directing Love Story in 1970
22 November 1923 |
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|Occupation||Television and film director|
|Spouse(s)||Gwen Pechet (1948-2016; 2 children)|
Arthur Hiller, OC (born 22 November 1923) is a United States-based Canadian television and film director, having directed over 33 major films during his 50-year career. He began his career directing television in Canada and later in the U.S. By the late 1950s he began directing films, most often comedies. He also directed award-winning dramas and romantic subjects, such as Love Story, which was nominated for seven Oscars.
Hiller collaborated on a number of films with award-winning screenwriters Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon. Among his other notable films were The Americanization of Emily (1964), Tobruk (1967), The Hospital (1971), The Out-of-Towners (1970), Plaza Suite (1971), The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and The In-Laws (1979).
Hiller served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 1989 to 1993 and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997. He was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2002. An annual film festival in Hiller's honor was held from 2006 until 2009 at his alma mater, Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts.
Hiller was born in Edmonton, Alberta, the son of Rose (Garfin) and Harry Hiller. His family was Jewish, and had immigrated from Poland in 1912. He had two sisters, one thirteen years older and one eleven years older. His father operated a second-hand musical instruments store in Edmonton. Hiller recalls that when he occasionally traveled home while he was still in college, the blacks he met with "treated me like a king. Why? Because they loved my father. They told me that unlike other shopkeepers, he treated them like normal folks when they went to his store. He didn't look down on them." Although his parents were not professionals in theater or had much money, notes Hiller, they enjoyed putting on a Jewish play once or twice a year for the Jewish community of 450 people, mainly to keep in touch with their heritage. Hiller recalls the Yiddish theater they started up:
When I was seven or eight years old, I was helping the man building and decorating the sets. By the time I was eleven, I was acting with the long beard and the payot. Little did I know that the love of theater and music and literature my parents instilled in me would one day lead to a career directing films.
After he graduated high school, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the start of World War II and navigated bombers over enemy territory in Europe. After he returned from serving in the military, Hiller enrolled in and later graduated from University College, University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947, followed by a Master of Arts degree in psychology in 1950. One of his first jobs after graduating was with Canadian radio directing various public affairs programs.
Hiller remembers that he was still in college when Israel was declared an 'official' state "for the first time since the Romans expelled them:"
Israel was immediately attacked by five different Arab armies.... I volunteered but they turned me down because I was married. I drove down to Seattle to try to volunteer from the United States but again was turned down because I was married. My wife agreed to volunteer too, but again, "No." . . . I admire their determination and dignity of purpose with high ethical standards as they try to make their country safe for democracy, while the countries around them try to make the Arab world safe from democracy.
When television entered mainstream media in the early 1950s, he began directing for Canadian TV broadcasters. NBC, a major broadcaster in the U.S., seeing his work in Canada, offered him positions directing U.S. television dramas, including episodes of Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke, Naked City, and Playhouse 90. TV actress Jean Byron describes Hiller's method of directing television:
Arthur Hiller was calm, quiet and he knew exactly what he wanted. He never told you what to do. He took what you had and very gently focused it. It was such a joy to work with him.
1950s – 1960s
In 1957 Hiller directed his first film, The Careless Years, the story of young couple eloping. This was followed by This Rugged Land (1962), originally made for television but then released as a film, and then Miracle of the White Stallions (1963), a Disney film. With these first films, Hiller already showed competence in directing unrelated subjects successfully.
He next directed a satirical anti-war comedy by screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, The Americanization of Emily (1964), starring James Garner and Julie Andrews. It was the first of two film collaborations with Chayevsky. The film, nominated for two Academy Awards, would establish Hiller as a notable Hollywood director and, according to critics, "earned him a reputation for flair with sophisticated comedy." NY Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote:
Under Arthur Hiller's brisk direction of Mr. Chayefsky's script, which includes some remarkably good writing with some slashing irreverence, The Americanization of Emily comes out a spinning comedy that says more for basic pacifism than a fistful of intellectual tracts. It also is highly entertaining, and it makes a good case for pure romance.
In 1965 he directed the comedy Promise Her Anything, with Warren Beatty and Leslie Caron, followed by Penelope (1966), starring Natalie Wood. In a move away from comedy, in 1967 he directed the desert warfare drama, Tobruk, starring Rock Hudson and George Peppard, about a North African Campaign during World War II. The film was nominated for one Academy Award and showed Hiller capable of handling action films as well as comedy. Also in 1967, he returned to comedy with The Tiger Makes Out, starring Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, and the film debut for Dustin Hoffman. In 1969, Hiller directed Popi, the story of a Puerto Rican widower, starring Alan Arkin, struggling to raise his two young sons in the New York City neighborhood known as Spanish Harlem. Arkin was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
In 1970 Hiller directed Love Story, considered his most famous and successful work. The film stars Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw in a romantic tragedy, and it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Director. The American Film Institute ranks it No. 9 in their list of the greatest love stories. Critic Roger Ebert notes that despite the overall positive reviews, some felt that the story was too contrived to create a tragic tale. He does not agree, however:
I don't think so. There's nothing contemptible about being moved to joy by a musical, to terror by a thriller, to excitement by a Western. Why shouldn't we get a little misty during a story about young lovers separated by death? Hiller earns our emotional response because of the way he's directed the movie. . . . The movie is mostly about life, however, not death. And because Hiller makes the lovers into individuals, or course we're moved by the film's conclusion. Why not?
The following year Hiller again collaborated with screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky in directing The Hospital (1971), a satire starring George C. Scott. The film has been described as a black comedy about disillusionment and chaos within a hospital setting. Chayevsky received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In directing the film, Hiller tried to create a sense of action and movement by keeping the camera mobile and using handheld cameras as much as possible. His goal was to have the camera reflect the chaos and confusion taking place in the hospital. "I've always liked that sort of realistic feel," he states. "I wanted the feeling that the audience was peeking around the corner."
Hiller directed two comedy films in collaboration with playwright Neil Simon, considered one of the finest writers of comedy in American literary history, making Hiller among the few directors who have attempted to translate Simon to film. The first film was The Out-of-Towners (1970), starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, who were both nominated for Golden Globe awards for their roles. Their next collaboration was Plaza Suite (1971), starring Walter Matthau, which was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture. Both films were driven by intense comedy dialogue and were considered "crisply directed" by reviewers.
In 1975 Hiller returned to directing serious drama with The Man in the Glass Booth, starring Maximilian Schell, in a screen adaptation of a stage play written by Robert Shaw. Schell played the role of a man trying to deal with questions of self-identity and guilt as a survivor of the Holocaust during World War II. For his highly emotional role, Schell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and the Golden Globe Award.
Returning to comedy, Hiller directed Silver Streak (1976), starring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh and Richard Pryor. The film was well received by critics and is rated No. 95 as the AFI's best comedy films. In 1979, he directed another comedy, The In-Laws, with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, which was also a critical and commercial success.
He was good director who wanted to know all about the subject. I took Arthur on a tour of the bars one night. Arthur is a real straight Jewish guy, married to the same woman for a hundred years, kids, and everything so far removed from the scene that it was like he was doing a movie about aliens.
Also in 1982, he directed Author! Author!, starring Al Pacino. The following year Hiller directed Romantic Comedy (1983), starring Dudley Moore and Mary Steenburgen. His next comedy, The Lonely Guy (1984), starred Steve Martin as a greeting card writer and was followed by Teachers (1984), a comedy-drama film starring Nick Nolte.
In 1987, Hiller directed Outrageous Fortune, starring Shelley Long and Bette Midler. The film was considered a smash hit, with Middler being nominated or winning various awards. The film was followed by See No Evil, Hear No Evil, another comedy again starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Pryor plays a blind man and Wilder a deaf man who work together to thwart a trio of murderous thieves.
The 1990s saw Hiller directing a number of films, most of which received negative or mixed reviews: Taking Care of Business (1990); The Babe (1992), a biographical film about Babe Ruth, portrayed by John Goodman; Married to It (1993) and Carpool (1996). In 1997, Hiller helmed the infamous flop An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, which wound up living up to its title when Hiller requested his name be removed from the picture -- thus truly making it an Alan Smithee film. (The movie caused the director's guild to discontinue the practice of using the Alan Smithee pseudonym.) Nine years later, when he was in his eighties, Hiller directed his last film to date, National Lampoon's Pucked (2006), starring rock star Jon Bon Jovi.
In an interview with journalist Robert K. Elder for The Film That Changed My Life, Hiller states that the film Rome, Open City had had a strong influence on his career because he saw it right after leaving the military where he was a bomber navigator in the Canadian Air Force. The film was set in Italy and showed the priesthood and the Communists teaming up against occupying Nazi forces. Hiller states, "You just get the strongest emotional feelings about what happened to people in Italy."
It just felt so real to me and so good. I didn't jump and say, "Oh, I want to make movies like that,” but I guess I was feeling that without realizing it. The same as when I finally woke up and said, "I want to be a director."
Hiller preferred high quality screenplays whenever possible, which partly explains why he collaborated on multiple films with both Paddy Chayevsky and Neil Simon, both considered among nation's the best screenwriters. Hiller explains his rationale:
Storytelling in innate to the human condition. Its underpinnings are cerebral, emotional, communal, psychological. One of the storyteller's main responsibilities is to resonate in the audience's psyche a certain something at the end of it all, to emotionally move the audience, to compel the audience to "get it" on a visceral level.
Awards and honors
Hiller served as President of the Directors Guild of America from 1989 to 1993 and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997. He was the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Academy Awards ceremony in recognition of his humanitarian, charitable and philanthropic efforts. In 2002, he was honoured with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Writer and producer William Froug writes:
Hiller is that rare and hugely successful gentleman who has remained humble all his life.
He and his wife Gwen had been married since 1948 and had two children and two grandchildren. Gwen died on June 24, 2016.
- "Arthur Hiller". filmreference.com.
- Grodin, Charles. If I Only Knew Then . . . Learning from Our Mistakes, Springboard Press (2007) p. 78
- King, Alan. Matzo Balls for Breakfast: and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish, Simon & Schuster (2004) p. 215
- Dershowitz, Alan. What Israel Means to Me: By 80 Prominent Writers, Performers, Scholars, Politicians, and Journalists, John Wiley & Sons (2006) pp. 183–185
- Allon, Yoram; Cullen, Del; Patterson, Hannah. Contemporary North American Film Directors, Wallflower Press (2001) pp. 243–244
- Parla, Paul. Screen Sirens Scream! Interviews with 20 Actresses, McFarland (2000) p. 21
- Crowther, Bosley. The Americanization of Emily review, New York Times, 28 October 1966.
- Alan Arkin Golden Globe nominations, Golden Globe Awards
- Ebert, Roger. Roger Ebert's Four Star Reviews—1967–2007, Andrews McMeel Publishing (2007) p. 443
- Hiller, Arthur. Interview with Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life, Chicago Review Press, 2011. p. 162
- Erskine, Thomas L. Video Versions: Film Adaptations of Plays on Video, Greenwood Press (2000) p. 258
- Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History, HarperCollins (2002) p. 234
- Wright, Kate. Screenwriting Is Storytelling, The Berkeley Publishing Group (2004) foreword
- Froug, William. How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island, Univ. of Wisconsin Press (2005) p. 78
- Hiller named Officer of the Order of Canada
- "Gwen Hiller, Wife of 'Love Story' Director Arthur Hiller, Dies at 92", Hollywood Reporter, June 26, 2016
- Arthur Hiller at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Films of Arthur Hiller", video, 6 minutes
- Arthur Hiller interview video at the Archive of American Television
|Non-profit organization positions|
|President of Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences