The world mourns the loss of one of its greatest movie makers.
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Legendary movie director and actor Paul Mazursky died Monday from a pulmonary cardiac arrest. He was 84 years old. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Irwin “Paul” Mazursky was the grandson of a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant.
The director began his Hollywood career as an actor in the 1950s, making his debut in Stanley Kubrick’s first movie Fear and Desire in 1953.
In the 1960’s, Mazursky moved into writing and worked on television programs like The Rifelmen, The Monkees and The Danny Kaye Show. The first motion picture which he wrote was 1968’s I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, which starred Peter Sellers.
Mazursky’s movies usually represented what was happening culturally in America at the time. Toklas dealt with the experimentation with marijuana that was expanding in the country.
His first feature film was 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, about two married couples who are the best of friends and who consider swapping partners one night. This movie dealt with the sexual revolution in America which had only just begun. It Starred Eliot Gould, Dyan Cannon and Natalie Wood. Cannon and Gould were both nominated for best supporting actor Oscars and Mazursky earned his first Oscar nomination for the screenplay which he wrote.
1973’s Blume in Love starred George Segal and Oscar winner Shelly Winters. Segal played Jewish divorce attorney Stephen Blume whose own marriage breaks up after he has an affair with his secretary. Blume goes on a journey of self-discovery as he questions the traditional American dream of having a career and a family. This was a recurring theme in the U.S. in the 1970s.
The movie earned Mazursky a nomination for the Writers Guild of America’s award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen.
Then there was 1978’s An Unmarried Woman about a wealthy mother from Manhattan’s Upper East Side played by Jill Clayburgh who has to adjust to being single again after her husband of 16 years leaves her for a younger woman. This picture dealt with the growing divorce rate in America at the end of the 1970s and with how people who came of age before the sexual revolution wanted to take advantage of the new freedoms that were not available to them before they first got married.
Clayburgh was nominated for a best actress Oscar, Mazursky was nominated for another writing Oscar, and the film was nominated for the best picture Oscar for 1978.
Mazursky also made movies with Jewish subjects. In 1989 he directed Enemies: A Love Story, based on the Issac Bashevis Singer novel. The movie starred Ron Silver, Angelica Huston and Lena Olin as three Holocaust survivors from Poland living in New York at the end of the 1940s. Silver and Huston’s characters were married and lost their children in the Holocaust. Silver, however, believed his wife had also died and has since remarried to a non-Jewish Polish woman who saved his life.
Silver discovers that his wife survived when she comes to New York. All the while he is having an affair with another survivor played by Olin.
The movie deals with issues such as how does one continue to have faith in God after the Holocaust. While Silver’s non-Jewish wife is converting to Judaism she insists on observing Shabbat and going to synagogue on Yom Kippur. Silver, however, refuses to do either proclaiming that there is no God.
Mazursky was himself an atheist.
Angelica Huston and Lena Olin were both nominated for Oscars for best supporting actress and Mazursky was nominated again for his screen adaptation of the Singer novel.
Other renowned Mazursky movies include Down and Out in Beverly Hills from 1986 and Harry and Tonto from 1974, about a lonely retired lifelong New Yorker played by Art Carney who goes on a cross country odyssey with his beloved cat Tonto. Mazursky earned his second Oscar nomination for writing the film and Carney won the Oscar for acting.
For the last twenty years Mazursky mainly acted in supporting roles on television shows like the Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Just this past February he received a lifetime achievement award from the Writers Guild of America.
Mazursky is survived by his wife of more than sixty years, Betsy, and his daughter, Jill, who is herself a Hollywood producer.