Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Norman Jewison, Director of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and ‘Moonstruck,’ Dies at 97

Norman Jewison, Director of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and ‘Moonstruck,’ Dies at 97

Norman Jewison, a masterful director who provided such screen gems as The Thomas Crown Affair and Moonstruck, has died. Jewison was 97 years old. His family said that he died at home on Saturday, but would not offer up further specifics.

In Jewison’s career, 12 actors in his films received Oscar nominations. Five of his movies were up for best picture Oscars, too. One topic Jewison was most interested in approaching in movies was social injustice.

For Jewison, he initially got started working on musical specials on television. One of his early projects revolved around a Judy Garland special for CBS. Jewison went on to achieve greatness on the big screen, though.

From the Oscars, Jewison received best director and best picture Oscar nominations for 1971’s Fiddler on the Roof and 1987’s Moonstruck, which starred Cher. He got another nomination for the Rod Steiger-Sidney Poitier movie In the Heat of the Night from 1967, which was a winner for Best Picture. Jewison added nominations for The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), and A Soldier’s Story (1984).

Norman Jewison Learned About Racism

Jewison, a Canadian, recalled a story about getting to Memphis, Tennessee. He hitchhiked from Chicago to Memphis. This happened while he was on leave from the Royal Canadian Navy. Jewison got on a bus in Memphis and he found a seat in the back of the bus, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“The bus driver looked at me,” Jewison said. “He said, ‘Can’t you read the sign?’ And there was a little sign, made of tin, swinging off a wire in the center of the bus and it said, ‘Colored people to the rear.’

“And I turned around and I saw two or three Black citizens sitting around me, and … a few white people sitting way at the top of the bus,” Jewison said. “And I didn’t know what to do, I was just embarrassed. So I just got off the bus and he left me there. I was left standing in this hot sun and thinking about what I had just been through. This was my first experience with racial prejudice. And it really stuck with me.”

It was sometime later when Jewison tackled racial injustice through In the Heat of the Night. Steiger plays a racist police chief, while Poitier plays a Black detective from Philadelphia. They work to solve a murder.

Just before the 1968 Academy Awards, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Oscars were postponed for two days. Jewison attended King’s funeral. He lost to Mike Nichols for best director with The Graduate. But In the Heat of the Night won five statuettes.

Director Proved He Could Work In Genres

Racism plays a role in the wartime-set A Soldier’s Story and The Hurricane (1999). Denzel Washington played boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongly imprisoned for murder.

Jewison also worked in comedies. Moonstruck starred best actress winner Che. It focused on an Italian American family in Brooklyn, Moonstruck was a box office and critical success. Other films in the Jewison collection include Send Me No Flowers (1964), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), Rollerball (1975), F.I.S.T. (1978), … And Justice for All (1979), Agnes of God (1985) and Other People’s Money (1991).

Norman Frederick Jewison was born on July 21, 1926, in Toronto. His parents in the city ran a general store/post office. Jewison developed an early interest in the arts, studying piano and music theory at the Royal Conservatory. He also staged and appeared in shows and musical comedies in high school.

Survivors include his second wife, Lynne St. David; his children, Kevin (and his wife, Suzanne), Michael (Anita), and Jenny (David); and his grandchildren Ella, Megan, Alexandra, Sam, and Henry. Celebrations of his life will be held in Los Angeles and Toronto.