Family & Companions
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.
A consummate craftsman known for eliciting fine performances from his casts, director Norman Jewison addressed important social and political issues throughout career, often making controversial or complicated subjects accessible to mainstream audiences. Jewison transitioned from directing variety shows on television to feature films in the early 1960s, helming several forgettable studio-driven comedies. He emerged later in the decade with the gritty gambler drama "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965) and the Cold War farce "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966). But it was his simple, but superbly acted small-town crime drama, "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), that etched Jewison's name in stone, thanks to an Oscar-winning performance from Rod Steiger and the immortal line, "They call me Mister Tibbs," uttered by co-star Sidney Poitier. Jewison went on to helm the unforgettable adaptation of the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971) before enjoying counterculture success with his take on the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973). Following the futuristic satire "Rollerball" (1975), Jewison had a series of critical and financial setbacks until the moving drama, "A Soldier's Story" (1984), which he soon followed with the box office smash, "Moonstruck" (1987). He again settled into a bit of a funk until emerging once again with the biopic "The Hurricane" (1999), perhaps his finest work since "In the Heat of the Night." Over the course of his long and venerable career, Jewison managed to keep himself relevant by continuing to tell stories that had universal appeal.
Born on July 21, 1926 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Jewison was raised by his father, Percy, who ran a dry goods store, and his mother, Dorothy. After developing a love for film at an early age, Jewison spent his high school years at Malvern Collegiate Institute, from which he graduated in 1944. After briefly serving in the Canadian Navy at the close of World War II, he attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where he earned his bachelor's degree and received an honor award for writing and directing several college productions. Returning to Toronto and finding the job market in television wanting, Jewison drove a taxi cab to earn his bread before moving to London, England where he landed occasional work as a script writer for a children's show and bit actor for the BBC while working odd jobs in-between. His long struggle to find consistent television work ended when he received an invitation to join a training program at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Jewison started work as an assistant director and quickly rose up the ranks to director and producer, helming such major variety and comedy programs as "The Big Review" (1952) and "The Barris Beat" (1956).
In 1958, American television network CBS took note of Jewison's talents and hired him to revitalize the weekly live music show, "Your Hit Parade" (NBC/CBS, 1950-59) during its last season on the air. His good work on the show led to several made-for-television specials starring artists such as Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. But his biggest contribution to the small screen at the time was directing "The Judy Garland Show" (CBS, 1962), which served as a successful comeback vehicle for the embattled actress and singer. Jewison returned to direct episodes of "The Judy Garland Show" (CBS, 1963-64), an hour-long variety series that materialized from the previous year's hit television special. Disillusioned by the effects of the ratings wars on the quality of television programming, Jewison relocated from New York to Hollywood to helm his first film, "40 Pounds of Trouble" (1963), an updating of the classic "Little Miss Marker" (1934), about a selfish casino manager (Tony Curtis) who adopts a spunky orphaned waif (Claire Wilcox). The film did well enough for Universal Studios to offer him a seven-picture contract, which resulted in his second film, "The Thrill of It All" (1963), a star vehicle for Doris Day and James Garner and scripted by Carl Reiner that became one of the studio's biggest hits that year.
Still under contract with Universal, Jewison continued directing light-hearted comedies, showing no early signs of the socially and racially conscious director yet to come. He helmed "Send Me No Flowers" (1964), which paired Doris Day with Rock Hudson, and worked again with Reiner and Garner for "The Art of Love" (1965), a comedy of errors about a struggling artist (Dick Van Dyke) in Paris trying to fake his own death to make enough money to return home. Growing tired of the lightweight scripts offered by the studio, he eagerly delved into more serious fare after finding a loophole in his contract that allowed him to switch professional loyalties to MGM. Jewison replaced Sam Peckinpah at the helm of "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965), a tense and gritty tale about a New Orleans poker player (Steve McQueen) who challenges reigning champ The Man (Edward G. Robison) to a private game. Jewison reached new creative heights - not to mention achieved full artistic control - with "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966), a farcical take on the Cold War that featured an all-star cast, including Carl Reiner, Alan Arkin and Eva Marie Saint. After winning a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, the film earned the director-producer an Oscar nod in the same category.
Ever since his critical and box office success with "Russians," Jewison enjoyed the coveted final cut on his films ever since. He followed with perhaps his most significant film, the pioneering race drama "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), which told the tale of a black Yankee detective (Sidney Poitier) who partners with a racist Southern police chief (Rod Steiger) to solve a murder in a small Georgian town. The dynamic pairing of Poitier and Steiger - the latter of whom won an Oscar for his performance - became one of the most memorable in cinema history, thanks in part to Poitier's famous line, "They call me Mister Tibbs." Meanwhile, the film itself earned top honors at the Academy Awards, winning a total of five awards, including for Best Picture. "In the Heat of the Night" was a landmark film, long remembered for being among Jewison's finest work. Following up, he reunited with Steve McQueen to make "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968), an action-packed heist flick that was a triumph of style over substance which Jewison called "the only amoral-immoral film I've ever done."
Jewison returned to comedy, albeit with a harder edge, for "Gaily, Gaily" (1969), adapted from Ben Hecht's autobiographical novel of his apprenticeship on a Chicago paper. He made up for that film's lack of commercial success with his next two movies; both of which were adaptations of very successful stage musicals. For the first, "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971), Jewison 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 Israeli actor, Topol. He let the press know that he wanted an Israeli Jew who didn't speak English well in order to make the character more believable. His gamble paid off in a big way, as Topol made a distinct and lasting impression as the poverty-laden milkman who finds himself facing challenges to long-held traditions. Filmed on location in Yugoslavia, "Fiddler" received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director and earned three, for Best Sound, Best cinematography (Oswald Morris) and Best Musical Scoring (John Williams). The film also raked in the profits while becoming one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
A similar commercial fate awaited Jewison's take on Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera hit, "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973), which he filmed in Israel while managing to simultaneously produce Ted Kotcheff's offbeat Western, "Billy Two-Hats" (1973). Employing a contemporary feel to an ancient story, including Roman soldiers carrying machine guns instead of swords "Superstar" starred Ted Neeley as the rock 'n' roll Messiah who is put to death for claiming he is King of the Jews. Not as cohesive or critically lauded as "Fiddler," Jewison's quirky musical was significant for being a sharp look at the late-1960s counterculture world from which it derived. Proving his flexibility as well as his versatility, Jewison jumped to the future the helm the sci-fi satire, "Rollerball" (1975), which was a pointed critique on modern corporations hijacking both democracy and humanity. His next film, a labor movement political drama, "F.I.S.T" (1978), was a giant flop despite the director's careful attention to detail and casting of Sylvester Stallone as the leader of a fledgling union. Jewison continued on in a similarly disappointing vain, directing a powerful Al Pacino in the otherwise limp legal drama, "...And Justice for All" (1979), and the Goldie Hawn-Burt Reynolds vehicle, "Best Friends" (1982), which bombed at the box office despite both stars being at the top of their game.
Jewison finally turned things around with the socially conscious military drama, "A Soldier's Story" (1984), adapted from the 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Charles Fuller. A solid whodunit atop a probing look at racism within blank ranks during World War II, the film 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 when "A Soldier's Story" earned a nod for Best Picture. Though it had not completely escaped its theatrical origins, the movie was nonetheless riveting and well-received by both critics and audiences. The same cannot be said for his next stage-to-film transfer, "Agnes of God" (1985), a fleshed-out adaptation of John Pielmeier's minimalist Broadway play that was bogged down by a confusing murder mystery. Jewison enjoyed mighty box office at the helm of playwright John Patrick Shanley's original screenplay "Moonstruck" (1987), deftly handling the romantic comedy about a widowed bookkeeper (Cher) married to a man she d s not love (Danny Aiello), only to be romanced by his younger brother (Nicolas Cage). "Moonstruck" was a huge success all around, wining Oscars for Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Screenplay (Shanley).
With "In Country" (1989), however, Jewison delivered a disappointing treatment of Bobbie Ann Mason's acclaimed novel, despite a fine performance by Bruce Willis as a cynical, shell-shocked recluse and beautifully-handled concluding scenes at Washington D.C.'s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He served up another disappointing comedy with "Other People's Money" (1991), which starred Danny DeVito as the nefarious Larry the Liquidator, only to fall in love with the daughter-in-law (Penelope Ann Miller) of the company's president (Gregory Peck). Following a three-year hiatus, Jewison reemerged to direct the tepid romantic comedy "Only You" (1994), starring Marisa Tomei as a bride-to-be who leaves her groom at the altar to go search for her true soul mate (Robert Downey, Jr.). He followed with the sappy 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. Marking a return to the small screen after several decades removed, Jewison served as executive producer of the historical biopic, "Geronimo" (TNT, 1993), which chronicled the rise and fall of the famous Apache chief.
Continuing to find new life in television, Jewison executive produced and directed the "Soir Bleu" segment of the Showtime anthology series, "Picture Windows" (1994). Back in Canada, he executive produced Bruce McDonald's feature "Dance Me Outside" (1994) and then shared executive producing responsibilities with McDonald on the Canadian series, "The Rez," in 1996. 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 all that he did during the entire decade was just prelude for "The Hurricane" (1999), his masterful, albeit controversial, biopic about Reuben 'Hurricane' Carter (Denzel Washington), a former middleweight boxing champion unjustly imprisoned 19 years for murders he did not commit. Aided by three Canadian activists (John Hannah, Liev Schreiber and Deborah Unger), who helped him earn an appeal that overturned his conviction, Carter is finally released from prison a new and rehabilitated man. A grand tribute to the power of the human spirit, "Hurricane" was surpassed only by "In the Heat of the Night" as being one of Jewison's best films. But it was largely shut out of consideration at the Academy Awards, save the Best Actor nod for Washington.
After directing "The Hurricane," Jewison slowed down his output to a practical crawl, directing only one motion picture in the next decade. He did return to the small screen to helm "Dinner With Friends" (HBO, 2001), an adaptation of Donald Marguiles' play about a seemingly perfect and happy couple (Andie McDowell and Dennis Quaid) who are shocked to hear that their best friends (Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear) are divorcing, forcing them to reexamine both their friendship with the couple and their own marriage. Jewison next directed "The Statement" (2003), a compelling thriller about an elderly man (Michael Caine) whose past as an executioner for the Vichy regime during World War II is revealed in 1992 after a failed attempt on his life necessitates an investigation spearheaded by an aggressive French prosecutor (Tilda Swinton) and a military colonel (Jeremy Northam). While he remained in the public eye by appearing onscreen in several interviews, Jewison remained unofficially retired from the film business, though he emerged in 2005 to release his autobiography, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me. In 2010, the Directors Guild of America bestowed upon him their highest tribute when they announced that he would be receiving the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to motion pictures.
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Gave readings of poetry by Robert Service at various Masonic lodge meetings at age six (date approximate)
Worked in England as actor-writer with BBC (dates approximate)
Directed first film, "40 Pounds of Trouble"
Based on success of "40 Pounds of Trouble", signed by Universal Studios to a seven-picture deal of which only three were ultimately completed
After directing three "innocuous Hollywood comedies" ("The Thrill of It All" 1963, "Send Me No Flowers" 1964, "The Art of Love" 1965), found loophole in his contract and took over the direction of MGM's "The Cincinnati Kid" from Sam Peckinpah; first collaboration with actor Steve McQueen
First feature producing credit, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming"; also directed; garnered first Oscar nomination for Best Picture; initial collaboration with title designer Pablo Ferro
Helmed Academy Award-winning Best Picture "In the Heat of the Night"; received first Oscar nod for directing; also first collaboration with director of photography Haskell Wexler
Reteamed with McQueen and Wexler for "The Thomas Crown Affair"; checked out that year's Montreal Expo with Wexler and editor Hal Ashby and discovered a short film that introduced multiple screen effects, borrowing the technique for the film; Ferro created and edited the multiple screen effects including the use of 66 images in one frame for the polo sequence, reputedly a first for a 35mm feature
Depressed about the assasinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, moved family to London for eight years
Produced Ashby's feature directing debut, "The Landlord"
First film adaptation of a successful stage musical, produced and directed "Fiddler on the Roof"; film received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director
Co-wrote screenplay (with Melvyn Bragg), produced and directed the film adaptation of "Jesus Christ Superstar", the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice pop opera
Helmed and produced the sci-fi thriller "Rollerball", scripted by William Harrison from his own short story
Teamed with screenwriters Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin for "...And Justice for All", starring Al Pacino
Made an officer of the Order of Canada by the Governor-General, the Queen's representative in the Canadian capital of Ottawa; the Order is Canada's highest civilian decoration
Reteamed with Levinson and Curtin for "Best Friends", a romantic comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn
Got career back on track with the popular and critical success of "A Soldier's Story", adapted by Charles Fuller from his Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Soldier's Play"; nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture; film featured Denzel Washington
Received much less praise for his next stage-to-film adaptation, "Agnes of God"; first feature filmed in his native Canada and initial collaboration with cinematographer Sven Nykvist
Had popular and critical success with the romantic comedy "Moonstruck", receiving Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations
Stumbled with "In Country", a poorly executed adaptation of Bobbie Ann Mason's acclaimed novel
Provided Danny De Vito with a great vehicle, "Other People's Money", though the movie lacked the bite of Jerry Sterner's off-Broadway play; third film with Wexler
Produced the TNT biopic "Geronimo"
Teamed with director of photography Sven Nyvist to provide a lush Italian backdrop for the far-fetched "Only You"
Directed "Soir Bleu" segment of Showtime's "Picture Windows" anthology; also served as an executive producer
Played a TV director in John Landis' "The Stupids"
Missed with pairing of Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu in "Bogus"
Appeared as himself in "Burn, Hollywood, Burn"
Helmed and executive produced feature-length documentary, "Norman Jewison on Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money" (Showtime), using the hype surrounding the finale of the wildly successful series "Seinfeld" (NBC) as his launchpad
Produced and directed "Hurricane", starring Denzel Washington as Reuben 'Hurricane' Carter, the 1960s world middleweight boxing champion, unjustly convicted of the murder of three white men in a New Jersey bar
Directed the HBO adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning play "Dinner With Friends"
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