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Norman Jewison, Oscar-Nominated Director of ‘In the Heat of the Night,’ Dies at 97

Director Norman Jewison, the filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated “In the Heat of the Night” and “Moonstruck,” has died at the age of 97. The director died peacefully at his home on Saturday, January 20, 2024.

Jewison was a groundbreaking. filmmaker who amassed seven Academy Award nominations throughout his career. He was nominated three times for Best Director for the Sidney Poitier-starring “In the Heat of the Night,” the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and the Cher-starring “Moonstruck.” He also secured Best Picture nominations for his 1967 feature “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “A Soldier’s Story” and “Moonstruck.” In 1999, he was awarded the Irving Thalberg Award.

Jewison was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 21, 1926. He would make his professional stage debut at the tender age of five. He performed in various theatrical productions at Malvern Collegiate Institute and later joined the Royal Canadian Navy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in General Arts in 1949 from the University of Toronto’s Victoria College.

He made his living at this time driving a cab while working occasionally as an actor on stage and in radio for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He would work at the CBC for seven years, working things including musicals, dramas and comedy-variety shows.

In 1958, he went to New York where he worked on the CBS series “Your Hit Parade.” Television took to him and he started working on “The Andy Williams Show,” specials for singer/actor Harry Belafonte and Danny Kaye’s “The Broadway of Lerner and Loewe.” He would collect three Emmy Awards in the process.

But films soon came calling and he made his feature film directorial debut with the 1962 Tony Curtis comedy, “40 Pounds of Trouble” (best remembered for film partially in Disneyland). Romantic comedies soon became Jewison’s forte and he followed that up with the Doris Day/James Garner rom-com “The Thrill of It All,” “Send Me No Flowers” (also starring Day) and “The Art of Love.” But Jewison wanted to do more and struck out as an independent filmmaker. His 1965 film “The Cincinnati Kid,” co-written by Jewison as well, starred an all-star cast including Steve McQueen and Ann-Margret.

Jewison’s films soon started to get political, from his exploration of U.S./Russian relations in “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” to the biting race relations exhibited in 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night,” as well as in “….And Justice for All” and the Vietnam War drama “In the Country.”

Yet Jewison was also a filmmaker with a cool edge, as evidenced by the sexy elegance of the heist film “The Thomas Crown Affair.” His works often defied categorization, though he dabbled in everything including sci-fi with the futuristic “Rollerball” to the Sly Stallone feature “F.I.S.T.” He also did big-budget musicals including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

In 1984, he directed and co-produced “A Soldier’s Story,” adapted from Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. That same year, Jewison produced “Iceman,” which was directed by Fred Schepisi on remote Canadian locations. “Agnes of God,” directed by Jewison the following year, marked the first feature he filmed in his native country.

But Jewison never left the romantic comedy genre fully. He returned to in 1987 with “Moonstruck” and would also craft the swoony Italian-set romance “Only You,” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei, in 1994.

Jewison is survived by his wife Lynne St. David, his children Kevin, Michael and Jenny, and his grandchildren Ella, Megan, Alexandra, Sam and Henry. He is predeceased by his first wife Margaret Ann (Dixie) Jewison. Celebrations of Life will be held in Los Angeles and Toronto at a later date.

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