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Norman Jewison can thank a kid

Director Norman Jewison will be honored at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for his career and for founding the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. Cher, Carl Reiner and Eva Marie Saint, cinematographer Haskell Wexler and songwriters Marilyn and Alan Bergman will join Jewison and film historian Leonard Maltin on Friday evening at 7:30 for a discussion before a screening of Jewison’s “Moonstruck” at 9:15. Jewison’s “Fiddler on the Roof” will be shown Saturday.

Jewison began his career doing live television in the 1950s, cutting his directing teeth on such musical variety series as “Your Hit Parade” and Judy Garland’s 1961 “comeback” TV special. In 1962, he began to direct a series of lightweight feature comedies at Universal, including the Doris Day vehicles “The Thrill of It All” and “Send Me No Flowers.” After the failure of the 1965 romp “The Art of Love,” Jewison admits, he was depressed.

“As far as Universal was concerned, I was the kid who did happy, funny comedies,” recalls Jewison. “I wasn’t even finishing editing one and I would be given another.”

But the 1965 card-shark drama “The Cincinnati Kid,” with Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson, saved his career. After the film’s producer, Martin Ransohoff, fired initial director Sam Peckinpah, he approached Jewison to take over. “Someone said, ‘You are going to step into a pretty tough situation here,’ ” Jewison recalls. “Steve McQueen had gone home. Edward G. Robinson had gone home.

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“I read the script and thought it was a little turgid, melodramatic. I told Marty if you want me to do it, I have to have two weeks to rewrite the script.”

Jewison enlisted the help of writer Terry Southern (“Candy”). Every day they would rewrite the script for the next day’s shooting. “It was mind-boggling,” says Jewison. “But I got to admit they left me alone and let me do it.”

With the success of “Cincinnati Kid,” Jewison joined the ranks of serious filmmakers. The following year he helmed the best picture Oscar-nominated Cold War satire “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” then best picture Oscar-winner “In the Heat of the Night,” for which he earned his first directing Oscar nomination, followed by the 1968 romantic thriller “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Over the years he’s directed such hits as “Moonstruck” in 1987, which won an Oscar for screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, and “The Hurricane” in 1999.

At 82, Jewison isn’t done. Though his last film was 2003’s “The Statement,” Jewison is reuniting with Shanley for an English-language version of the Italian romantic comedy “Bread & Tulips” and is prepping a take-off of “Russians” called “High Alert.”

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Jewison has always been a man who stands by his convictions. When he got the opportunity to direct “Fiddler” in Europe in 1970, he packed up his wife and three children and moved from Los Angeles to London.

“I was disillusioned politically,” Jewison confesses. “Bobby Kennedy was killed and I was supposed to meet him that night. Reagan was governor. Nixon was president. I thought I had to get out. I lived in Europe for nine years and then came back to Canada.”

His political awareness began as a teenager when racism and segregation in America turned into an “obsession.” Jewison’s passionate feelings and anger over inequality have fueled several of his films.

He had never witnessed segregation until he received a month’s leave before he got out of the Canadian navy after World War II. He decided to hitchhike through the American South. “I was very young and naive,” admits Jewison.

He recalls as if it were yesterday a hot day in Memphis when he climbed onto a bus. “I went to the back and sat in the back seat with a window opened,” he says.

“The bus started and stopped. The bus driver looked at me -- a big, beefy guy -- and said, ‘Are you trying to be funny sailor? Can’t you read the sign?’ There was a little metal sign, hand painted, hanging from wires that said ‘Colored people to the rear.’ I didn’t know what to do. I got angry. I got up and said, ‘Let me off the bus.’ ”

Still crooning

Even before there was Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin was making women swoon. The crooner, 96, is still warbling. Martin, who committed to his current tour before the death of his wife, Cyd Charisse, last year, will be performing Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Catalina Jazz Bar & Grill. www.catalinajazzclub.com

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Personal Fellini

Robert Rosen, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, is hosting a screening of Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2 " Friday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One of Fellini’s most personal films, it revolves around a celebrated Italian director (Marcello Mastroianni) searching to find the subject for his next film. The classic is presented in conjunction with the academy’s exhibition “Fellini’s Book of Dreams.” www.oscars.org

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susan.king@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Working with the best

During the last 50 years, Norman Jewison has directed some of Hollywood’s greatest legends. He reflected on a few of those stars recently:

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STEVE McQUEEN

Jewison directed him in 1965’s “The Cincinnati Kid” and 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

“Steve was a real loner. He would get on his bike and ride out into the desert. I believed he was a warlock. I believe he was affected by the moon. I never scheduled any heavy scenes around the full moon. I kind of worked around him.”

JUDY GARLAND

Jewison directed her 1961 “comeback” TV special, as well as her 1963-64 CBS series, “The Judy Garland Show.”

“She was like quicksilver. I was always trying to capture the moment because the moments were so sublime. She was something else. She was a rare talent.”

SIDNEY POITIER

Jewison directed the 1968 best picture winner “In the Heat of the Night.”

“I think he’s one of the most intelligent actors I ever worked with. We used to sit and discuss things. He has got such a mind and he’s so eloquent.”

CHER

Jewison directed her Oscar-winning performance in 1987’s “Moonstruck.”

“She called me a curmudgeon because I made her work, maybe. I wouldn’t give them lunch one day. I said, ‘We are not going to lunch until we get this scene down, you are not concentrating.’ She said, ‘Did you hear that? He said we can’t have lunch.’ I looked at her and say, ‘I will never lie to you.’ ”

-- Susan King


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