez" in 1996. The 90s also found him acting in the Canadian picture "Harold Knows Best" (1995), playing a TV director in John Landis' "The Stupids" and appearing as himself in the satirical "Burn, Hollywood, Burn" (1997). On the heels of accepting the prestigious Irving G Thalberg Memorial Award, he helmed the feature-length Showtime documentary "Norman Jewison on Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money" (1999), but the entire decade was just a prelude for "The Hurricane", released in the waning days of the 20th Century. Unleashing his social conscience on the film he had wanted to make for 10 years, he masterfully told the story of Reuben 'Hurricane' Carter (Denzel Washington), a former middleweight boxing champion unjustly imprisoned 19 years for murders he did not commit. A fabulous tribute to the power of the human spirit, it was arguably Jewison's best film in decades and possibly his best ever.
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CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Jewison became a decorated officer in the Order of Canada in 1982
He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Canada-California Chamber of Commerce in 1986.
Named "Filmmaker of the Year" by the Motion Picture Bookers in 1991
Embracing his ancestral occupation of farming, Jewison breeds cattle on his 200-acre farm outside Toronto.
Jewison was originally set to direct the biopic of slain activist Malcolm X until Spike Lee raised objections and eventually assumed the project.
He and his wife market "Norman & Dixie's Maple Syrup Ice Cream".
"My first film, '40 Pounds of Trouble', starring Tony Curtis, launched me as a motion picture director and I have remained in the industry ever since. Every film I make must have a raison d'etre, a reason for being there. As well as being an entertaining story it must have something valid to say about life, that reflects my own private fears or joy. Even though I now know it is a futile and impossible task, I still want to change the world. Well, a little bit!" --Norman Jewison, quoted in "World Film Directors, Volume Two", edited by John Wakeman (New York: The H W Wilson Company, 1988)
About Steve McQueen: "He was always looking for a father figure. And I said, 'I'm too young to be your father, but I'll be your older brother. And I'll be the brother that went to college who'll look out for you, OK?' He said, 'You're twisting my melon, man.'
"So he learned to trust me. And on 'Thomas Crown', I knew he wasn't that character, but he desperately had to play it, so he trusted me to guide him. He was absolutely believable. He never acted a day in his life; he just was. There was an honesty about him, and he knew where the camera was." --Jewison to Bill Desowitz in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, March 14, 1999
"All my life I've been seeking my own Jewishness. My family is originally from Yorkshire, which was a Jewish stronghold in England. I suspect we might have been assimilated from the 13th century." --Jewison quoted in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, March 14, 1999
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