Top DGA honor to Lumet

Sidney Lumet, whose diverse body of work has always exemplified a unique insight into the art of character exploration, will receive the 1993 D.W. Griffith Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Directors Guild of America.

Lumet will receive his honors at next year’s annual DGA Awards dinners, which will be held on March 6 in Los Angeles and New York.

This is the second award the DGA has presented to Lumet. In 1989, the DGA made Lumet an honorary lifetime member.

In receiving this award, he joins a distinguished roster that includes such directorial luminaries as Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, John Huston, David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock.

Lumet will be the 23rd recipient of the award; last year’s honor went to Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

Lumet’s career began as an actor in the Yiddish Theater, taking up the tradition from his father, Baruch Lumet.

As a young thesp, recently discharged from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Lumet organized an off-Broadway theater group and subsequently took over as the group’s director.

One of his last Broadway performances was in the 1946 production of Ben Hecht’s “A Flag Is Born,” when he replaced Marlon Brando.

Directed for television

From there Lumet got a job with CBS Television as an assistant director in New York. Within a year, he was directing for television.

During the 1950s, Lumet– known for his ability to work fast–amassed nearly 250 TV directing credits over a 10-year period.

Nominated for ’57 DGA award

In 1957, his chance came to direct a major motion picture, adapting Reginald Rose’s stage play “Twelve Angry Men” for the big screen. The film, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and E.G. Marshall, received three Oscar nominations including a best director nom for Lumet and a best picture nod. The DGA also nominated Lumet that year.

The following year he directed a small movie for RKO called “Stage Struck” followed by “That Kind of Woman” for Paramount and “The Fugitive Kind” for United Artists.

He once again mined the riches of Broadway in 1961, adapting a critically applauded version of Arthur Miller’s play “A View from the Bridge” to the screen.

The next year he received his second Directors Guild Award nomination for adapting Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” for the screen, starring Katharine Hepburn, Sir Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards.

During the 1970s, Lumet directed such films as “Serpico” (Paramount, 1974), “Dog Day Afternoon” (Warner Bros., 1975) and “Network” (United Artists, 1976), Paddy Chayefsky’s blistering satire about overly ambitious TV network executives that won four Oscars.

In 1981, Lumet shared an Oscar nomination for best screenplay with Jay Presson Allen for “Prince of the City” starring Treat Williams, which Lumet also directed. He won a New York Film Critics Circle director’s award for that film.

Fourth Oscar nomination in ’82

His fourth Oscar nomination came in 1982 when he directed Paul Newman in “The Verdict.”

While Lumet’s career has been heavily sprinkled with critical hits, he’s had his share of misses, including the big-budget musical adaptation of “The Wiz” (Universal, 1978), “Deathtrap” (Warner Bros., 1982) and, more recently, “A Stranger Among Us” (Hollywood Pictures/Buena Vista, 1992) starring Melanie Griffith.

In an interview several years ago, Lumet said that misses were just part of the game.

“I fall back on that marvelous thing I got from working for so many years on live TV–genuine perspective of what work is about. For all the agony, it’s only one piece of work. Those that go after it as if this is the masterpiece department are in trouble.”

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