If you happen to be in or near Los Angeles this Friday, grab a ticket to the Canadian Film Centre salute to Norman Jewison happening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The CFC–which is ramping up their outreach to young Canadians interested in careers in television–was founded by Jewison in 1988. They are honouring one of Canada’s great storytellers, both on-screen and in person (or in print, for that matter–check out Jewison’s lively 2004 biography This Terrible Business Has Been Good To Me.)
Six Oscar winners, including Cher, Faye Dunaway, Eva Marie Saint, Carl Reiner, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, and famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler will join film historian Leonard Maltin in paying tribute to the 82-year-old filmmaker. It will be worth it just to hear always funny Reiner, who got pulled away from producing the final season of The Dick Van Dyke Show to star in Jewison’s 1966 feature The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. Mia Kirshner, Valerie Curtain, David James Elliot and Alan Thicke will also be at the event.
I had the great privilege way back in 1982 to attend a private dinner with Jewsion in Toronto. He had just been a guest lecturer for the University of Toronto film department, and the chairman at the time, Prof. Gino Matteo, asked me to draw the above caricature of the filmmaker (I used to do editorial cartoons for The Varsity). Jewison has a farm north of Toronto so I drew him raising a crop of film reels, one for each of his features to that point. As a reward for penning the sketch, I got to tag along for dinner at the top of the Park Plaza.
Jewison was spellbinding, spinning yarn after yarn about his days directing a Who’s Who of Hollywood. His advice to me, an aspiring filmmaker at the time, was to stay the hell away from film schools. “Drive a cab until you’re at least 30,” he demanded. The point being that you needed a variety of life experience before you tried to tell stories on film.
I never forgot the tip. but it was terrible advice! Or, at least, I forgot to stop doing other things when I reached 31.
I ran into Jewison a few years ago at a Toronto International Film Fest event and was able to tell him I bought a 16mm print of his very first film–40 Pounds of Trouble, starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleschette, at an eBay auction. I think I paid 30 bucks.
It is a cool little film, from 1962, with the cast scrambling all over what was then the relatively new Disneyland theme park in southern California, a sequence Jewison basically improvised on the spot after Walt Disney gave permission to shoot at the location.
Jewison’s response when I told him I had the film? “Burn it!” he said. Again, bad advice, it is a charming little film, one of Curtis’ most natural and sympathetic performances. Jewison has always been a great actor’s director.
Maltin, who is perfect at hosting these things, will moderate an informal chat with Jewison, Cher, Dunaway and the others. Should be an unforgettable night, wish I could be there. It all begins at 7:30, followed by a screening of one of Jewison’s most appealing films, Moonstruck, at 9:10. Tickets–just ten dollars!–are available here.

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