Love Story director Arthur Hiller dead at 92

Oscar-winning Canadian director Arthur Hiller, a film and television veteran perhaps best known for helming the classic romance Love Story, has died at the age of 92.

Edmonton-born director won Oscar academy's humanitarian award in 2002

Actors Ryan O'Neal, left, and Ali MacGraw appear backstage with director Arthur Hiller after they presented the Canadian director of Love Story with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars in 2002. Edmonton-born Hiller has died at the age of 92. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Arthur Hiller, who received an Oscar nomination for directing the hugely popular romantic tragedy Love Story during a career that spanned dozens of popular movies and TV shows, died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 92.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced his death Wednesday. Hiller served as academy president from 1993 to 1997.

Although since dismissed by some as overly syrupy, Love Story, with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal as star-crossed Ivy League lovers, was one of the most popular movies of 1970. The film, based on the popular novel of the same name by Erich Segal, reduced thousands of moviegoers to tears and created a national catch phrase: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

MacGraw said in a statement Wednesday that Hiller was "an integral part of one of the most important experiences of my life."

"He was a remarkable, gifted, generous human being and I will miss him terribly," MacGraw said. "My heart and love go out to his family. "

Interestingly enough, Hiller recalled in 1991, the film almost didn't get made.

"Paramount was in rocky financial shape," he recalled, and executives wanted to cancel the project. But production boss Robert Evans loved the script and allowed Hiller to proceed — if he would spend only $2 million US. The director brought the film in $25,000 under budget, then insisted on spending $15,000 for memorable scenes in the Boston snow.

Love Story kicked off a busy two decades of work for Hiller, who had gotten his start directing such television shows as GunsmokePerry Mason and The Rifleman in the 1950s.

He directed nearly two dozen feature films between 1970 and 1990 and was equally at ease with comedy or drama. He even helmed a musical, 1972's Man of La Mancha with Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, and a biography, 1976's W.C. Fields and Me, with Rod Steiger and Valarie Perrine.

His more memorable comedies included The In-Laws with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, Plaza Suite starring Walter Matthau, The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and Lee Remick, The Out-of-Towners with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, The Lonely Guy with Steve Martin and Charles Grodin, and Author, Author with Al Pacino and Dyan Cannon. He teamed comics Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor twice, in the 1976 hit Silver Streak and with less success in 1989's See No Evil, Hear No Evil.

Notable dramas were The Americanization of Emily with Garner and Julie Andrews, The Man in the Glass Booth with Maximilian Schell, The Hospital with George C. Scott and Diana Rigg and Tobruk with Rock Hudson and George Peppard.

'An affirmation of the human spirit'

Hiller's versatility, plus his willingness to take on projects unworthy of his talent, may have forestalled recognition of his achievements. Although he earned good reviews for his better films, his lesser ones were savaged by critics. His only Oscar nomination came for Love Story, for which he won a Golden Globe.

Arthur Hiller accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the 2002 Academy Awards in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press)

Hiller once explained his choice of scripts, saying, "I prefer them with good moral values, which comes from my parents and my upbringing. ... Even in my smaller, lesser films, at least there's an affirmation of the human spirit."

A soft-spoken man with a black mane like a symphonic conductor's, the Canadian-born Hiller served two terms apiece as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and president of the Directors Guild of America.

In 2002 the Academy presented him with its Jean Hersholt award for humanitarian service.

Canadian upbringing

He was born in Edmonton, where his parents operated a Yiddish school and theatre.

After leaving the University of Alberta to join the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, he studied psychology at the University of Toronto and law at the University of British Columbia. He eventually decided to go into communications, applying for a job at Canada's CBC network in Toronto.

When asked what kind of work he was seeking, Hiller replied: "I want to be a director."

"To this day I don't know where that came from," he said in 2004.

But three weeks after making the statement he was directing public affairs programs. He eventually advanced to dramas, where he caught Hollywood's attention.

He was hired by NBC in 1955 to direct a live drama, Matinee Theater. He would go on to direct Playhouse 90Naked CityRoute 66 and many other series before moving on to feature films.

His later films included 1990's Taking Care of Business, 1992's The Babe and 1996's Carpool.

Hiller married Gwen Pechet in 1948 and the couple had a son, Henryk, and daughter, Erica. They were married for 68 years until her death in June.

With files from Bob Thomas

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