Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison, the Oscar-nominated director behind classics like “Moonstruck,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” has died at the age of 97. Jewison passed away on January 22nd, 2024 at his home in California, as reported by multiple news outlets. He leaves behind an incredible directing legacy spanning decades.
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Norman Jewison was born in Toronto, Canada on July 21st, 1926. From an early age, he was interested in entertainment, working as an usher in a movie theater as a teenager. He would later go on to study at Victoria College, part of the University of Toronto.
After serving in the Canadian Navy during WWII, Jewison moved to London hoping to find work in the entertainment industry. He got his start working at the BBC, gaining experience that served him well when he eventually relocated to Toronto to direct TV and film for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 1952.
Over the next decade, Jewison directed and produced television shows and specials for the CBC network while also working on smaller Canadian indie films. This built up his reputation and allowed him to transition to directing feature Hollywood films in 1962 when he was 36 years old.
Directing Breakthrough: ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and Other 1960s Classics
Jewison started out directing light comedies like 40 Pounds of Trouble and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming in the early and mid-1960s. But it was 1967’s drama In the Heat of the Night that really put him on the map as an A-list Hollywood director.
In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, deals with racial tensions and prejudice in a small Mississippi town as a black Philadelphia detective gets embroiled in a local murder investigation. Seen as socially conscious and boundary pushing for its time, it ended up winning 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and gained Jewison his first Best Director nomination.
[Table summarizing some key Norman Jewison films and accolades]
|In the Heat of the Night
|5 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor for Rod Steiger
|Fiddler on the Roof
|3 Oscars including Best Cinematography, Best Music Score
|3 Oscars including Best Actress for Cher, Best Original Screenplay
|Other People’s Money
|Golden Globe nomination for Danny DeVito
The late 1960s also saw Jewison direct the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof (1971) which captured several Oscars and brought beloved Broadway material to the big screen. These two movies confirmed Jewison’s versatility as a director who could master both heady social commentary pieces as well as big budget musical spectacles.
The 1970s and 1980s: Exploring Social Issues Through Film
In the 1970s, Norman Jewison remained committed to exploring social issues and injustice in his films. Movies like the racial sports drama The Hurricane (1999), the labor union study F.I.S.T. (1978), and the military injustice tale …And Justice for All (1979) earned acclaim for their realistic portrayals. While not massive commercial hits, they were seen as intelligent explorations of discrimination.
Jewison started the 1980s off with the historical Russian drama A Soldier’s Story (1984), which told the story of black American soldiers dealing with racism even while serving their country. He earned more Oscar attention for the film, including a Best Picture nomination.
Later in the decade, he shifted to lighter fare, having one of the biggest successes of his career with the offbeat Cher romantic comedy Moonstruck (1987). Winning 3 Oscars including Cher’s Best Actress trophy, it became one of Jewison’s most beloved and quintessentially “New York” films.
Final Films and Lifetime Achievement Recognition
In the 1990s and beyond, Norman Jewison slowed down his directing output. But he continued earning acclaim with titles like Other People’s Money (1991), Only You (1994) and The Hurricane (1999). Jewison’s last film would be 2003’s The Statement, a political thriller about a fugitive Nazi collaborator.
While Jewison officially retired from feature film directing in 2003, the lifetime achievement awards and honors kept rolling in. He received a special Academy Award for career excellence in 1998, the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award back in 2010 for outstanding producing skills. The man who one started out small directing TV variety hours in Canada finishes his career recognized as one of the most versatile, socially relevant directors of his era.
Reaction to Jewison’s Passing: Admiration for His Legacy
As word has spread in Hollywood and beyond about Norman Jewison’s passing, admiration and praise for the director’s incredible body of work has come pouring in.
Filmmaker Dan Falk tweeted:
RIP Norman Jewison, the Toronto-born director behind iconic films like In The Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, Moonstruck, and The Hurricane. A master filmmaker who made Hollywood (and the world) sit up and take notice of complex social issues.
Steven Knoll of Turner Classic Movies said:
Sad to hear that Norman Jewison has passed away at 97. He had a six decade career directing films that often carried important social messages like In the Heat of the Night and A Soldier’s Story. One of Canada’s greats.
And the Wall Street Journal’s obituary noted:
The filmmaker displayed versatility with both tense dramas and big musicals. From Sidney Poitier’s steely detective in “In the Heat of the Night” to the incisive military tale “A Soldier’s Story,” Jewison excelled at intelligent potboilers. RIP to a legend.
Many more film fans, collaborators, actors and directors Jewison worked with like Cher and Lee Grant are also sharing memories and commemorating the director’s incredible influence.
What’s Next: Will there be a Memorial Service?
As of now, no memorial service for Norman Jewison has been announced. But given his nearly century-long acclaimed career and the high esteem he was held in, most expect some type of larger commemoration to be held where Hollywood elites and collaborators can pay tribute.
Once his family decides on any services or memorial events to honor Jewison’s life, major entertainment trade publications like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter will likely report the details. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could also get involved in celebrating Jewison considering his Oscar history.
While the celebrated director may now sadly be gone, his films live on forever, continuing to influence new generations of directors with their skill and socially relevant themes. Norman Jewison’s impact on Hollywood and filmmaking is immense and still rippling out nearly 60 years after he first arrived to make entertainment history.
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