Over nearly half a century of filmmaking, Norman Jewison has created musicals, melodramas, romantic comedies and social justice pictures. So why, at 77, is he still churning them out? A portrait of a director in love with his work
This story was originally published in March 2004.
Norman Jewison is doing his William Wyler impersonation. When he relays anecdotes about famous people who have passed through his life as friends and mentors, he likes to deliver their lines in his own approximations of their voices. He does a not bad John Huston and an eerily accurate Bobby Kennedy. With Wyler, the late and esteemed director of such classic movies as Wuthering Heights and The Best Years of Our Lives, Jewison’s impersonation has free rein because hardly anybody, except nursing home residents in Hollywood, remembers what Wyler sounded like. Jewison’s version gets a slightly Teutonic accent, since Wyler was born in Alsace when it was part of Germany, and a pronounced wheeze, Wyler having suffered from emphysema in his last years. Jewison is telling about a party in Malibu in the 1970s when he asked Wyler how a director knows his time for making movies has come to an end.
“Norman,” Jewison says in Wyler’s voice, guttural and raspy, “it’s not the mind that goez. You realize it’s over vhen the legz give out. Norman, you should vatch your legz.”
Jewison laughs. He’s a comfortable-old-shoe kind of guy. Even when he feels down in the dumps, as he says he does every time he comes off the high of shooting and editing a new movie, he rallies to make himself good company. He’s sitting now in his office on the top floor of a five-storey building off a back lane near Yonge and Wellesley. A Martha Stewart disciple has never put a hand to this place. It’s sprawling and casual; scripts and correspondence stacked on most surfaces, a loose collection of photographs scattered around—Jewison with Wayne Gretzky; Jewison and his wife, Dixie, with Bill Clinton in the White House—on and off walls, some still waiting for the framer. In the same room, Jewison’s assistant, Liz Broden, works at an enormous desk, and he shouts across to her when he’s groping for a fact or a detail.
“Who’s that overweight guy who used to be on Saturday Night Live?” he calls out.
“Jon Lovitz,” Broden calls back without hesitation.
“Yeah, Jon Lovitz,” Jewison says. “I’d love to have him in my next movie.”
Jewison is 77, and there appears to be nothing wrong with any of his limbs. He skis in Switzerland, and he goes horseback riding through the countryside near his 200-acre farm in Caledon. “Man, that’s a workout,” he says. “The horse I got is an old police horse, 18 hands high. He’s so tall I have to stand on a stump to mount him.” At the farm, named Putney Heath after the area in London, England, where Jewison and his family lived in the 1970s, he breeds his herd of 130 Polled Hereford cattle and maintains a hot little sideline tapping the sap from the maple trees and bottling his own Norman Jewison Maple Syrup. Far from being a city guy’s dilettante retreat, the farm is where Jewison vatches his director’s legz.
Jewison isn’t through talking about Wyler. “Willie was my idol,” he says. That’s partly because Wyler was a master craftsman, and Jewison prides himself on the care and infinite sense of detail he brings to his own movies. But even more to the point for Jewison, Wyler made movies of a wide variety: westerns, dramas, period pieces, comedies, epics. “He was amazing,” Jewison says. “Can you believe the same man actually directed Ben-Hur and Roman Holiday?”
Jewison is wearing a baseball cap—he owns more baseball caps than the New York Yankees—which is all black with two words, The Statement, stitched across the front in white letters. The Statement is the 24th feature film that Jewison has directed since he began making movies, in 1962. It’s a list that, Wyler-like, embraces every genre except horror. He directed two spunky 1960s Doris Day romantic comedies, The Thrill of It All and Send Me No Flowers. He made one heist movie, the original 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, and one coming-to-terms-with-Vietnam movie, In Country. He directed movies starring beloved Hollywood legends, like Gregory Peck in Other People’s Money, and a movie with an entire cast of complete unknowns—Jesus Christ Superstar. He made a lavish three-hour musical that cost the earth to produce, Fiddler on the Roof. And he directed a meditation on Catholicism and Freud, Agnes of God, for which he worked with the budget of an art-house film and needed to squeeze every nickel.
“People always tell me, Gee, you direct so many movies, as if that’s an unusual thing to do,” he says. “But I made my mind up when I was young in this business that what’s important for a movie director is to keep working. Don’t ever stop working. Because how else are you going to learn how to do new things, which, to me, is the whole point? So I make a lot of different kinds of movies, and I love them all.”
The truth is that he loves some of his films more than others. “The movies that address civil rights and ideas about social justice are the ones that are dearest to me,” Jewison says. He’s referring to In the Heat of the Night, A Soldier’s Story, The Hurricane—movies in which Black men endure racial bigotry before winning a hard triumph in the end. Jewison’s heart is on his sleeve when he makes movies about religious betrayal, about antisemitism, about society’s eternal underdogs. The movies exploring these themes are the ones that most identify him and that he most identifies with. The films of this sort have a category all their own. Everybody in the business, including Jewison, refers to each of them as a “Norman Jewison Movie.”
Jewison tells a story about his eight-year-old self, growing up in the Beach, convinced he was Jewish. Little Norman spelled out his name, Jew-i-son. I must be the son of a Jew, he thought. The bullies at Kew Beach Public School were thinking along the same lines. The year was 1934, and just the summer before, the bullies’ older brothers had travelled from the east end to the west and beat up the Jewish kids in the infamous Christie Pits riot. “Dirty Jew boy,” the public school bullies screamed now at Norman, hitting him with their hard little fists. Norman thought he deserved the pounding. He was a Jew.
When he went home to the apartment over his parents’ dry goods store at the corner of Queen Street and Kippendavie Avenue, his exasperated mother explained, not for the first time, that his father was Methodist, she was Anglican and Norman went to Sunday school at Bellefair United Church. Norman was crestfallen. He wanted to be like Sidney, the other kid in his class who got punched in the schoolyard. Sidney was a real Jew. Norman yearned for a Jewishness of his own.
After graduating from Malvern Collegiate in 1944 and serving 18 months in the navy, he hitchhiked alone through the American south. He adored the rolling fields, the black earth, the white columns on the old mansions, all the Gone With the Wind elements. But what most affected him was the segregation: Black people at the back of the bus, separate drinking fountains. A farmer gave Jewison a lift in Mississippi and casually pointed out the tree where the folks in town had strung up a Black man not long before. “This is so unfair,” Jewison kept telling himself, storing away the images and emotions that later re-emerged in his movies.
Jewison intended from the beginning to make his living somewhere in the performing arts. As a little kid, he gave recitations of Robert Service poems at gatherings of Kinsmen and Ladies of the Eastern Star. He took piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music. At Malvern, he was the boy who was always game to put on a show, whether it was minstrel or Shakespeare. In his University of Toronto years—he graduated from Victoria College with a BA—he went out for the All Varsity Revue: he sang; he danced; he wrote skits; he did the sound, the lighting, the composing; he directed. He was positioning himself for whatever showbiz had to offer.
His timing was impeccable. CBC-TV went on the air in 1952, and Jewison got in on the ground floor. The star of the first series he directed was a puppet, Uncle Chichimus. “It’s surprising the subversive stuff I could put on the air just because it was coming from the mouth of a performer made of wood,” Jewison says. He jumped ahead to direct variety shows, Wayne and Shuster and the first weekly jazz show on North American television. The host of the program was a pianist with a sophisticated air named Cal Jackson. Jewison likes to point out that Jackson was Black: a Black host made another North American TV first.
The energetic young guy who directed the sleek and smart jazz show came to the attention of the big shots at CBS in New York. They made Jewison an offer, and he moved to Manhattan in 1958. By then, he had a wife. Margaret Dixon, known by all as Dixie, was another Beaches person, but from the neighbourhood’s upper crust. Dixie’s father was a stockbroker, and she went to Branksome Hall. She was a beauty, a photographer’s model whose face was plastered all over town on the billboards for Black Cat cigarettes. Jewison needed to do some heavy wooing and fast talking to convince Dixie and her parents he wasn’t a ne’er-do-well bohemian artiste. They married in Toronto, and by the time they took up life in New York, they already had two of their three children, Kevin and Michael, who would be followed later by Jennifer.
CBS assigned Jewison to Your Hit Parade, a weekly program showcasing songs that were moving up the popularity charts. Jewison booked a singer named Tommy Edwards to perform his new hit, “It’s All in the Game.” CBS and the program’s sponsor, Lucky Strike, ordered Jewison to cancel Edwards. Edwards was Black; Your Hit Parade was all white. Jewison threatened to go to the New York Times with the story of racial discrimination and ultimately got his way in the Edwards argument. In 1959, the appearance of a Black singer on Your Hit Parade qualified as a civil rights breakthrough.
Jewison was promoted to producing CBS’s music specials—hour-long shows featuring such headline performers as Danny Kaye, Andy Williams and Harry Belafonte. He developed a distinctive style he called the white-on-white look, something achieved with minimal scenery and subtle lighting; it was a stark, uncluttered approach that Jewison varied to present each star in the most flattering manner. He flew to Los Angeles to produce a Judy Garland special, an expert, exciting show that eventually earned three Emmy nominations.
Frank Sinatra was a guest on the Garland special, and during rehearsal a Sinatra pal dropped by to catch the action. He was Tony Curtis, and he said to Jewison, “Kid, I like the way you work.” Curtis asked Jewison to direct his next movie, a cheerful little comedy called 40 Pounds of Trouble. Just like that—a snap of the fingers—Jewison found the career that is today at the beginning of its fifth decade.
Jewison calls himself a political animal, and in Hollywood, where he relocated in 1962, while making movies that earned profits and won Oscars, he aligned himself with the industry’s liberals. He demonstrated against the Vietnam War. At Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in Atlanta, he walked in the cortege alongside senator Robert Kennedy. On the night of Kennedy’s assassination, Jewison was scheduled to meet with the senator at director John Frankenheimer’s house to plot strategy in the upcoming presidential race. With Kennedy dead, Richard Nixon in the White House and Ronald Reagan in the California governor’s mansion, Jewison decided the US was getting too conservative for his political tastes.
He moved to London and directed his movies in Europe and the Middle East. He made Fiddler on the Roof in Yugoslavia, Jesus Christ Superstar in Israel, Rollerball in a Munich sports arena. London seemed just right to him, until the night in 1979 when he and Dixie attended Mordecai Richler’s farewell party. After decades in Europe, Richler felt the need to return home to his Montreal roots. Jewison, 20 years away from Canada, admitted the same longing in himself to get back to the place where he had started and where he wanted to end. He and Dixie made a quick visit to scout Toronto-area real estate and snapped up the Caledon farm on first sight. It became the new Jewison homestead, and he returned to making movies in North America.
The farm suits Jewison. Despite his periods in the film capitals of the world, he has remained quintessentially southern Ontarian in every personal detail, from speech patterns to idiosyncratic points of autobiography. He pronounces the word theatre as “thee-ate-er.” When Jewison’s old friend, the entertainer Don Harron, set about creating his definitive Ontario alter ego, Charlie Farquharson, he put himself in character by topping off Charlie’s costume with the battered peaked cap that Jewison’s father wore for years. And the number one story in Jewison family lore, the tale Norman, Dixie and the kids know by heart, centres on the most Canadian of artifacts, a canoe.
This particular canoe, built by First Nations people, belonged to Bobby Blain. He was Jewison’s childhood paddling pal. Lake Ontario, which was just a block down Kippendavie from the Jewison apartment, served as the boys’ summer playground. Late one afternoon, a sudden storm on the lake caught 12-year-old Bobby and his canoe in a ferocious riptide. The next morning, Bobby’s body washed up on the beach. So did the intact canoe. After Bobby’s Boy Scout funeral, after Norman stood duty in his hot and itchy Scout uniform beside Bobby’s coffin, he hesitantly asked Mrs. Blair what plans she had for her dead son’s canoe. The poor grief-stricken woman sold the canoe to Norman for $35, and over the following decades, as a child, an adolescent and an adult, Jewison paddled it on Lake Ontario and up on Lake Simcoe at his aunts’ cottage at Big Cedar Point. He appreciated the canoe’s good looks but never recognized its true beauty until the early 1990s, when, as a surprise gift to their father, Jewison’s children took it to canoe maker for restoration. The canoe emerged from the shop—cedar-stripped, freshly painted, copper nails glowing—as gorgeous as a Tom Thomson painting. To this day, wielding his father’s old double paddle, Jewison takes Dixie gliding across the water off Big Cedar Point at sunset. “We look like the characters from On Golden Pond,” Jewison says, “Dixie and me in Bobby Blair’s canoe.”
The farm is where Jewison’s children and four grandchildren come to check in with him and Dixie. Kevin is a cinematographer working out of Paris. Jennifer, married to a television executive, lives in Connecticut. And Michael, a movie producer, has a home in Pacific Palisades, down the road from his parents’ house in Malibu. Dixie Jewison’s role in her husband’s business life has been as the inventive and gracious hostess at his parties for the movie industry. Through much of the 1980s, a must-attend Los Angeles gathering was Dixie’s Canada Day celebration at the Jewison beach house in Malibu. Jewison maintained the place as the base of operations for his Hollywood business—he still does—and each July 1, Dixie would invite their move friends to mark the holiday. The red Maple Leaf flew from the flagpole, jars of Norman Jewison Maple Syrup were handed out as party favours and everybody learned to end their sentences in “eh.”
It was during a Dixie party at the Caledon farm that Jewison got the initial buzz going about what has turned out to be his most valuable gift to the Canadian film industry. It was July 1986, Jewison’s 60th birthday. Guests spilled across the lawns that slope down from the house, gathered at the swimming pool, scattered through the gentle woods that mark the edges of the property. Jewison mentioned his idea to one guest, his friend David Peterson, the recently elected premier of Ontario, who passed it on to another guest, Wayne Clarkson, who was heading up the Ontario Film Development Corporation. Jewison thought the province—hell, the entire country—needed a school to teach the intricacies of film’s creative side to people who’d already had a taste of the business; not a school for neophytes but for the equivalent of graduate students. Peterson and Clarkson, who would be important players in such an enterprise, declared themselves onside before they left the party.
Jewison followed through. He arranged the lease of the land and buildings that were once E. P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm on Bayview Avenue, and in 1988 the property became home to the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies, since renamed the Canadian Film Centre. Its guiding principle is to teach moviemakers the hands-on way: by making movies. Each year, the CFC accepts eight film directors, eight producers, eight writers and four editors. It has broadened in recent years to handle students in television and new media.
It develops and finances the making of short films and feature films. Wayne Clarkson, the director since 1991, ticks off the figures to show that the CFC is having an impact on the Canadian film and TV industries: 486 alumni have put their talents into 139 feature films and 220 television productions, and of all the CFC’s alumni, fully 86 per cent are now working in film, TV or new media. Charles Bishop (class of ’94) produced Michael Moore’s Oscar winner, Bowling for Columbine. Brad Peyton (’02) wrote and directed Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl—an eight-minute short that won prizes at festivals around the world and convinced Tom Hanks to hire Peyton to write and direct his upcoming feature, The Spider and the Fly. “The examples of success are in the hundreds,” Clarkson says. “Don McKellar came through the centre, and Last Night, which he directed, is one of the greatest first films ever made in this country.”
Jewison sits as the CFC’s chairman emeritus, but his connection with the students is much more than board level. He invites them to observe him work on his own movies as they develop. When The Hurricane was in post-production, the students joined Jewison for several days as he worked in the sound mixing room, explaining his choices in edits and mixes as he proceeded. He took them on the set of Bogus to watch his directorial techniques with Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu. For Dinner With Friends, the Donald Margulies play that Jewison, as executive producer, made into a film for HBO, he spent three days with students analyzing the steps in reworking a stage play for the TV screen. And early last fall, he ran a rough cut of The Statement for a crowd from the centre, making them the first audience to see his brand new movie.
Jewison is in his office talking about the six years that went into making The Statement. He takes enormous pleasure in explaining the creative steps in moviemaking and in sorting through the techniques and attitudes he has arrived at over his 40 years of directing. From the novel by Brian Moore, The Statement tells the story of a Frenchman named Pierre Brossard (played convincingly by Michael Caine), a collaborator with the Nazis in wartime Vichy who has been on the run for decades, protected from prosecution by right-wing priests who hide him in their priories across Provence and the Côte d’Azur. But the search for Brossard is narrowing, two groups hot on the trail of this murderer of French Jews. One group is official, under the direction of a woman magistrate; the other appears to be a renegade Jewish organization intent on assassinating Brossard. It’s a story of betrayal and antisemitism, of human rights and murder. As Jewison recognized, The Statement is a Norman Jewison Movie.
Ronald Harwood was the third writer to take a crack at the tricky task of making a screenplay from the Moore novel. Jewison liked Harwood’s credentials. A man in his late 60s, Jewish and, as Harwood says of himself, obsessed with the subjects of the Nazis and the Holocaust, he had just written the script for The Pianist, Roman Polanski’s movie about a Jewish musician who survived the war in the Warsaw ghetto. Harwood finished The Statement’s screenplay at his home in London, flew to Toronto, checked into the Sutton Place for a week and engaged in a demanding practice that Jewison imposes on all his screenwriters: the two men acted the script with each other, just Jewison and Harwood playing every role, often switching parts. The readings are Jewison’s method of revealing a script’s flaws and finding flat stretches in the dialogue.
During the process, Jewison suggested structural changes. He wanted Harwood to add a scene in which a high-ranking French official warns the magistrate to back off in her pursuit of Brossard. “To raise the pressure in the story,” he said. Harwood agreed that the scene added a fresh element of suspense to the movie. Then Jewison wondered about a scene in which Harwood had Brossard kicking a dog. “Will a movie star, whoever plays Brossard, want to be seen on screen kicking a dog?” Jewison asked. “Killing another man, sure. But kicking a dog?” Harwood insisted on the scene. Jewison stepped gracefully away from his doubt. The two men read on, and along the way, Jewison fastened on dialogue that seemed too British, too arch or too wordy. He wanted the lines trimmed to the bone. Harwood obliged.
Jewison thinks that much of his job is manipulation, subtly persuading others on a movie to adjust to his vision. “The director is the only person who sees the whole movie in his mind from beginning to end,” he says. “So he’s got to influence everybody else to give their best and still be in step with him.” If what Jewison was doing with Harwood in their reading sessions was manipulating the screenwriter, he seems to have succeeded. Harwood came away convinced that Jewison ranks with Polanski as the director who most respects the screenwriter’s work.
Filming of The Statement, budgeted at $18 million (US), got underway in late March 2003 and continued for 11 weeks in and around Paris and in towns and cities across the south of France. The shoot was punishing. Since the movie told the story of a man on the run, never holing up in a single place for more than 24 hours, Jewison and his film crew were likewise constantly on the move, shooting in two or three locations each day. The logistics of filming in Provence towns grew particularly complex. Jewison hired people three days in advance of each location shoot to park their cars in designated spots in order to hold the space for the filming. He’d shoot a scene in one town, then race the whole cumbersome apparatus of cast and crew to the next town and shoot again.
Jewison never flagged. As with all his movies, he took on the role of cheerleader. It’s in his nature to be the guy in the audience who laughs the hardest at the funny parts and tears up first at the tragic bits. On the set of Moonstruck, he ruined takes by breaking up noisily during Cher’s comic scenes. He couldn’t help himself. He loved the material, and all the people in the cast and crew caught his enthusiasm for the job. Jewison, the biggest fan of everybody’s work, including his own, runs a happy set.
As the shoot for The Statement progressed, Jewison felt optimistic about the movie that was emerging. Halfway through the filming, he treated Ronald Harwood and Roman Polanski to dinner in Paris. Harwood was just back from Los Angeles and the Academy Awards, where he won an Oscar for his Pianist script. The movie also won the best picture Oscar, and Polanski got one for best director. Jewison took his celebrating guests to La Maison Caviar just off the Champs Élysées, a restaurant as pricey as the name suggests.
“An Oscar, wow,” Jewison said to Harwood. “I guess this means I can’t get you your first Oscar for The Statement.”
He was only half kidding.
When The Statement opened in theatres on December 12, Toronto movie critics received it with tepid notices. Over his career, Jewison has become accustomed to rough handling from the home crowd. The one painfully negative review for his 1967 hit, In the Heat of the Night, came from Urjo Kareda in the Globe and Mail. Jewison’s courtroom drama, And Justice for All, got its world premier as the closing-night feature film at the 1979 Festival of Festivals (now the Toronto International Film Festival). The movie is a clever and entertaining mix of dark humour and courtroom realism, but to Jewison’s mortification, he and the heads of Universal who financed the movie were greeted at the premiere by Gina Mallett’s excoriating review in that day’s Star.
Before The Statement opened, Jewison wondered if the local movie writers were sharpening their knives. In his vulnerable moments, he speculates that he’s paying the penalty for too much success in the early period of his career. He left Toronto as a young and unknown TV guy, and when he returned, he was a veteran filmmaker and a rich man. He took a route unlike the next generation of Toronto directors, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, who stayed home, made movies and emerged, unlike Jewison, as darlings of the Toronto critics. “Am I imagining things?” Jewison asks.
Still, he felt anything might happen. He had learned from experience the vagaries of the movie business. In 1984, he adapted a little-known play for the screen, A Soldier’s Story; with a virtually all-Black cast, no stars and a subject of little commercial appeal, the movie still earned $33 million at the box office, many times its production costs. Moonstruck was scorned in its early critical notices, but as word of mouth spread about the movie’s charm and humour, it morphed into a hit and ultimately an Academy Award winner. Jewison is hoping something similar is in store down the line for The Statement. “Enough people will realize this is an intelligent and entertaining film,” Jewison says. “Maybe not in time to get the big awards, but I believe at some point The Statement is going to find its audience.”
Jewison has an ambivalent relationship with the Academy Awards—not love-hate, more affection-bafflement. He appreciates the approval of his peers as much as the next director. And he has contributed his share of labour on behalf of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences: he produced the Oscar TV show in 1981 and served on the Academy’s board of directors in the early 1990s. But the Oscars haven’t always repaid Jewison’s devotion.
His movies have received 46 nominations and have won 12 times. Three of the nominations were for Jewison as best director, for In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof and Moonstruck. He was passed over all three times, even in 1967, when In the Heat of the Night won best picture. Losing the director prize that year, to Mike Nichols for The Graduate, seemed perverse; best picture and best director logically belong together. But Jewison adopts a good-sport position about the rebuff, reciting the list of great Hollywood names who received honorary Oscars but never the real thing: Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Cary Grant. “The Oscars don’t work sometimes,” Jewison says, doing a convincing job of laughing off his own Oscar gap. “All I know is the winners usually turn out to be people I didn’t vote for.”
In 1998, the Academy bestowed on Jewison its most treasured honorary prize, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given for a high level of work by a producer. Jewison qualifies because he has produced or co-produced all of his movies, beginning with The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! in 1966 and continuing to The Statement in 2003. His Irving statuette, a mounted sculpture of Thalberg’s head rather smaller than life size, sits on a front corner of the desk in his office, facing the guests’ chairs. “My age is the reason I got it,” he says, waving in the direction of the Irving. “When you’ve been around a long time, they start handing you awards. They ought to give them to people in their prime. Me, I’m an old man.”
Jewison looks grumpy.
Back in the same office four weeks later, Jewison is elated. He sits on the edge of his chair as he talks, like a little kid spilling out an eager story. He is working on his next movie. He’s a happy man.
During a delay while he was waiting to shoot The Statement, he saw an Italian movie called Bread and Tulips, a sweet little film made in 2000 by Silvio Soldini. It tells the story of a middle-class Italian housewife in her 40s. Her husband and teenage sons have confined the woman to such taken-for-granted oblivion that one day, on a family vacation, they drive away from a highway restaurant without noticing that their wife and mother has been left behind. Comic circumstances lead her to Venice, a city she has never before visited, where she encounters a series of gentle and off-centre characters: a waiter who talks a formal and lyric brand of Italian, maybe because he comes from Iceland; an effervescent masseuse; an adorable old faux curmudgeon who owns a flower shop. Among these people, the woman connects with the expansive life she once dreamed of. She begins again to play the accordion of her youth. She finds romance.
Jewison watched and got excited. He giggled. He thought the notion of a woman playing an accordion was hilarious. He loved the lyric waiter and the masseuse, the crusty flower man and the pudgy mama’s boy of a private eye who comes looking for the housewife. Her predicament saddened him, and he felt moved when romance reached out for her at last. He wanted to do a remake of Bread and Tulips in English, translating it into North American terms. A new movie called to him.
Jewison knew who should write the script: John Patrick Shanley, the writer who won an Oscar for his Moonstruck script. He refers to Shanley as the bard of the Bronx, a poet who’s never afraid to get out on the edges and take chances in his screenwriting. Jewison sent Shanley a video of Bread and Tulips. Shanley declared himself in eager favour of the project at the moment in the movie when he saw the woman pick up her accordion. It turns out his father was so devoted to playing the accordion that at his wake—he died at 96—the family placed the accordion in the casket.
Jewison and Shanley discussed the script. In their version, the family is from Trenton, New Jersey, the housewife finds herself in New Orleans, the flower shop man is Cuban. Shanley began to write. Jewison investigated financing and made plans for casting the movie. Jon Lovitz, the overweight guy from Saturday Night Live, would be a natural for the pudgy private eye. Plenty of American actresses in their 40s would kill to play a role like the one of the blossoming wife. Maybe an Annette Bening type. Maybe Annette Bening herself.
“I feel lost if I don’t have a film to move on to,” Jewison says in his office. “Now I think I’ve got the right one.”
He enthuses more about Bread and Tulips, still sitting forward on his chair. “I think,” he says, “I’m going back into a romantic period in my films.”
Jewison looks giddy.