Menu JTA Search

The Eulogizer: Filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the son of Dear Abby

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.  

Sidney Lumet, 86, filmmaker

Director Sidney Lumet, whose gritty dramas and thrillers glorified New York and who influenced generations of filmmakers without ever "going Hollywood,” died April 9 in New York at 86.

Lumet was described as “one of the most significant film directors of his time.” Critics wrote that “social issues set his own mental juices flowing.”

Lumet was known for bringing out strong performances from actors. Paul Newman, who received a best actor Oscar nomination for Lumet’s "The Verdict," once said that Lumet "had an incredible eye for the truth."

Lumet’s 40 films included "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” "Network," Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “The Fugitive Kind” with Marlon Brando, and a “much undervalued adaptation” of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” in Sweden.

His first film, “12 Angry Men,” was a courtroom drama in which “one tenacious and courageous juror,” played by Henry Fonda, convinced the others of the defendant’s innocence.

“Network,” a sharp satire of television and American culture, offered Peter Finch the line that became probably the most quoted from Lumet’s works: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Lumet, a child of the Yiddish theater, also dealt “sympathetically, but never sentimentally” with Jewish New York in “The Pawnbroker,” starring Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor living in a black neighborhood, and “Bye Bye Braverman,” about a group of Jewish intellectuals getting lost while driving to a friend’s funeral on Long Island.

Lumet was born in Philadelphia and raised in New York. His parents, Baruch Lumet and Eugenia Wermus, were Yiddish theater actors. Lumet made his Broadway debut at the age of 11 in 1935. Two years later he appeared in “The Eternal Road,” with music by Kurt Weill, which he described as an ambitious telling of the story of the Jewish people. In 1940, Lumet portrayed the young Jesus in Maxwell Anderson’s “Journey to Jerusalem.”

Lumet spent World War II as a radar technician in Asia and was hired by CBS in 1950 as a director. He did more than 200 TV dramas, including “The Iceman Cometh.” The success of “12 Angry Men” allowed him to remain in New York, and he began a string of films in the 1960s and 1970s set in and around the city that remain his most significant legacy, including, “Fail-Safe,” which ends with the president, played by Henry Fonda, sending an Air Force jet to drop a nuclear bomb on New York after the Air Force accidentally bombs Moscow.

Lumet’s New York was the flip side of Woody Allen’s, “as gritty and realistic as Allen’s Manhattan is clean and romantic.” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” and “Prince of the City” show New York in its dark days, and his uncharacteristic “The Wiz,” an urban retelling of “The Wizard of Oz,” added Technicolor to his dark palate. His last feature film, released when he was 83, was “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which drew strong reviews.

Lumet’s films captured more than 40 Academy Award nominations, and Lumet was nominated as best director four times, but never won an Oscar for directing. He won an honorary award in 2005. Some have viewed it as Hollywood turning its back on someone who had turned his back on Hollywood.

"Hollywood is a company town," Lumet said in 1968. "There is no real world there outside of filming. I don’t feel organic life there, and I need that around me when I work."

Lumet was married four times, and several of his wives had their own celebrity glamour. He was married to film star Rita Gam, socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and Gail Jones, daughter of Lena Horne, and finally to Mary Gimbel.

Eddie Phillips, 66, entrepreneur and son of Dear Abby

Eddie Phillips, a successful liquor industry entrepreneur and the son of classic advice columnist Dear Abby, (aka Pauline Phillips), died at home in Minneapolis on April 8 at 66.

Phillips was active as a philanthropist, expanding the Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota started by his grandfather and pouring money into community needs, African-American heritage and medical research, including engineering a $10 million donation for research into Alzheimer’s at the Mayo Clinic after his mother contracted the ailment.

NEXT STORY