The first-ever biography of the seminal American director whose remarkable life traces a line through American entertainment history
Acclaimed as the ultimate New York movie director, Sidney Lumet began his astonishing five-decades-long directing career with the now classic 12 Angry Men, followed by such landmark films as Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network. His remarkably varied output included award-winning adaptations of plays by Anton Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill, whose Long Day’s Journey into Night featured Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in their most devastating performances.
Renowned as an “actor’s director,” Lumet attracted an unmatched roster of stars, among them: Henry Fonda, Sophia Loren, Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Ethan Hawke, and Philip-Seymour Hoffman, accruing eighteen Oscar nods for his actors along the way.
With the help of exclusive interviews with family, colleagues, and friends, author Maura Spiegel provides a vibrant portrait of the life and work of this extraordinary director whose influence is felt through generations, and takes us inside the Federal Theater, the Group Theatre, the Actors Studio, and the early “golden age” of television.
From his surprising personal life, with four marriages to remarkable women—all of whom opened their living rooms to Lumet’s world of artists and performers like Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson—to the world of Yiddish theater and Broadway spectacles, Sidney Lumet: A Life is a book that anyone interested in American film of the twentieth century will not want to miss.
Columbia University professor Spiegel traces the storied career of director Sidney Lumet (1924 2011) in this insightful debut. Relying on Lumet's unfinished memoirs and interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, Spiegel reveals in this first full-length biography facets of his subject's life, from growing up in New York City's Lower East Side (his parents, both Polish immigrants, worked in the Yiddish theater) to acting on Broadway by age 10 and eventually to becoming involved in the Group Theatre with such colleagues as Stella Adler, Lee J. Cobb, and Elia Kazan. Beginning his career directing off-Broadway in the 1940s, Lumet evolved quickly into a highly respected television director renowned for his "lightning quick" style, directing socially conscious plays for Playhouse 90, You Are There, and Omnibus with actors Walter Bernstein, James Dean, Tab Hunter, and Rod Steiger, among others. As Spiegel details in workmanlike prose, with Lumet's first feature film in 1957, 12 Angry Men, Lumet found his calling as a director of "stories of ordinary people trying to cope with something bigger than themselves." Creating a cinematic world featuring morally conflicted, flawed characters facing urban realities, Lumet achieved his greatest success with 1970s classics Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network. This revealing and entertaining biography provides a sensitive look at one of Hollywood's most humanistic and socially aware filmmakers.