Famed Canadian filmmaker and producer Norman Jewison has died aged 97, his publicist has announced. Jewison directed classics such as ‘Moonstruck’, ‘In The Heat Of The Night’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’.
Norman Jewison, the acclaimed Canadian-born director whose Hollywood films ranged from Doris Day comedies and Moonstruck to social dramas like the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, has died at age 97.
Jewison, a three-time Oscar nominee who in 1999 received an Academy Award for lifetime achievement, died “peacefully” on Saturday (20 January), according to publicist Jeff Sanderson.
Throughout his long career, Jewison combined light entertainment with topical films that appealed to him on a personal level. As Jewison was ending his military service in the Canadian navy during World War II, he hitchhiked through the American South and had a close-up view of Jim Crow segregation. In his autobiography “This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me,” he noted that racism and injustice became his most common themes.
“Every time a film deals with racism, many Americans feel uncomfortable,” he wrote. “Yet it has to be confronted. We have to deal with prejudice and injustice or we will never understand what is good and evil, right and wrong; we need to feel how ‘the other’ feels.”
He drew upon his experiences for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, starring Rod Steiger as a white racist small-town sheriff and Sidney Poitier as a Black detective from Philadelphia trying to help solve a murder and eventually forming a working relationship with the hostile local lawman.
Writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin condemned the film’s “appalling distance from reality,” and thought the director trapped in a fantasy of racial harmony that would only heighten “Black rage and despair.” But The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther was among the critics who found the movie powerful and inspiring and in a year featuring such landmarks as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, Jewison’s production won the Academy Award for best picture while Steiger took home the best actor Oscar. (Jewison lost out for best director to Mike Nichols of The Graduate).
Among those who encouraged Jewison while making In the Heat of the Night: Robert F. Kennedy, whom the director met during a ski trip in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I told him I made films and he asked what kind I make,” he recalled in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “So I told him that I was working on ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and that it’s about two cops: one a white sheriff from Mississippi and the other a black detective from Philadelphia. I told him it was a film about tolerance. So he listened and nodded and said ‘You know, Norman, timing is everything. In politics, in art, in life itself.’ I never forgot that.”
He received two other Oscar nominations: For Moonstruck, the beloved romantic comedy for which Cher won an Academy Award, and Fiddler on the Roof.
His other notable films included the Cold War spoof The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, the Steve McQueen thriller The Thomas Crown Affair and a pair of movies featuring Denzel Washington: the racial drama A Soldier’s Story and The Hurricane, starring Washington as wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
Jewison and his wife Margaret Ann Dixon (nicknamed Dixie) had three children, sons Kevin and Michael and daughter Jennifer Ann, who became an actress and appeared in the Jewison films Agnes of God and Best Friends. The Jewisons were married 51 years, until her death in 2004. He married Lynne St. David in 2010.