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Though perhaps best known for searing dramas like The Hurricane, filmmaker Norman Jewison has always had a sure hand with comedy, too. In a film and television career that dates back to the early '50s, the director also earned critical and commercial success for the lighter likes of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and Moonstruck. Always eager to entertain, Jewison begins this memoir on a farcical note. By 1969, he had already gone from directing live TV for the CBC to becoming one of Hollywood's most celebrated young talents. One night, he was called to a meeting by Arthur Krim, the head of United Artists. The movie-biz icon pitched Jewison on directing a major project: the film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof, the hit musical based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem. Jewison was dumbstruck by the offer--"I could hardly breathe," he writes. But then he realized that Krim had made a common mistake. Jewison--the Toronto-born son of a Methodist father and an Anglican mother--made a confession. "What would you say if I told you I'm a goy?"
Krim still gave him the gig. By making a great film of Fiddler on the Roof, Jewison proved that he didn't need to be Jewish to celebrate the culture's traditions, just as he didn't need to be African-American to portray the evils of racism so powerfully in In the Heat of the Night and A Soldier's Story. As a kid growing up in Toronto in the '30s--an era in which the city was wracked by anti-Semitic violence--he often confronted bigotry at the hands of bullies who made the same mistake Krim did. "I had felt I shared a bond with the real Jewish kids I went to school with," writes Jewison. "It had a lot to do with being treated as a minority, an outsider, a victim, and the feeling never left me for the rest of my life." He was further politicized by his experiences as a young man hitchhiking through the American South. Rage against racism and injustice has always fuelled the best work by this self-professed "Canadian pinko."
Readers who come to star-gaze will enjoy Jewison's anecdotes about the actors he's directed--Steve McQueen, Cher, Denzel Washington--but it's his integrity and staunch commitment to social causes that make This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me so engaging. This may be the only movie-biz memoir in which Bobby Kennedy figures as prominently as Judy Garland. And though some readers might wish he divulged more about the craft of filmmaking--and about the controversies in his career, like the public spat with Spike Lee over who was to direct a biopic about Malcolm X--Jewison knows how to craft a lively story. --Jason Anderson
Jewison's movies have received 12 Academy Awards and 46 nominations, a remarkable record for a filmography that numbers only 25 films. His autobiography's unassuming style offers a clear, accessible portrait of the man and overflows with revealing anecdotes about such luminaries as Steve McQueen, Doris Day, Al Pacino, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. After finding success in live television working with Judy Garland, Jackie Gleason and Danny Kaye, Jewison began his motion picture career with 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962); survived a bomb, The Art of Love (1965); and eventually turned out a series of classics: The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and Moonstruck (1987). He defines Doris Day (The Thrill of It All, 1963) as a consummate comedian who lacked confidence in her appearance; and Sylvester Stallone (F.I.S.T., 1978) as someone who "behaved like he believed his own publicity." Jewison also describes his approach to filmmaking, explaining his actions at the all-important pitch meeting, and demonstrates how focused a director must be. Honest without becoming a tell-all or an airing of personal problems, the book is a successful study of what it takes to triumph in Hollywood and achieve artistic satisfaction. Photos. (Sept.)
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