Fall 2005

This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me
(Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pages, $25.95)
By Norman Jewison

Norman JewisonDirector Norman Jewison is one of the few working filmmakers to succeed in everything from musicals (Fiddler on the Roof) to romantic comedy (Moonstruck) to socially conscious dramas (In The Heat of the Night, A Soldier's Story). This makes his honestly-titled memoir This Terrible Business Has Been Good To Me of special interest to those intrigued by the longevity of an instinctive genre-hopper. Unbridled enthusiasm leaps from the pages as the Toronto-born director recounts his illustrious career in television and film, from cajoling Frank Sinatra to attend a dress rehearsal for his Judy Garland TV special (adding at the end of his phone pitch, 'Oh, and Frank, bring Dean, will ya?'), to being the skeptical producer when tough guy Steve McQueen lobbied for the part of elegant playboy Thomas Crown. Then there was his frustration over trying to quell accusations of truth-fudging surrounding his 1999 biopic of imprisoned black boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

Naturally, the making of In the Heat of the Night-the Best Picture Oscar-winner for 1967 (though Jewison lost Best Director to Mike Nichols)–gets lots of attention from this longstanding advocate for civil rights and better race relations. (Other films Jewison wanted to direct were The Confessions of Nat Turner and Malcolm X.) What stands out, though, are the details of making the film: how Jewison got screenwriter Stirling Silliphant to rewrite dialogue by purposefully exaggerating the lines during read-throughs, and how chewing gum and pecan pie helped Rod Steiger fill out his bigoted cop character. Perhaps the most amusing anecdote tells how Jewison, who is not Jewish, came to direct Fiddler on the Roof. Suffice it to say, a box office track record trumped religious concerns. But Jewison hit an insurmountable obstacle when it came to directing Malcolm X. That assignment went to a black director, Spike Lee. Jewison never mentions what he ultimately thought of Lee's film. In some instances, what an autobiography doesn't say says everything.

Review written by Richard Abele.


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