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The birth of a storyteller

"Film is the literature of this generation," says Toronto-born Norman Jewison. Small wonder then the Oscar-winning director is considered a Laureate of the film lens and is a fierce supporter of the Canadian film industry. Responsible for such classics as In the Heat of the Night and Fiddler on the Roof, Jewison cut his teeth in television at the CBC before moving to Hollywood where he became a maverick director who wowed audiences with his storytelling prowess.

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More than anything else, Norman Jewison is known for his ability to tell compelling stories. It's his trademark and the predominate feature of all of his films. But where did his talent for storytelling come from? In this television clip from the CBC's Life & Times, Jewison talks about his childhood growing up in Toronto during the Depression. He recalls how his love of the movies at an early age helped turn him into the master storyteller he would later become.

As a child, Jewison would go to the local theatre in the Beaches district of Toronto when film tickets cost ten cents. Though money was tight, he would con neighbourhood children into paying him to see the movie. "I would get two cents from each kid," recalls Jewison, "and then I would come back and tell them the movie. They could see the movie through my eyes. I guess I started telling stories that way."
• Norman Jewison was born July 21, 1926 in Toronto's east end. After earning his B.A. at the University of Toronto's Victoria College in 1950, he moved to London, England where he wrote scripts and acted in television shows for the BBC. He returned to Canada in 1952 and worked for the CBC, directing and producing musicals and variety shows for the network for six years.

• In 1958 Jewison went to New York where he worked as the producer for CBS' Your Hit Parade, The Judy Garland Show and several other variety shows with such stars as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte. Disillusioned with television, he moved to Hollywood and made his feature film debut in 1963, directing Tony Curtis in 40 Pounds of Trouble. The film was a box office hit and Universal Studios inked him to a seven-film contract.

• Jewison attended Malvern Collegiate high school in Toronto where he was a classmate of acclaimed concert pianist Glenn Gould.  He also studied music at the Royal Conservatory and served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.

• Other acclaimed film directors who also started in television include Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), John Frankenheimer (Birdman of Alcatraz) and Mike Nichols (The Graduate).
Medium: Television
Program: Life & Times
Broadcast Date: Feb. 19, 1997
Guest(s): Bill Aimers, Harry Belafonte, Norman Campbell, Betty Robertson
Duration: 9:38
Produced by NJLT Limited in association with CBC.

Last updated: May 9, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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