Sidney Lumet, director & producer, died at 86

  Dead Famous

Dead, Sidney Arthur Lumet on April 9, 2011, he was an American director, producer and screenwriter with over 50 films to his credit.

Born in Philadelphia on June 25, 1924 he studied theatre acting at the Professional Children’s School of New York and Columbia University.

Lumet’s parents, Baruch and Eugenia (née Wermus) Lumet, were both veterans of the Yiddish theatre.

His father, who was an actor, director, producer and writer, was a Polish Jewish emigrant to the United States who was born in Warsaw.

Lumet’s mother, who was a dancer, died when he was a child.

He made his professional debut on radio at age four and stage debut at the Yiddish Art Theatre at age five.

In 1935, aged 11, he appeared in a Henry Lynn short film, Papirossen (meaning “Cigarettes” in Yiddish), co-produced by radio star Herman Yablokoff.

The film was shown in a theatrical play with the same title, based on a hit song, “Papirosn”. The play and short film appeared in the Bronx McKinley Square Theatre.

Lumet began his career as a director with Off-Broadway productions and then evolved into a highly respected TV director.

After working off-Broadway and in summer-stock, he began directing television in 1950, after working as an assistant to friend and then-director Yul Brynner.

He soon developed a “lightning quick” method for shooting due to the high turnover required by television.

As a result, while working for CBS he directed hundreds of episodes of Danger (1950–55), Mama (1949–57), and You Are There (1953–57), a weekly series which co-starred Walter Cronkite in one of his earliest leading roles.

He chose Cronkite for the role of anchorman “because the premise of the show was so silly, was so outrageous, that we needed somebody with the most American, homespun, warm ease about him,” Lumet said.

His first movie, 12 Angry Men, was an auspicious beginning for Lumet. It was a critical success and established Lumet as a director skilled at adapting theatrical properties to motion pictures.

For US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seeing the film for the first time, became a “pivotal moment” in her life, as she was at that time considering a career in law.

“It told me that I was on the right path,” she said. Fully half of Lumet’s complements of films have originated in the theatre.

The first half of the 1960s was one of Lumet’s most artistically successful periods.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), a masterful, brilliantly photographed adaptation of the Eugene O’Neill play, is one of several Lumet films about families.

It earned Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Dean Stockwell and Jason Robards deserved acting awards in Cannes and Hepburn an Oscar nomination.

The alarming Cold War thriller Fail Safe (1964) unfairly suffered from comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s equally great satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which was released shortly before.

The Pawnbroker (1964), arguably the most outstanding of the great movies Lumet made in this phase, tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who lives in New York and can’t overcome his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps.

Rod Steiger’s unforgettable performance in the title role earned an Academy Award nomination. Lumet’s intense character study The Hill (1965) about inhumanity in a military prison camp was the first of five films he did with Sean Connery.

After the overly talky but rewarding drama The Group (1966) about young upper-class women in the 1930s, and the stylish spy thriller The Deadly Affair (1966), the late 1960s turned out to be a lesser phase in Lumet’s career.

He had a strong comeback with the box-office hit The Anderson Tapes (1971). The Offence (1973) was commercially less successful, but artistically brilliant – with Connery in one of his most impressive performances.

The terrific cop thriller Serpico (1973), the first of his films about police corruption in New York City, became one of his biggest critical and financial successes.