Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Elliot Silverstein, ‘Cat Ballou’ Director, Dies at 96

Elliot Silverstein, ‘Cat Ballou’ Director, Dies at 96

Elliot Silverstein, a prolific director of films such as Cat Ballou and classic TV like The Twilight Zone, has died. His family confirmed via Legacy that he passed away on November 24 in Los Angeles. Silverstein was 96.

Following his work on popular TV series such as The Twilight Zone, Naked City, and Route 66, Silverstein stepped into the realm of feature film directing in 1965. His debut film, Cat Ballou, was headlined by Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin.

Silverstein proposed casting Marvin as Kid Shelleen after Kirk Douglas declined the role in the Western comedy. When a producer considered replacing Marvin with José Ferrer, Silverstein threatened to resign. In the end, Marvin’s performance in the film won him an Academy Award.

Silverstein continued his directorial career with notable films such as The Happening, featuring Anthony Quinn, and A Man Called Horse, starring Richard Harris. He also helmed the cult classic The Car, starring James Brolin.

How ‘The Twilight Zone’ Lead to Elliot Silverstein Establishing the Director’s Cut

Silverstein played a crucial role in establishing the Bill of Creative Rights for directors. During the production of his Twilight Zone episode, “The Obsolete Man,” he encountered a disagreement with the editor regarding the final scene. This incident made him realize that directors were only allowed to review the rough cut and give input. However, the final cut was out of their hands.

Recognizing the limitations on a director’s rights, Silverstein advocated for the establishment of a committee in November 1963. He himself chaired the committee, urging George Sidney, the President of the Directors Guild of America, to form it. Notable individuals such as Robert Altman and Sydney Pollack were part of the committee, dedicating their Sundays for six months to devise the Bill of Rights. A key provision in the Bill of Creative Rights established the concept of the Director’s Cut.

In 1964, the DGA officially incorporated the Bill of Creative Rights and the Director’s Cut into their new contract with producers. These have since become fundamental pillars of directors’ rights. Silverstein was honored with the Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award by the DGA in 1985 and was bestowed with the esteemed title of honorary life member of the guild in 1990.

Elliot Silverstein, born August 3, 1927, in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in Dorchester. He initially studied biology at Boston College but later switched to drama. He furthered his education at Yale University, focusing on directing. Starting his career by directing and producing plays for Brandeis University, Silverstein showcased his talent on Broadway in 1958 with the comedy “Maybe Tuesday” before transitioning to television. After retiring, he became a professor at the University of Southern California.