His filmography is a bric-a-brac (musicals, thrillers, political films, romantic comedies, etc.) populated by the Who’s Who of cinema from the second half of the 20th century, from Tony Curtis and Steve McQueen to Denzel Washington and Gérard Depardieu . You have to delve into the work of Norman Jewison to extract some gems, including In the Heat of the Night (1967) – an essential film in the history of the representation of African-Americans, even if its director was Canadian – or Moonlight (1987), baroque romantic comedy that became a classic of the genre. Norman Jewison died on January 20 in Los Angeles. He was 97 years old.
Norman Jewison was born on July 21, 1926 in Toronto, Ontario, to a merchant couple. He said that his surname earned him anti-Semitic taunts, even though he came from a Protestant family. After serving in the Canadian navy during the Second World War and obtaining a degree from the University of Toronto, he was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation when it was created in 1952. At the end of the decade, he left for New York where he worked for the CBS network, directing specials around stars like Harry Belafonte and Judy Garland.
It was on the set of one of them that Tony Curtis convinced him to leave for Hollywood, where he would produce comedies for the production company the actor founded. Troubles in Shovels (1962), with Curtis, or The Spice of Life (1963) with Doris Day pass without a trace. In late 1964, Jewison found the opportunity to direct his first dramatic project, starring one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors, Steve McQueen. Painting of a Las Vegas that has now disappeared, centered on a character of a professional gambler, The Kid from Cincinnati , released in 1965, confirms the status of its star and allows the director to access the “A List”, which brings together directors who are entrusted with important productions.
His next project, The Russians Are Coming (1966), was a comedy that mocked Cold War fears. That year, he took on a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, adapted from a novel by John Ball, which recounts the irruption of Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), an African-American police officer, in a small town in Mississippi, where he is responsible for investigating a murder alongside a racist police officer (Rod Steiger). A year after the ferocious repression of the Selma marches led by Pastor Martin Luther King, In the Heat of the Night was filmed mainly in Illinois and, when Jewison and his team left for Tennessee for some sequences, they struggled to find a hotel that would accept Poitier, then the most famous actor in the United States.
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