Norman Jewison, ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night’ Director, Dies at 97

Oscar-nominated film director and producer Norman Jewison, who steered the 1967 racial drama “In the Heat of the Night” to a best picture Oscar and also helmed such popular films as “Moonstruck,” “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” as well as film musicals “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” died Saturday at his Los Angeles residence. He was 97.

His film career began with fluffy Doris Day comedies like “The Thrill of It All.” But Jewison’s social conscience began to surface with “In the Heat of the Night” and, later, the labor union drama “F.I.S.T.” and other films focusing on racial tensions such as “A Soldier’s Story” and “The Landlord” (the latter of which he only produced), though he never abandoned comedies and romances.

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Jewison had his share of box office hits and was usually attuned to the audience pulse, but did not always receive critical accolades for his work. He received seven Oscar nominations but never won a competitive Oscar, though he did receive the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1999.

In 1961, after successes in British, Canadian and American TV, he was chafing at the restrictions of television and moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career. His first effort was the comedy “40 Pounds of Trouble,” starring Tony Curtis. In the wake of its box office success, Universal signed Jewison to a seven-year contract. His next film was even bigger. “The Thrill of It All” starred the studio’s reigning queen, Doris Day, as did Jewison’s follow-up, 1964’s “Send Me No Flowers.”

As his film career blossomed, Jewison didn’t completely abandon television: He served as exec producer on Judy Garland’s weekly variety show.

After finishing “The Art of Love,” with James Garner, Jewison eased himself out of the Universal contract and made his first drama: Steve McQueen star vehicle “The Cincinnati Kid,” taking over from Sam Peckinpah.

His first signature success was the 1966 comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” with Alan Arkin. Jewison also produced the popular film, breezy and yet with a message of tolerance; it was Oscar-nominated for best picture.

Jewison’s next film, “In the Heat of the Night,” won best picture in 1967, and he drew an Oscar nomination for directing it. Rod Steiger, playing a racist Southern sheriff, won the best actor Oscar, and Sidney Poitier created the memorable Virgil Tibbs. The film later became a popular TV series with Carroll O’Connor, and Poitier revisited his role in other films.

Jewison again worked with McQueen and rising star Faye Dunaway in the visually complex romantic caper film “The Thomas Crown Affair” — a big hit. His 1969 period comedy “Gaily, Gaily,” based on the early life of Ben Hecht, was not well received by audiences or critics.

Spending $9 million on the film version of the legendary Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” paid off handsomely. Audiences loved it and the film was nominated for best picture and director. He next mounted an adaptation of the rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which was almost as popular.

Having developed a relationship with United Artists, Jewison also began producing films including Hal Ashby’s debut feature “The Landlord” and Ted Kotcheff’s Western “Billy Two Hats.”

His next film, 1975’s dystopian actioner “Rollerball,” starring James Caan, performed modestly. His attempt to get audiences to take Sylvester Stallone seriously in 1978’s “F.I.S.T.” as a Jimmy Hoffa-style labor organizer, however, was doomed.

Jewison bounced back in 1979 with the dark comedy “…And Justice for All,” starring Al Pacino, and also did well with the Burt-Reynolds Goldie Hawn comedy “Best Friends.” His production of “Iceman” for director Fred Schepisi did not ignite, but Jewison’s adaptation of the tense racial thriller “A Soldier’s Story” scored both with critics and audiences; he picked up another Oscar nod as one of the producers of the film, which was nominated for best picture. He tried a stage-to screen-vehicle again, 1985’s “Agnes of God,” with a starry cast including Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft.

Perhaps the biggest commercial and critical favorite of Jewison’s career was 1987’s “Moonstruck,” which won acting Oscars for Cher and Olympia Dukakis and launched the career of a young Nicolas Cage. The film was a major revenue producer for the ailing MGM and Jewison drew nominations for best picture and director.

His busy career continued with 1989 drama “In Country,” with Bruce Willis; 1991’s “Other People’s Money,” with Danny DeVito; “Only You,” starring Robert Downey Jr.; and “Bogus,” with Whoopi Goldberg, in 1996, but he scored again in 1999 with “The Hurricane,” the inspirational true story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a man unfairly accused of murder. Denzel Washington drew a best actor Oscar nom for his performance in the title role. Jewison and other producers were nominated for a Producers Guild Award.

Jewison was still doing TV work as well. He contributed a short film to the 1994 series “Picture Windows,” in which noted directors each brought a famous painting to life; helmed the TV documentary “Comedy in the 20th Century: Funny Is Money”; and directed and exec produced a 2001 HBO adaptation of the Donald Margulies play “Dinner With Friends” that was Emmy nominated for outstanding TV movie.

Jewison’s last theatrical effort, 2003’s “The Statement,” starred Michael Caine in the story of a Nazi war criminal finally hunted down after years of protection.

With a home base in Toronto, and homes in Los Angeles and London, Jewison founded and co-chaired the Canadian Center for Advanced Film Studies.

Norman F. Jewison was born in Toronto on July 21, 1926. The son of a dry goods store owner, he later attended the Malvern Collegiate Institute and Victoria College at the University of Toronto, with a stint in the Royal Canadian Navy in between.

He gained his first entertainment experience in London as a writer for children’s shows and bit part actor at the BBC. After two years of training, he was admitted to the Canadian Broadcasting Co.’s training program. He soon became a director and producer of major variety programs such as “The Big Revue, Wayne and Shuster,” “Showtime” and “Barris Beat.”

Jewison’s success in Canadian television led to a three-year contract with CBS in New York in 1958. His first mission was to revive pop song show “Your Hit Parade.” That mission accomplished, he directed “The Andy Williams Show” and several specials including “Tonight With Belafonte,” as well as variety shows headlining Danny Kaye, Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason. In 1960 he won an Emmy for his staging of musical tribute “The Fabulous Fifties.”

His autobiography “This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me” was published in 2004. Jewison also received the Directors Guild’s lifetime achievement award in 2010.

His first wife, Margaret Ann Dixon, died in 2004. Jewison married again in 2010. He is survived by his second wife, Lynne St. David, and his children, Kevin, Michael and Jenny, and his grandchildren Ella, Megan, Alexandra, Sam and Henry.

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