Stuart Rosenberg, 79; never returned to TV after directing ‘Cool Hand Luke’

Times Staff Writer

Stuart Rosenberg, a prolific director of episodic television who is best known for directing the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke,” has died. He was 79.

Rosenberg died Thursday of a heart attack at his Beverly Hills home, his son Benjamin said Saturday.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 19, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday March 19, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Rosenberg obituary: An obituary of director Stuart Rosenberg in Sunday’s California section said his son, Benjamin, is an assistant film editor. He is a first assistant director.

Rosenberg began directing television episodes in the 1950s for such dramatic series as “The Defenders,” “The Untouchables,” “Naked City,” “The Twilight Zone” and “Bus Stop.” He racked up more than 300 TV directing credits and won an Emmy Award in 1963 for an episode of “The Defenders.” But after completing his first feature film -- “Cool Hand Luke” -- he never went back to the small screen.

A gritty, riveting tale about life on a chain gang, the film starred Paul Newman as a nonconformist who becomes a reluctant hero to his fellow inmates.


The film received four Academy Award nominations -- though none for Rosenberg -- with George Kennedy winning for best supporting actor. It also provided one of the most quoted lines of that film era, spoken by the camp’s warden, played by Strother Martin: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rosenberg had found the novel, written by Donn Pearce, at Pickwick Bookstore in Hollywood and brought it to Jack Lemmon’s production company.

“It was the first time I had come across an existentialist hero -- not an antihero -- in American literature,” he told the New York Times in 1968.

Nominated for the Directors Guild Award but losing to Mike Nichols and “The Graduate,” Rosenberg would direct Newman three more times, in “WUSA” (1970), “Pocket Money” (1972) and “The Drowning Pool” (1975).

“He was as good as anybody I ever worked with,” Newman, who has been directed by Martin Scorsese, George Roy Hill and Sidney Lumet among others, said in a statement Saturday.

Critics gave Rosenberg high marks for “Cool Hand Luke” and praised some of his later efforts, including “Voyage of the Damned” (1976), “Brubaker” (1980) and “The Pope of Greenwich Village” (1984). But other movies, such as “The Laughing Policeman” (1973) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979), pleased audiences more than reviewers.

Although Rosenberg’s list of credits is heavy on crime dramas and thrillers, his son said he did not have a favorite genre.

“I think that he always felt that if you were a director it was criminally insane to be pigeonholed,” Benjamin Rosenberg said. “If you can direct, you can direct.”


Stuart Rosenberg was born Aug. 11, 1927, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and studied Irish literature at New York University. While attending graduate school and teaching at NYU in the early 1950s, he got a job in television as an apprentice film editor, then rose to film editor before directing.

He also met his wife, the former Margot Pohoryles, at NYU. They married in 1950 and had one son, Benjamin. In addition to his wife and son, Rosenberg is survived by four grandchildren.

Rosenberg’s son is an assistant film editor who worked with him on several of his later films.

“He would have preferred I had been a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief,” said Benjamin Rosenberg, but added, “We had a terrific time working together.”


Services will be private.