Wednesday, February 6, 2019


A number of the top directors of the past half-century cut their directing teeth with live dramatic TV in the 1950s, including Oscar-winning directors Franklin Schaffner (Patton) and George Roy Hill (The Sting) and such acclaimed filmmakers as John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn, and Sidney Lumet.

And so did Norman Jewison, who at 92 is one of the few filmmakers left who began in the 1950s. But Jewison didn’t go the dramatic route. He made his name in musical specials and series including the groundbreaking 1959 Tonight with Belafonte, 1960’s An Hour with Danny Kaye, 1962’s The Judy Garland Show, which also featured Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and as an executive producer for several episodes of the 1963-64 The Judy Garland Show.

Music has always played a major part in his films, especially 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair, which featured the Oscar-winning tune “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and Lalo Schifrin’s jazz score for his first dramatic film, 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid.

Jewison will undoubtedly be discussing his musical choices at the American Cinematheque’s tribute to the seven-time Oscar-nominated director/producer Feb. 8-10 at the Aero Theatre.

The director will appear in person on Friday, February 8, for the opening double bill of Moonstruck (1987) and 1979’s …And Justice For All. Jewison will also be on hand on Saturday afternoon with Eva Marie Saint for the 1966 comedy hit The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and Saturday evening for Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Rounding out the tribute are screenings of The Thomas Crown Affair and The Cincinnati Kid in a double feature on February 10.

Jewison, who is a master storytelling even over the phone, chatted with the American Cinematheque following recent the death of Legrand about the music in his movies. 

American Cinematheque: Did your experience on musical specials help you when you started making films, in terms of looking for composers and the type of music you wanted for your films?

Norman Jewison: I think it did help me a lot, because I was so used to moving the camera with the music and music was an integral part of a lot of my work in television. And it always played an important part in my films.

AC: Michel Legrand, who died in January at the age of 86, wrote that gorgeous score to your 1968 hit The Thomas Crown Affair and won the Academy Award with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman for the “The Windmills of Your Mind.” How did you select him for the movie?

Jewison: When you look at The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, he always excelled in love story songs, very romantic songs. I thought Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway had a very special relationship. I wanted him to come to Los Angeles from France and do the film. I found out that he could speak a little English and he was very close to the Bergmans. I asked Alan and Marilyn if they would do a song for the film. We discussed it and where was it going to come in the film and what would be behind it.

I ended up saying, “I want to put it over a gliding sequence.” “The Windmills of Your Mind” came out of that discussion. I thought it was an incredible piece. I think the score of The Thomas Crown Affair is probably one of the best-scored films of all my films. That’s how good Michel was, because he wrote two of three themes for the film.

AC: Though it’s not part of the Cinematheque tribute, your 1967 Oscar-winning In The Heat of the Night has a fabulous jazz/R&B score by Quincy Jones and a classic title tune sung by Ray Charles.

Jewison: I thought Quincy would be perfect for In the Heat of the Night and, again, the Bergmans knew Quincy well. So, I got the two of them together and they came up with the title song. I said to Quincy, “This is such a great blues song. Who is the best blues singer in the world?” He said, “Ray Charles.” I grew up with Ray.

I’ll never forget the story of when Ray Charles called me. He said, “well, I’ll have to see the film.” I thought, “God, he’s blind! What does that mean, he has to ‘see’ the film?” I called Quincy and he said, “You’re going to sit with Ray and you’re going to tell him what’s happening on the screen visually and he’s going to listen to it.”

AC: Was there a certain scene that sealed the deal?

Jewison: When the scene came where Sidney Poitier confronts this white Southerner about the investigation, the guy slaps him and without any hesitation Sidney slapped him back. Ray Charles heard the slap and then he heard the second slap and he said, “Did he hit him?” I said yes. And he said, “Maximum green. Maximum green.” I didn’t know what it meant. He was so hip and cool that I never knew what he was saying, but he loved the whole idea that Sidney was the smartest person in the picture. So, he just threw himself into that song.

AC: John Williams won his first of five Academy awards for your 1971 blockbuster Fiddler on the Roof. That was based on the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick Broadway hit musical. What was your experience like collaborating with Williams?

Jewison: Oh, gosh. John was a delight to work with. I mean, he’s done so many pictures with Steven Spielberg; I was very lucky to get him. He came to London. I shot it in Europe, and I had moved to London and John came over and spent the next year working with us.

AC: A whole year?

Jewison: I was working at Pinewood Studios in London staging the musical numbers before I went to Yugoslavia to make the film, because when you make a musical everything has to be recorded before you go. I was building the sets and I knew what I was going to do with each song, essentially. John would come and watch the rehearsals so that he could score, do the arrangements that would fit the scene and the little bits of dance I put in.

John was unbelievable. He was very excited I had Isaac Stern, the best fiddle player in the world, to do all the violin parts for the fiddler. John Williams was in such awe of Isaac he said, “Could I wrote a cadenza at the whole beginning of the film before the overture since we have Isaac Stern?” I said, “Be my guest.”  We put it at the beginning of the picture. He was so excited to write the piece based on the Fiddler theme for Isaac.

AC: You used one of my favorite Dean Martin songs  “That’s Amore” (by Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks) – as the pivotal song in 1987’s Moonstruck. How did you choose the Oscar-nominated song (which was introduced in the 1953 Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy The Caddy)? Did screenwriter John Patrick Shanley include it in the script?

Jewison: No. It wasn’t in the script. The script had a different title and everything else because John Patrick Shanley essentially is a playwright. So, he hadn’t really done that many movies. We started from scratch. I had him up to my farm in Canada and we sat there and put it together, the whole plot line and the whole film. He went away and wrote it.

I had an original opening that was built around the orchestra tuning up at Lincoln Center for the opera. I was recording the New York Philharmonic tuning up and then I realized the opera I had chosen, La Bohèmedidn’t have a big overture. I was talking to my editor one day and said, “We’ve got to find a song that would fit the storyline I could lay over the whole opening.” We tried two or three different Italian songs.

Then one day he called me and said, “I think I’ve got it: ‘When you’re hit in the eye with a big pizza pie.’” I said, “That’s the worst Idea I’ve ever heard. That sounds so corny.”

He said, “Listen to this recording.” He had the Dean Martin recording and he laid it over the opening of the film. I was blown away. It just worked perfectly. I remember calling Dean Martin to get permission to use it. I told him a little bit about the film and said, “I tell you, it would just please me to no end to have you as part of the film. I remember how gracious you were with Frank and Judy years ago when we did the special together.” He gave me permission. It was one of those things when you look for a piece of music to open a film and it just falls in place so perfectly.

Veteran journalist Susan King wrote about entertainment at the Los Angeles Times for 26 years (January 1990 - March 2016), specializing in classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. She received her master's degree in film history and criticism at USC. After working 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner, she moved to the Los Angeles Times.