Norman Jewison | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Norman Jewison

From 1944 to 1945, Jewison served with the Royal Canadian Navy overseas. After World War II, he attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where he wrote and directed the first All-Varsity Revue.
Norman Jewison
Image: Lois Siegel.
Norman Jewison reviews a script at the CBC. From 1952 to 1958, Jewison wrote, directed and produced some of the CBC's most popular and successful shows. He went on to a prolific and acclaimed career in Hollywood, and founded the Canadian Film Centre in 1988.
Jewison, Norman
Jewison has had an international career but claims that his Canadian perspective has given him an important objectivity (photo by Taffi Rosen).
Norman Jewison and Cher
Cher and director Norman Jewison at the 62nd Annual DGA Awardsin 2010.
TIFF Rising Stars (left to right) Tatiana Maslany, Charlie Carrick, Connor Jessup and Charlotte Sullivan with CFC founder Norman Jewison (centre) at the Canadian Film Centre's annual TIFF BBQ, 9 September 2012.
Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison arriving at the Norman Jewison Tribute at LACMA in 2009.
  • Norman Frederick Jewison, film director, producer, author (b at Toronto 21 Jul 1926). Norman Jewison has an international reputation as a filmmaker of talent and integrity. Though much of his career has been spent outside Canada, Jewison believes his Canadian perspective has brought an important objectivity to his work. He was born in the Beach area of east-end Toronto. His father ran a general store, and as a child he attended Kew Beach Public School. Jewison's first taste of showmanship came when he made his stage debut at age 6. His family enrolled him in the Royal Conservatory of Music, where he studied piano and music theory, after which he attended Malvern Collegiate, staging and appearing in shows and musical comedies.

    From 1944 to 1945, Jewison served with the Royal Canadian Navy overseas. After World War II, he attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, where he wrote and directed the first All-Varsity Revue. During his summer months he waited on tables at the Banff Springs Hotel and produced the Banff Revue. Upon graduation from University of Toronto with a liberal arts degree, Jewison went to work driving a cab and occasionally performing as an actor on radio for the CBC. In 1950 he travelled to England for a two-year work/study stint with the BBC, but in 1952 the newly launched CBC-TV summoned him back to Toronto and offered him a job as a training assistant director.

    Jewison wrote, directed and produced some of Canada's most popular and successful musicals, comedy/variety shows and specials during the 7 years that followed, including The Big Revue (1952-53; the first regular series for the fledgling network), Denny Vaughan (1954-57), The Barris Beat (1956-57) and Wayne & Shuster. In 1958, at the invitation of CBS, he moved to New York to update the weekly television musical Your Hit Parade. This led to steady work on The Andy Williams Show, and television specials featuring some of the top talent of the day - Harry Belafonte (the first for an African-American performer), Danny Kaye, Pat Boone, Jackie Gleason and most famously Judy Garland. During this period, Jewison was acknowledged as the top director of musical variety working in American television, and his Judy Garland Special - shot in Los Angeles in early 1961 with guests that included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin - remains a classic of the period and received 4 Emmy Award nominations.

    In 1963, Norman Jewison was offered a three-picture deal with Universal Studios, and was assigned 2 light comedies starring Doris Day, The Thrill of It All (1963) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). The third film was The Art of Love (1965), starring James Garner and Dick Van Dyke. Then he got his first big break in the movies. The notoriously difficult director Sam Peckinpah was fired from a relatively low-budget poker drama for MGM, and Jewison was brought in to direct The Cincinnati Kid (1965). He had a hand in rewriting the script, and the film, starring Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson, became a minor commercial hit with extremely good reviews. Jewison's Hollywood career was launched.

    Since that time, Jewison has mostly maintained complete artistic control of all the films he has directed, and has functioned as a producer and sometimes screenwriter. His first film as director/producer was the Cold War comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), starring Carl Reiner and Alan Arkin. It received 4 Oscar nominations, including best picture. Then came the film that Norman Jewison will always be remembered for - the intense racial drama In the Heat of the Night (1967, which he directed only), starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

    Jewison, who marched in the civil rights protests of the 1960s beside his friends Robert Kennedy, then the US attorney-general, and Martin Luther King Jr, was appalled in his youth when he witnessed the plight of African-Americans in the Deep South. In many ways, Jewison - a liberal, middle-class Canadian - was the perfect choice to direct the most racially charged movie of the 1960s. The shock of a black character (Poitier) striking a wealthy white landowner stunned American audiences. The film received 8 Oscar nominations, including Jewison's first as a director. It won for best picture, actor (Seiger), screenplay, sound and editing.

    Following In the Heat of the Night, Jewison was responsible for some of the biggest box-office hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, received 2 Oscar nominations; Fiddler on the Roof (1971) was the winner of 3 Oscars, and earned Jewison his second nomination for direction and his first for best picture; and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) was his most successful film to that point and one on which he received screenplay credit. Its quick-cutting style annoyed some critics, but others see it now as a precursor to music videos. After he completed work on Gaily Gaily (1969; directed only), Jewison became disillusioned with the violent turn the racial struggles in the US had taken and moved his family to London, England. Fiddler on the Roof was shot in Yugoslavia, Jesus Christ Superstar in Israel and Rollerball (1975) in Germany.

    Jewison was persuaded to return to the US in 1978 to direct and produce the Sylvester Stallone union drama F.I.S.T., which was followed by the Al Pacino courtroom drama ...And Justice for All (1979). However, he was still not comfortable living in Hollywood, and in 1978 he purchased a farm property north of Toronto in Caledon East and moved his family there permanently. He returned to form with another racial drama in 1984. A Soldier's Story received 3 Oscar nominations, including Jewison's second for best picture. Agnes of God (1985) was shot in Ontario and received another 3 Oscar nominations, and the romantic comedy Moonstruck, shot in Toronto and starring Cher and Nicolas Cage, was a huge box office hit in 1987. Cher won the Oscar for best actress and Jewison was nominated for both best picture and director.

    His films following Moonstruck have not been as popular, but he has almost never made a box office flop, with the notable exceptions being the musical Gaily Gaily and his only Canadian film to date, The Statement, in 2003. His other films include Best Friends (1982), In Country (1989), Other People's Money (1991), Only You (1994), Bogus (1996) and The Hurricane (1999; it received an Oscar nomination for Denzel Washington as the wrongly convicted American boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter). Jewison has also produced a number of films that he did not direct, such as The Landlord (1969), Billy Two Hats (1974), The Dogs of War (1980), Iceman (1984), January Man (1989) and Bruce MCDONALD's Dance Me Outside (1994). He also produced the 1981 Academy Awards show. In 2002, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding made-for-television movie, for Dinner with Friends.

    In 1988 he founded the CANADIAN FILM CENTRE, a training centre located in the north end of Toronto that offers new filmmakers courses on directing, producing and screenwriting. It has grown into an important film and television training school that has a justly deserved reputation for excellence. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television presented Jewison with a Special Achievement Award in 1988 in recognition of his efforts in founding the centre.

    Norman Jewison has received many honours and awards during his career, including honorary degrees from Trent University, the University of Western Ontario and University of Toronto. He has been nominated 3 times by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) for best direction and 3 times by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Golden Globe Awards. Moonstruck won the Silver Bear at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival, and Jewison won the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival for A Soldier's Story. In 1981 he was appointed an officer of the ORDER OF CANADA and in 1991 he was promoted to the rank of companion. He has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

    In 1992 he received a GOVERNOR GENERAL'S PERFORMING ARTS AWARD for lifetime achievement and, in 1999, the American Academy of Motion Pictures awarded him the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in honour of the production standards he has maintained throughout his career. In 2002, he received the Directors Guild of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2010 he became the first Canadian to be honoured by a Lifetime Achievement Award from the DGA. He received Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and in 2004 he was made chancellor of Victoria College, his alma mater. That year his autobiography, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me, was published.

    Norman Jewison and his wife Margaret set up the Norman and Margaret Jewison Charitable Foundation, which directs funds to AIDS research and First Nations culture. In all his movies, he has attempted, with frequent success, to balance popular appeal with serious social commentary.

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