Irving Lerner

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Irving Lerner
Born(1909-03-07)March 7, 1909
DiedDecember 25, 1976(1976-12-25) (aged 67)
Known forblacklisted during the McCarthy period

Irving Lerner (March 7, 1909, New York City – December 25, 1976, Los Angeles) was an American filmmaker.


Before becoming a filmmaker, Lerner was a research editor for Columbia University's Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, getting his start in film by making documentaries for the anthropology department. In the early 1930s, he was a member of the Workers Film and Photo League, and later, Frontier Films. He made films for the Rockefeller Foundation and other academic institutions, becoming a film editor and second-unit director involved with the emerging American documentary movement of the late 1930s. Lerner produced two documentaries for the Office of War Information during WW II and after the war became the head of New York University's Educational Film Institute. In 1948, Lerner and Joseph Strick shared directorial chores on a short documentary, Muscle Beach. Lerner then turned to low-budget, quickly filmed features. When not hastily making his own thrillers, Lerner worked as a technical advisor, a second-unit director, a co-editor and an editor.

Lerner was cinematographer, director, or assistant director on both fiction and documentary films such as One Third of a Nation (1939), Valley Town (1940), The Land (1942) directed by Robert Flaherty, and Suicide Attack (1950). Lerner was also producer of the OWI documentary Hymn of the Nations (1944), directed by Alexander Hammid, and featuring Arturo Toscanini. He was co-director with Joseph Strick of the short documentary Muscle Beach (1948).

Irving Lerner was also a director and film editor with directing credits such as Studs Lonigan (1960) and editing credits such as Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960) and Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977). Lerner died during the cutting of New York, New York, and the film was dedicated to him.


Three of Lerner's films—A Place to Live, Muscle Beach, and Hymn of the Nations—were preserved by the Academy Film Archive, in 2007, 2009 and 2010, respectively.[1]

Alleged Soviet Espionage[edit]

Irving Lerner was an American citizen and an employee of the United States Office of War Information during World War II who worked in the Motion Picture Division. Lerner was allegedly involved in espionage on behalf of Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU); Arthur Adams, a trained engineer and experienced spy who escaped to the Soviet Union in 1946, was Lerner's key contact.[2]

In the winter of 1944, a counterintelligence officer caught Lerner attempting to photograph the cyclotron at the University of California, Berkeley Radiation Laboratory; Lerner was acting without authorization.[3] The model for the cyclotron was used for the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for uranium enrichment; and, research work at Stanford using the cyclotron led to the Manhattan Project at Hanford, Washington, dedicated to producing plutonium for the bomb dropped in Nagasaki.[4] Lerner resigned and went to work for Keynote Records,[2] owned by Eric Bernay, another Soviet intelligence contact. Arthur Adams, who ran Irving as an agent, also worked at Keynote.


As Director

As Producer

As Editor

As Second Unit Director or Assistant Director

  • A Town Called Hell (1971) (second unit director)
  • Custer of the West (1967) (second unit director: Civil War sequence)
  • Spartacus (second unit director) (uncredited)
  • Valley Town (1940) (second unit director)
  • One Third of a Nation (1939) (second unit director) (uncredited)

As Actor

As Miscellaneous Crew

Editing Department

Production Manager

As Cinematographer


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  2. ^ a b Haynes, John Earl (1999-01-01). Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300129874.
  3. ^ Miklitsch, Robert (2017). The Red and Black" American Film Noir in the 1950s. University of Illinois Press.
  4. ^ "University of California, Berkeley". Atomic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2020-04-14.
  5. ^ Buhle, Paul; Wagner, David (2003). Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television 1950-2002. Palgrave MacMillan. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-4039-6144-0.


  • Frontier Films: Members [1]
  • FBI memo, "Soviet Activities in the United States," 25 July 1946, Papers of Clark Clifford, Harry S. Truman Library
  • John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press, 1999), pg. 325

Further reading

External links[edit]