Last Updated on January 26, 2024
Norman Jewison, one of Canada’s most acclaimed filmmakers, has died at the age of 97. Throughout his long career, Jewison really did it all, ranging from musicals to dramas to romantic comedies. He’s best known for In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof, and more.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Norman Jewison was an assistant director when CBC Television debuted. He went on to write, direct, and produce a variety of programming for the young network over the next seven years before making the move to the U.S. His breakthrough movie was The Cincinnati Kid starring Steve McQueen. He went on to direct The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, The Thomas Crown Affair, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rollerball, F.I.S.T., …And Justice for All, Moonstruck, In Country, Other People’s Money, Only You, and The Hurricane.
An experience with racial prejudice during his younger years stuck with him, prompting him to direct In the Heat of the Night years later. He had been hitchhiking through the U.S. when he wound up in Memphis, Tennessee and hopped on a bus and sat near the back. “The bus driver looked at me,” Jewison told NPR in 2011. “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. 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. That this was my first experience with racial prejudice. And it really stuck with me.“
Jewison also launched the Canadian Film Centre after visiting the American Film Institute in the ’80s. “I got a phone call to visit the AFI in Beverly Hills,” Jewison told THR. “So I went up there and there’s a group of young filmmakers sitting on the floor and there’s John Ford with a bottle of whiskey. And he’s answering all their questions. I was just blown away. It was very exciting. So I thought, ‘Gee, if I could set up something like this in Canada, that would be great.’“