Norman Jewison: Canada’s Beloved Director

O Canada! A vast country that shares its southern border with the United States. A country that has such unusual weather that some describe it as 9 months of Winter and 3 months of Fall. A country that tries to explain to the rest of the world why the sport of curling is fascinating.  While at the same time, their National sport, hockey, symbolizes their struggles in the below zero freeze.  A country with a strong world leader that is sexy too, Justin Trudeau.  A country so far off the controversial radar that William Shatner has to remind people that he is a Canadian.  A country that is so laid back that even peace loving U2 front man, Bono claims: The world needs more Canada!  So, here it is!  A blogathon that celebrates many Canadian artists who have contributed enormous amounts of work to the Arts and entertainment industries and ultimately and happily, to us.

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Thank you Kristina of  Speakeasy (https://hqofk.wordpress.com) and Ruth of Sliver Screenings (https://silverscreenings.org/tag/ocanada-blogathon/ ) for hosting this #OCanadaBlogathon. This truly is a celebration of those Canadians who helped shaped cinema and television.  The main focus of my blog, Life Daily Lessons, is to examine the arts in its various forms in order to learn more about our human journey and connectedness. With this in mind, I chose director, Norman Jewison from a long list of Canadians.  I recognized his name because I have collected many of his movies. Even though I know very little about him personally, a great deal of his work has touched my life and made that cosmic connection to me as an individual.

Jewison’s Early Work

Jewison was born in Toronto, Ontario on July 21, 1926. After earning his B.A. from Victoria College at the University of Toronto, his first job in show business started in 1952 working with various television projects for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). That eventually led to a job in New York City working on a television show, Hit Parade, at the old Ed Sullivan Theater. His first movie as a director was in 1962, 40 pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette.  The following year, he directed Doris Day, James Garner and Arlene Francis in The Thrill of It All (1963).  The following year he again directed Doris Day  in Send Me No Flowers (1964) with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall (The last film for all three together). In 1965, he directed yet another romantic comedy, The Art of Love, starring Dick Van Dike, James Garner, Elke Sommer and Angie Dickinson.

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Jewison’s life as a director was about to drastically change in 1965 with the released another movie that same year. Only, this was very different movie than his romantic comedies.  Jewison was asked to replace director Sam Peckinpah on a project called The Cincinnati Kid.  The story line involves a poker player, Steve McQueen, who wants to prove he is the best by challenging the reputable best, Edward  G. Robinson.  Although Jewison referred to this film as his “Ugly Duckling” this drama was his golden opportunity to begin working on films with much more serious themes.

But, before he started to work on one the best dramatic movies ever made in the 60s, he directed one of my all-time favorite comedies.  It was based on a true story that ended up in Nathaniel Benchley’s book, The Off-Islanders.  The movie The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1965) is based on his book.  It stars a wonderful character actor, Alan Arkin as the Russian Submarine Officer, Lt. Yuri Rozanov. Oh yes, I confess.  I am still crushing on Adam Arkin today.  This was his debut appearance on film. He was so good in this comedy that he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. It also stars comic legend Carl Reiner along with a long list of accomplished and gifted performers such as Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford and many others.

 

Three Movies that are close to his heart and his humanity

There are few movies that made an impact on movie goers concerning racial tensions of the 60s,70s, and 90s like Jewison movies.  For me, the question is how did a Canadian acutely depict the disturbing prejudices and Jim Crow laws of the Old South, USA (In The Heat of The Night and A Soldier’s Story).  Jewison tells his story of a hitchhiking trip to New Orleans while going through other Southern states.   While on his trek through the state of Missouri, near the end of WWII (1945), an impressionable, 18 year old Jewison got a ride from a man in a red pick up truck. What he discovered on this ride would leave its mark on his psyche forever.

In case you didn’t know, Jewison is not Jewish.  His mother is a British immigrant to Canada and his Canadian father is of the Scotch-Irish heritage.  The “kind” driver of the red truck bragged that his truck was used in a recent lynching earlier that day. It was used to dragged the victim through the streets.  Jewison was shocked and sicken not only for the atrocity of the acts but also by the man’s obvious pride in participating in such brutality. I would love to hear Jewison’s response to the following question: What if the truck driver discovered his name and did not believe that he was not Jewish? I wonder how this story would have changed? I am  sure Jewison may have thought of that too.

This tragic injustice haunted his later work, if it did not actually inspired it.  He made three movies that addressed racial injustice in the United States. The first movie he made based on this theme was, In The Heat of The Night (1967). It is a murder mystery that stars Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, and Warren Oats. Not surprisingly, Jewison is not the only person on this film that had a harrowing experience in the South.  Poitier agreed to do this film if it was not filmed in the South.  In 1964 on a visit to Greenville Mississippi, he and Harry Belafonte delivered $70,000 in donations to Civil Rights workers.  At one point, the KKK followed them and nearly ran them off the road. Poitier also demanded that in the scene where the haughty Philadelphian police detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is slapped by a bigoted cotton plantation owner, Tibbs slaps back, hard.  It is a another memorable scene in movie history. In The Heat of The Night won an Oscar for Best Movie and Rod Steiger won an Oscar for Best Actor.

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The second movie, A Soldier’s Story (1984), stars Howard E. Rollins, Jr.  and  Adolph Caesar. Near the end of WWII, a black officer is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant. A black officer is “unheard of” in the Jim Crow South. Prejudices and racism are explored through the bitter and hostile white reaction to the investigating officer.  It was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar), and Best Screenplay Adaptation.

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The third movie, The Hurricane (1999), stars Denzel Washinton, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Deborah Kara Unger and Liev Schreiber.  This movie depicts the true story of middleweight boxer, Rubin Carter, who is falsely accused and sent to prison for 3 life sentences for 3 murders committed in a New Jersey bar.  Unlike the first two movies this one is not set in the South.  It is based on Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to 45472 and a book by authors Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton: Lazarus and the Hurricane.  This movie touches on the politics of racism in America too. Although Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, he did not win; but, he did win the Golden Globe for Best Actor.  Jewison and the movie was also nominated for Golden Globe awards.

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Jewison’s own words best sums up these three movies.  Jewison: So, I make a lot of movies.  I love them all; but, the ones dearest to me are the ones that address Civil Rights and social injustice.  Since Director Jewison’s movie list contains 44 movies,  I obviously cannot post about each one of them in this blog.  But, I have posted a link in the References if you choose to look them over and possibly watch some you might have missed.

Five More Personal Favorites of Mine:

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1) Moonstruck (1987) A romantic comedy that stars Cher, Nicholas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Durkakis, and Danny Aiello. Jewison said Cher had infallible comic timing. She believes all Directors are mad and crazy; and, Jewison agrees with her. Three Oscars were won for this movie: Cher (Best Actress in Leading Role), Olympia Dukakis (Best Actress in Supporting Role) and John Patrick Stanley (Best Writing). It is rare to see a comedy receive a Best Picture award from the Oscars. This was the first year that all nomintees for Best Director did not come from the United States. Jewison lost to Director, Bernardo Bertolucci, for The Last Emperor.

2) Fiddler On The Roof (1971) A musical drama based on a Russian Jewish family during the time of the Pogroms (offical persecutions). It stars Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, and Paul Mann. Tevye (Topol) has five daughters that he must find husbands.  The three eldest daughters wish to pick their own husbands for love.  Tevyve  must face the challenging changes happening to his family while trying to hold to his valued traditions and customs. I know everyone is buzzing about a recent musical, La La Land; so, maybe more neo-musicals are coming back to big screen. If they are even half as good as Fiddler on The Roof, they should be very successful.  There is another musical Jewison directed, Jesus Christ Superstar.  This not one of my personal favorites although the music is awesome.  For Fiddler on the Roof,  John Williams won an Oscar for the Best Music. It also won Oscars for Best Sound and Best Cinematography. It was nominated for 5 more Oscar categories  including Best Picture, Best actor, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.

3) The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) A romantic heist thriller that stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.  If it wasn’t for the superbly charged chemistry between the two lead actors this may have not have made my Jewison favorite list.  Let’s just say, I have never looked at a game of chess the same way again. Jewison said Steve McQueen was the most difficult actor he had ever worked with.  McQueen is suppose to have told a writer on another film, Cincinnati Kid, that he is better at walking than he is at talking. That could be interpreted with a double meaning.

4) And Justice For All (1979) Courtroom drama staring Al Pacino, Jack Warden, Lee Strasberg, John Forsythe, Jeffery Tambor, and Christine Lahti.  This film has one of Pacino’s most memorable performances. It is nearly the last scene in the movie.  Oddly enough, it is also was the first scene to be filmed.  He is a lawyer who defends innocent clients and not so innocent clients, even guilty ones too.  This is an intense and smartly written movie about the justice system itself.. Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson were nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay and Pacino for Best Actor in a Leading role. If you are a Pacino fan or wanted to know why he has so many critics loving his performances, you have to see this movie.

5) Agnes Of God (1985)  It stars Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft, and Meg Tilly. This is a murder mystery that pits Faith against Facts.  A young, other worldly nun (Meg Tilly) is found in her room with a dead baby. She has no memory of how the baby died. However, she will later claim an angel impregnated her; so, a psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) is called in to investigate. The young nun is protected by the Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) who wants her left alone. Is Mother Superior trying to cover up something? The movie did not win any Oscars; but, it was nominated in 3 categories:  Meg Tilly for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Anne Bancroft for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Music.  The whole time I watched this movie I was constantly wondering if it miraculously happened as the young nun had believed it or would an alternative  truth finally be discovered.

Indirect Life Lesson From Norman Jewison

Jewison gave excellent advice about being a good Director.  That same advice could easily be applied to a person’s life.  So,  in the following comments or paraphrasing of them, if you  switch out the words Director or Directing with the word life,  you will discover wisdom that could be applied to an individual’s life.

Directing movies (living life) is like being at war. Everybody is telling you something different.  There are always obstacles in the way.  You have to fight for what you believe in.  You have to defend yourself constantly. It is a matter of confidence.  With a lack of confidence and indecisiveness, everybody will take over…

Most important for a Director (life) is to keep working…

How else can you learn new things?  Which is the point. .

Thank you Norman Jewison for making all those movies.  Thank you for establishing The Canadian Centre for The Advanced Film Studies in Toronto in 1986. Thank you for The Norman and Margaret Jewison Charitable Foundation that continues to give millions to other charities.  Thank you Canada for honoring Jewison with two distinguished awards:  The O.C. (Officer of The Order of Canada) on December 14, 1998 and the C.C. (Companion of The Order of Canada) on November 1, 1991.  Finally, thank you Norman Jewison for making the world a better place through your artistic works and love.  Basically, thank you for being Canadian.  What would the world be without Canada and Canadians like you?  As Bono claimed: The world needs more Canada!

References

A list of Jewison’s movies, Biography and Images

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0422484/bio?ref_=nmmi_bio_sm

 

 

19 thoughts on “Norman Jewison: Canada’s Beloved Director

  1. Another wonderful blog. I didn’t know who Norman Jamison was but realize after reading this blog how much of his work I have watched and remember. The story about the ride in the red truck made me shudder. Yet through this awful experience he went on to make movies about Civil rights and injustice. Wonderful movies. Thank you for writing this blog and for the walk down memory lane of some of Mr Jamison’s lovely work in film.

  2. Another beautiful blog I totally love and makes me so proud to be an Canadian.Norman Jamison was totally amazing and I have watched all these beautiful movies to .The funny and romance ones was so great and loved them all. I didn,t realize that story of the red truck was what made him do the movies about civil rights and injustice and when watching them could not understand how people could be treated that way as where I’m, from some of the greatest people I know are black and white, Chinese and Indian ,and couldn,t picture having to live like these poor people did but I know from experience when I went south with the miner,s when I was 11 ,a blak family I adored wasn,t allow to stay at the same place as us. the only reason the miner,s went because this black man said it,s ok boys we can go to all the functions with yous please go. He was a wonderful man and all his family are to.Thank you for this article which is very dear to much heart in so many ways.this is my favorite so far of all your wonderful blogs.You are so talented my friend ,sorry for rambling on but this blog touched me so.You are an exceptional lady, love this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so happy that you liked this post so much, especially because you are Canadian and I just adore you. Racism in the states that is a very tragic fact of life in my country. It is better but not near where it should be. Thank you my friend xx

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  3. Thanks for joining the blogathon with this overview of Norman Jewison’s life and prolific career. That story about the red truck is shocking – but I’m glad he used that experience to create films about social justice. This is a wonderful tribute to a talented and concerned Canadian. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two of my favorite movies are Jewison movies: In the Heat of the Night and A Soldier’s Story. And despite my dislike for musicals in general, I kind of like Fiddler on the Roof, too. Nice review.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. LOVED this Katerina. I knew Norman Jewison was Canadian and that he had been recognized here for his works but didn’t know much about him otherwise. I’m impressed with the work and effort you put into your blog articles. I always learn something and they are interesting to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such an informative, well-written, and comprehensive post! Norman Jewison has to be included in a Canadian film blogathon, as he is such a huge contributor to the film world. His deep concern for the well-being of humanity and the sheer quality of his films make me proud to be Canadian 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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