(b. July 21, 1926 Toronto, Ontario)
Norman Jewison is one of Canada’s most renowned and admired filmmakers. Born and raised in Toronto, the director, writer and producer has amassed a body of work spanning six decades that includes a diverse array of commercial successes, often with socially conscious narratives. Jewison’s vision, whether in the form of romantic comedy, musical or serious drama, has frequently struck a chord with the popular consciousness and has consistently received recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; his films have earned no less than 12 Academy Awards® and 45 nominations.
Born in 1926, Jewison joined the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII. Upon his return to Canada in 1946, he enrolled at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, graduating in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. Jewison worked and studied for two years at the BBC in London before working for seven years at CBC-TV in Toronto, writing and directing musicals, dramas and comedy-variety shows. In 1958 Jewison was invited to New York to direct the CBS series Your Hit Parade. He was then hired to direct several other popular TV shows and went on to receive three Emmy Awards. Among the highlights during this period in his career were a celebrated television special and a subsequent series starring Judy Garland. The evident skill in these projects led to invitations to direct feature films in Hollywood.
Indeed, the 1960s saw Jewison emerge as a major Hollywood film talent. Working for Universal Studios, he directed his first feature film – the Tony Curtis vehicle 40 Pounds of Trouble – in 1963, followed by the romantic comedies The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964) and The Art of Love (1965). He then directed and co-wrote the gambling classic The Cincinnati Kid (1965), starring Steve McQueen, and helmed a succession of popular features for United Artists, among them the Cold War political satire The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), the stylish caper film The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971), a hugely successful adaptation of the Broadway musical.
However, it was in 1967 that Jewison made an indelible mark with the murder mystery In the Heat of the Night, which tackled the subject of racial intolerance and hate with unprecedented candour. The film won five Academy Awards, including the Oscar for best motion picture. Jewison’s career took a different turn in the 1970s as he experimented with various genres, directing the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), the futuristic thriller Rollerball (1975), a dark look at capitalism and sport starring James Caan and John Houseman, and the political drama F.I.S.T. (1978) with Sylvester Stallone. (These films were less commercially and critically successful than their predecessors but went on to develop cult followings. Rollerball was remade in 2002.)
He bounced back commercially at the end of the decade with the angry, ironic jab at the American judicial system, ...And Justice for All (1979), starring Al Pacino. Later that year, he bought a farm in Northern Ontario and moved back to Canada with his family. In 1984 he re-examined the theme of racism in his film adaptation of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Soldier’s Story, which received three Academy Award nominations. He then directed Agnes of God, his first film to be made in Canada, followed by the Academy Award-winning box-office hit Moonstruck (1987).
In the 1980s, Jewison worked actively within various arenas of the film industry in Canada: he sat on the Board of the Toronto International Film Festival (then known as the Festival of Festivals), established a film scholarship for his alma mater Victoria College at the University of Toronto, and founded the Canadian Film Centre, which would become an important training and educational facility. The talented directors to have passed through its doors include Don McKellar, John Greyson, Clement Virgo and Laurie Lynd. Jewison remained involved in Canadian cinema throughout the 1990s, acting as a mentor to many filmmakers, including Bruce McDonald, with whom he collaborated on the critically acclaimed feature Dance Me Outside (1994).
Despite these efforts, Canadian critics were initially reluctant to consider Jewison as a Canadian filmmaker, seeming instead to exclude him entirely from the Canadian film canon. As Bart Testa has noted, Jewison’s adherence to Hollywood filmmaking practices and his perceived allegiance to a dominant American film style directly contradicted the belief held by many Canadian critics that “the struggle to assert an English-Canadian film style is the critical base to argue on behalf of the distinctiveness of Canadian cinema.” Jewison’s films seemed at odds with the Canadian mannerist art-film style favoured by homegrown talents like David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Guy Maddin. As such, Jewison’s alignment with Hollywood style and his complete absence from the Canadian film industry during its key development period in the late 1960s and 1970s (which coincided with the height of his career), led to neglect of his work by Canadian critics.
In his essay “Norman Jewison: Homecoming for a ‘Canadian Pinko,’” Testa attempts to construct a sense of the “Canadian Jewison” by examining the influence of the Canadian conception of liberalism on Jewison’s dramas, which typically involve a legally sanctioned investigation, yet do not adhere to Hollywood norms in their trajectory and resolution. Testa argues that, in Jewison’s films, the final narrative force “lies with institutions and not a personality,” reflecting a Canadian political mind in which the law “does not hover above the polity or dwell especially within the individual,” but rather is reflected in the state’s institutions. This diffusion of legalistic victory – seen throughout Jewison’s filmography, from In the Heat of the Night to The Hurricane (1999) – is representative of the Canadian “political unconscious” at work in Jewison’s films, Testa contends, and therefore outlines his status as a politically complex and undoubtedly Canadian filmmaker.
In 1982 Jewison was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1993 he was elevated to the status of Companion of the Order of Canada. His lifelong work as a producer was acknowledged at the 1999 Academy Awards when he received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That year, Jewison completed the controversial The Hurricane (1999), about the wrongful murder conviction of boxing champion Ruben Carter. The film reprises the familiar themes of racial and social injustice that have surfaced throughout Jewison's illustrious career, for which he was recently honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Film Centre.
In 2001, Jewison returned to his roots and directed several made-for-television films, including Dinner with Friends (2001) and Walter and Henry (2001). In 2003 he directed the feature film The Statement, starring Michael Caine, which tells the story of a former French Nazi who is forced to go on the run after an attempt on his life. The film, which explores familiar themes of justice and mercy from Jewison’s earlier work, is his most recent feature to date.
More recently, Jewison published his autobiography This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me, an enthusiastic and personal account of his experiences as a filmmaker over the decades. In 2010, Jewison was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Director’s Guild of America.
Film and video work includes
Let’s See series, 1952 (producer; TV)
The Big Revue series, 1952 (director; TV)
Wayne and Shuster series, 1954 (director; TV)
The Denny Vaughan Show series, 1954 (director; TV, one episode)
On Stage series, 1954 (producer; TV)
The Barris Beat series, 1956 (director; producer; TV)
Uncle Chichimus series, 1958 (director; TV)
Your Hit Parade, 1958 (director)
The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams series, 1959 (director; TV)
The Big Party series, 1959 (director; TV)
The Revlon Revue series, 1959 (director; producer; TV, one episode)
The Fabulous Fifties, 1960 (director; TV)
The Secret World of Eddie Hodges, 1960 (director; producer; TV)
Belafonte New York, 1960 (director; TV)
The Million Dollar Incident, 1961 (director; TV)
The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe, 1962 (director; producer; TV)
The Judy Garland Show, 1962 (director; producer; TV)
40 Pounds of Trouble, 1962 (director)
The Judy Garland Show series, 1963-1964 (producer; TV, seven episodes)
The Thrill of It All, 1963 (director)
Send Me No Flowers, 1964 (director)
The Art of Love, 1965 (director)
The Cincinnati Kid, 1965 (director)
The Russians Are Coming! the Russians Are Coming! 1966 (director; producer)
In the Heat of the Night, 1967 (director)
The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968 (director; producer)
Gaily, Gaily, 1969 (director; producer)
The Landlord, 1970 (producer)
Fiddler on the Roof, 1971 (director; producer)
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973 (director; co-screenwriter with Melvyn Bragg; co-producer with Robert Stigwood)
Billy Two Hats, 1974 (co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
Rollerball, 1975 (director; producer)
F.I.S.T., 1978 (director; producer)
... And Justice for All, 1979 (director; co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
The Dogs of War, 1980 (executive producer)
The 53rd Annual Academy Awards, 1981 (producer; TV, one episode)
Best Friends, 1982 (director; co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
Iceman, 1984 (co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
A Soldier’s Story, 1984 (director; producer)
Agnes of God, 1985 (director; co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
Moonstruck, 1987 (director; co-producer with Patrick J. Palmer)
In Country, 1989 (director; co-producer with Richard A. Roth)
January Man, 1989 (co-producer with Ezra Swerdlow)
Other People’s Money, 1991 (director; co-producer with Ric Kidney)
Geronimo, 1993 (executive producer; TV)
Dance Me Outside, 1994 (executive producer)
Only You, 1994 (director; co-producer with Robert N. Fried, Charles Mulvehill, Cary Woods)
Two Nudes Bathing, 1995 (executive producer)
Picture Windows series, 1994-1995 (director; executive producer; TV)
Bogus, 1996 (director; co-producer with Arnon Milchan, Jeff Rothberg)
The Rez series, 1996 (executive producer; TV)
The Stupids, 1996 (actor)
The 20th Century: Funny is Money, 1999 (director; TV)
The Hurricane, 1999 (director; co-producer with Armyan Bernstein, John Ketcham)
Dinner With Friends, 2001 (director; executive producer; TV)
Walter and Henry, 2001 (executive producer; TV)
The Statement, 2003, (director; co-producer with Robert Lantos)
Additional notes by Ayesha Husain