Lumet, Sidney 1924–

views updated May 29 2018

LUMET, Sidney 1924–

(Sydney Lumet)


Born June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Baruch (an actor, writer, producer, and director) and Eugenia (an actress; maiden name, Wermus) Lumet; married Rita Gam (an actress; divorced); married Gloria Vanderbilt (a fashion designer), August 27, 1956 (divorced, 1963); married Gail Buckley (an actress), November 23, 1963 (divorced, 1978); married Mary Gimbel, October 1980; children: (third marriage) Amy, Jenny. Education: Attended Columbia University; studied acting with Sanford Meisner.

Addresses: Agent— International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Career: Director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. High School for the Performing Arts, New York City, teacher, 1948; CBS, associate director, 1950; Sidney Lumet Productions, founder. Military service: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942–46.

Member: Directors Guild of America, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

Awards, Honors: Special Mention, Locarno International Film Festival, Golden Berlin Bear Award and OCIC Award, Berlin International Film Festival, 1957, Directors Guild Award, Academy Award nomination, best director, Silver Ribbon, best director, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, 1958, Kinema Junpo Award, best foreign language film, 1959, Bodil Award, best American Film, Blue Ribbon Award, best foreign language film, 1960, all for Twelve Angry Men; Golden Berlin Bear Award nomination, 1959, for That Kind of Woman; Silver Seashell, San Sebastian International Film Festival, 1960, for The Fugitive Kind; Emmy Award, best director, 1961, for "The Iceman Cometh," Play of the Week; Emmy Award nomination, best director, 1961, for The Sacco and Vanzetti Story; Directors Guild of America Award, 1962, for Long Day's Journey into Night; Film Award nominations, best British film and best film from any source, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1966, for The Hill; Golden Berlin Bear Award nomination, 1966, for The Group; FIPRESCI Prize—Honorable Mention, and Golden Berlin Bear Award nomination, 1964, Golden Laurel Award nomination, director, Bodil Festival Film Award, best non–European film, Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, 1966, UN Award nomination, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1967, all for The Pawnbroker; Film Award nomination, best British film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1968, for The Deadly Affair; Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes Film Festival, 1969, for The Appointment; Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, and Film Award nomination, best director, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1975, both for Serpico; Film Award nomination, best director, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion picture, 1975, Evening Standard British Film Award, best film, 1976, all for Murder on the Orient Express; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best director, 1975, Academy Award nomination, best director, Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, Film Award nomination, best direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion picture, 1976, all for Dog Day Afternoon; Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best director, Film Award nomination, best direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1976, Academy Award nomination, best director, Golden Globe Award, best director, Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, 1977, all for Network; Academy Award nomination (with Jay Presson Allen), best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium, New York Film Critics Circle Award, best director, Pasinetti Award, best film, Venice Film Festival, 1981, Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination (with Allen), best movie, 1982, all for Prince of the City; National Board of Review Award, best director, 1982, Academy Award nomination, best director, Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, 1983, all for The Verdict; Best Film Award nomination, Mystfest, 1993, for Deathtrap; Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, 1989, for Running on Empty; Directors Guild of America Honorary Live Member Award, 1989; Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes Film Festival, 1992, and International Fantasy Film Award nomination, best film, 1993, both for A Stranger among Us; D. W. Griffith Award, Directors Guild of America, 1993; Lifetime Achievement Award, Gotham Awards, 1998; New Technology Award, PGA Golden Laurel Awards, 2001; Joseph L. Mankiewicz Excellence in Filmmaking Award, Director's View Film Festival, 2004.


Film Work:

Director, Twelve Angry Men, United Artists, 1957.

Director, Stage Struck, Buena Vista, 1958.

Director, That Kind of Woman, Paramount, 1959.

Director, The Fugitive Kind, United Artists, 1960.

Director, A View from the Bridge (also known as Vu du pont and Uno sguardo dal ponte), Continental, 1962.

Director, Long Day's Journey into Night, Embassy, 1962.

Director and co–executive producer, Fail Safe, Columbia, 1964.

Director, The Pawnbroker, American International, 1965.

Director, Up from the Beach, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1965.

Director, The Hill, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1965.

Director, The Group, United Artists, 1966.

Director and producer, The Deadly Affair, Columbia, 1967.

Director and producer, Bye Bye Braverman, Warner Bros., 1968.

Director and producer, The Seagull, Warner Bros., 1968.

Director and (with Joseph Mankiewicz) producer, King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis, 1970.

Director, The Appointment, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1970.

Director and producer, The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (also known as Blood Kin and The Seven Descents of Myrtle), Warner Bros., 1970.

Director, The Anderson Tapes, Columbia, 1971.

Director, Child's Play, Paramount, 1972.

Director, The Offense (also known as Something Like the Truth and The Offence), United Artists, 1973.

Director, Serpico, Paramount, 1973.

Director, Lovin' Molly, Columbia, 1974.

Director, Murder on the Orient Express, Paramount, 1974.

Director, Dog Day Afternoon, Warner Bros., 1975.

Director, Equus, United Artists, 1977.

Director, Network, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1977.

Director, The Wiz, Universal, 1978.

Director and producer, Just Tell Me What You Want, Warner Bros., 1980.

Director, Prince of the City, Warner Bros., 1981.

Director, Deathtrap (also known as Ira Levin's Deathtrap), Warner Bros., 1982.

Director, The Verdict, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1982.

Director and executive producer, Daniel, Paramount, 1983.

Director, Garbo Talks, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1984.

Director, Power, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1986.

Director, The Morning After, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1986.

Director, Running on Empty, Lorimar, 1988.

Director, Family Business, TriStar, 1989.

Director, Q&A, TriStar, 1990.

Director, A Stranger among Us (also known as Close to Eden), Buena Vista, 1992.

Director, Guilty As Sin, Buena Vista, 1993.

Director, Night Falls on Manhattan, Paramount, 1997.

Director and producer, Critical Care, Live Film & Mediaworks, 1997.

Director, Gloria, Columbia, 1999.

Director, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenmann, 2000.

Director, The Set–Up, 2004.

Director, Find Me Guilty, 2005.

Film Appearances:

Joey Rogers, One Third of a Nation, Paramount, 1939.

(As Sydney Lumet) Voice, The 400 Million (documentary), Garrison Film Distributors, 1939.

Director, Wiz on Down the Road, 1978.

50 Years of Action!, 1986.

Director, "White Fish," Funny, Original Cinema, 1988.

Himself, Listen Up (also known as Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones), Warner Bros., 1990.

Himself, Sean Connery Close Up (documentary), Blue Dolphin Film Distribution, 1997.

Himself, Sean Connery, an Intimate Portrait (documentary), 1997.

Himself, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (documentary), Columbia, 2000.

Himself, Revisiting "Fail–Safe" (documentary), Columbia TriStar Home Video, 2000.

(Uncredited) Himself, The Tramp and the Dictator (documentary), Warner Home Video, 2002.

Himself, A Decade under the Influence (documentary), IFC Films, 2003.

Himself, Spike Lee's "25th Hour": The Evolution of an American Filmmaker (documentary short film), Touchstone Home Video, 2003.

Himself, Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (documentary), 2004.

Political pundit, The Manchurian Candidate, Paramount, 2004.

Television Director; Series:

Danger, CBS, 1951–1953.

You Are There, CBS, 1952–1953.

Serpico, 1976.

Television Executive Producer; Series:

100 Centre Street, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

Television Director; Miniseries:

The Sacco–Vanzetti Story, NBC, 1960.

Television Director; Specials:

John Brown's Raid, NBC, 1960.

Cry Vengeance, NBC, 1961.

Strip Search, HBO, 2004.

Television Director; Episodic:

"Antigone," Omnibus III, CBS, 1954.

"Stage Door," The Best of Broadway, CBS, 1955.

"The Show–Off," The Best of Broadway, CBS, 1955.

"The Philadelphia Story," The Best of Broadway, CBS, 1955.

"Crime in the Streets," The Elgin Hour, 1955.

"Tragedy in a Temporary Town," The Alcoa Hour, 1955.

"Incident in an Alley," The United States Steel Hour (also known as The U.S. Steel Hour), 1955.

"Long After Summer," The Alcoa Hour, 1956.

"Mr. Broadway," Producers' Showcase, 1957.

"The Rice Sprout Song," Studio One (also known as Studio One Summer Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, Summer Theatre, Westinghouse Studio One, and Westinghosue Summer Theatre), CBS, 1957.

"Mooney's Kid Don't Cry," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"The Last of My Gold Watches," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"This Property Is Condemned," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"All the King's Men: Parts 1 & 2," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"Dog in a Bus Tunnel," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"Three Plays by Tennessee Williams," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"Fifty Grand," Kraft Television Theatre, NBC, 1958.

"Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates," Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1958.

"The Count of Monte Cristo," The DuPont Show of the Month, 1958.

"The Hiding Place," Playhouse 90, CBS, 1960.

"The Dybbuk," Play of the Week, NTA, 1960.

"Rashomon," Play of the Week, NTA, 1960.

"The Iceman Cometh: Parts 1 & 2," Play of the Week, NTA, 1960.

100 Centre Street, Arts and Entertainment, 2001–2002.

Also directed "Man on Fire," The Alcoa Hour; "The Meanest Man in the World," The United States Steel Hour (also known as The U.S. Steel Hour); "The Philadelphia Story," The Best of Broadway, CBS; episodes of Omnibus, CBS; Mama, CBS; Goodyear Playhouse, NBC; Crime Photographer; CBS Television Workshop.

Television Producer; Episodic:

"Mr. Broadway," Producers' Showcase, 1957.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Unauthorized Biography: Jane Fonda, syndicated, 1988.

William Holden: The Golden Boy (also known as Crazy about the Movies), Cinemax, 1989.

Night of 100 Stars III, NBC, 1990.

Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, 1991.

Fonda on Fonda, TNT, 1992.

Interviewee, "Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval," American Masters, PBS, 1995.

Intimate Portrait: Sean Connery, Lifetime, 1997.

AFI's 100 Years … 100 Movies, CBS, 1998.

NYTV: By the People Who Made It, PBS, 1998.

Anthony Perkins: A Life in the Shadows, Arts and Entertainment, 1999.

Himself, AFI's 100 Years, 100 Thrills: America's Most Heart–Pounding Movies, CBS, 2001.

Quincy Jones: In the Pocket (documentary), PBS, 2001.

Paul Newman (documentary), Bravo, 2001.

Himself, New York at the Movies (documentary), Arts and Entertainment, 2002.

Eugene O'Neill: A Haunted Life (documentary), Arts and Entertainment, 2002.

The AMC Project: Hollywood and the Holocaust (documentary), AMC, 2003.

Himself, AFI's 100 Years … 100 Heroes & Villains (also known as AFI's 100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains: America's Greatest Screen Characters), CBS, 2003.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

"The Face of Fear," Danger, 1952.

American Cinema, PBS, 1995.

Inside the Actors Studio, Bravo, 1995.

Stage Director:

The Doctor's Dilemma, Phoenix Theatre, New York City, 1955.

Picnic (summer theatre production), 1955.

The Night of the Auk, Playhouse Theatre, New York City, 1956.

Caligula, 54th Street Theatre, New York City, 1960.

Nowhere to Go But Up, Winter Garden Theatre, New York City, 1962.

Blue Light, Bay Street Theatre, New York City, 1995.

The Shawl, Jewish Repertory Theater at Playhouse, New York City, 1996.

Directed summer theatre productions, 1947–49.

Stage Appearances:

(Broadway debut) Dead End kid, Dead End, Belasco Theatre, 1935.

Estranged One's Son, The Eternal Road, Manhattan Opera House, New York City, 1937.

Stanley, Sunup to Sundown, Hudson Theatre, New York City, 1938.

Mickey, Schoolhouse on the Lot, Ritz Theatre, New York City, 1938.

Leo, Christmas Eve, Henry Miller's Theatre, New York City, 1939.

Johnny, My Heart's in the Highlands, Guild Theatre, New York City, 1939.

Joshua, Journey to Jerusalem, National Theatre, New York City, 1940.

Hymie Tashman, Morning Star, Longacre Theatre, New York City, 1940.

George Washington Slept Here, Lyceum Theatre, New York City, 1940.

Willie Berg, Brooklyn, USA, Forrest Theatre, New York City, 1941.

David, A Flag Is Born, Alvin Theatre, New York City, 1946.

Tonya, Seeds in the Wind, Empire Theatre, New York City, 1948.

Made stage debut at Yiddish Theatre, New York City, 1928.

Radio Appearances:

The Rabbi from Brownsville, 1931–1932.



(With Jay Presson Allen) Prince of the City, Warner Bros., 1981.

Q&A, Tri Star, 1990.

Night Falls on Manhattan, Paramount, 1997.

The Set–Up, 2004.

Television Episodes:

100 Centre Street, Arts and Entertainment, 2001–2002.


Making Movies, Knopf, 1995.



Bowles, Stephen E., Sidney Lumet: A Guide to References and Resources, G. K. Hall, 1979.

Boyer, Jay, Sidney Lumet, Twayne, 1993.

Cunningham, Frank R., Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision, University Press of Kentucky, 1991.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, Volume 22, Gale Group, 2002.


Film Comment, July/August, 1997, p. 50.

Lumet, Sidney

views updated May 14 2018

LUMET, Sidney

Nationality: American. Born: Philadelphia, 25 June 1924. Education: Professional Children's School, New York; Columbia University extension school. Military Service: Served in Signal Corps, U.S. Army, 1942–46. Family: Married 1) Rita Gam (divorced); 2) Gloria Vanderbilt, 1956 (divorced, 1963); 3) Gail Jones, 1963 (divorced, 1978); 4) Mary Gimbel, 1980; two daughters. Career: Acting debut in Yiddish Theatre production, New York, 1928; Broadway debut in Dead End, 1935; film actor, from 1939; stage director, off-Broadway, from 1947; assistant director, then director, for TV, from 1950. Awards: Directors Guild Awards, for Twelve Angry Men, 1957, and Long Day's Journey into Night, 1962; D.W. Griffith Award of the Directors Guild of America, 1993. Address: c/o LAH Film Corporation, 1775 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.

Films as Director:


Twelve Angry Men


Stage Struck


That Kind of Woman


The Fugitive Kind


A View from the Bridge; Long Day's Journey into Night


Fail Safe


Pawnbroker; Up from the Beach; The Hill


The Group (+ pr)


The Deadly Affair (+ pr)


Bye Bye Braverman (+ pr); The Seagull (+ pr)


Blood Kin (doc) (co-d, co-pr)


King: A Filmed Record . . . Montgomery to Memphis (doc) (co-d, co-pr); The Appointment; The Last of the Mobile HotShots


The Anderson Tapes


Child's Play


The Offense; Serpico


Lovin' Molly; Murder on the Orient Express


Dog Day Afternoon


Equus; Network


The Wiz


Just Tell Me What You Want (+ pr)


Prince of the City


Deathtrap; The Verdict




Garbo Talks


Power; The Morning After


Running on Empty


Family Business


Q & A (+ sc)


A Stranger among Us


Guilty as Sin


Night Falls on Manhattan (+ sc); Critical Care (+ pr)





Other Films:


One Third of a Nation (Murphy) (role as Joey Rogers)


Journey to Jerusalem (role as youthful Jesus)


Listen Up! The Lives of Quincy Jones (role)


By LUMET: book—

Making Movies, New York, 1995.

By LUMET: articles—

Interview with Peter Bogdanovich, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1960.

"Sidney Lumet," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1963/January 1964.

"Keep Them on the Hook," in Films and Filming (London), October 1964.

Interview with Luciano Dale, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1971.

"Sidney Lumet on the Director," in Movie People: At Work in theBusiness, edited by Fred Baker, New York, 1972.

Interview with Susan Merrill, in Films in Review (New York), November 1973.

Interviews with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), May 1975 and May 1978.

Interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Comment (New York), December 1978.

Interview with Michel Ciment and O. Eyquem, in Positif (Paris), February 1982.

"Delivering Daniel," an interview with Richard Combs, in MonthlyFilm Bulletin (London), January 1984.

Interview with K. M. Chanko, in Films in Review (New York), October 1984.

Interview with M. Burke, in Stills (London), February 1987.

"Sidney Lumet: Lion on the Left," an interview with G. Smith, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1988.

"That's the Way It Happens," an interview with Gavin Smith, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1992.

"L'homme en colère. Une étrangère parmi nous," an interview with Pierre Murat, in Télérama (Paris), 6 January 1993.

Interview with Heike-Melba Fendel, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), May 1993.

On LUMET: books—

Bowles, Stephen, Sidney Lumet: A Guide to References and Resources, Boston, 1979.

De Santi, Gualtiero, Sidney Lumet, Florence, 1988.

Cunningham, Frank R., Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision, Lexington, Kentucky, 1991.

Boyer, Jay, Sidney Lumet, New York, 1993.

On LUMET: articles—

Petrie, Graham, "The Films of Sidney Lumet: Adaptation as Art," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1967/68.

Rayns, Tony, "Across the Board," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1974.

Sidney Lumet Section of Cinématographe (Paris), January 1982.

Chase, D., "Sidney Lumet Shoots The Verdict," in Millimeter (New York), December 1982.

Shewey, D., "Sidney Lumet: The Reluctant Auteur," in AmericanFilm (Washington, D.C.), December 1982.

"TV to Film: A History, a Map, and a Family Tree," in Monthly FilmBulletin (London), February 1983.

"Sidney Lumet," in Film Dope (London), June 1987.

Tempel, M. van den, "Chroniqueur van New York," in Skoop, May 1991.

Fleming, M., "New York Banks on Hudson Studio," in Variety, 15 June 1992.

Costello, D.P., "Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey into Night," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1994.

Leventhal, L., "City of Mind," in Variety's On Production (Los Angeles), no. 10, 1996.

Callahan, M., "A Streetwise Legend Sticks to His Guns," in NewYork Magazine, 26 May 1997.

Lopate, P., "Sidney Lumet," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1997.

Sabbe, M., "Sidney Lumet," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), September 1997.

Wickbom, Kaj, in Filmrutan (Sundsvall), Winter 1998.

* * *

Although Sidney Lumet has applied his talents to a variety of genres (drama, comedy, satire, caper, romance, and even a musical), he has proven himself most comfortable and effective as a director of serious psychodramas and was most vulnerable when attempting light entertainments. His Academy Award nominations, for example, have all been for character studies of men in crisis, from his first film, Twelve Angry Men, to The Verdict. Lumet was, literally, a child of the drama. At the age of four he was appearing in productions of the highly popular and acclaimed Yiddish Theatre in New York. He continued to act for the next two decades but increasingly gravitated toward directing. At twenty-six he was offered a position as an assistant director with CBS television. Along with John Frankenheimer, Robert Mulligan, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, George Roy Hill, Franklin Schaffner, and others, Lumet quickly won recognition as a competent and reliable director in a medium where many faltered under the pressures of producing live programs. It was in this environment that Lumet learned many of the skills that would serve him so well in his subsequent career in films: working closely with performers, rapid preparation for production, and working within tight schedules and budgets.

Because the quality of many of the television dramas was so impressive, several of them were adapted as motion pictures. Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men brought Lumet to the cinema. Although Lumet did not direct the television production, his expertise made him the ideal director for this low-budget film venture.

Twelve Angry Men was an auspicious beginning for Lumet. It was a critical and commercial success and established Lumet as a director skilled at adapting theatrical properties to motion pictures. Fully half of Lumet's complement of films have originated in the theater. Another precedent set by Twelve Angry Men was Lumet's career-long disdain for Hollywood.

Lumet prefers to work in contemporary urban settings, especially New York. Within this context, Lumet is consistently attracted to situations in which crime provides the occasion for a group of characters to come together. Typically these characters are caught in a vortex of events they can neither understand nor control but which they must work to resolve.

Twelve Angry Men explores the interaction of a group of jurors debating the innocence or guilt of a man being tried for murder; The Hill concerns a rough group of military men who have been sentenced to prison; The Deadly Affair involves espionage in Britain; The Anderson Tapes revolves around the robbery of a luxury apartment building; Child's Play, about murder at a boy's school, conveys an almost supernatural atmosphere of menace; Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Verdict all involve attempts to find the solution to a crime, while Serpico and Prince of the City are probing examinations of men who have rejected graft practices as police officers.

Lumet's protagonists tend to be isolated, unexceptional men who oppose a group or institution. Whether the protagonist is a member of a jury or party to a bungled robbery, he follows his instincts and intuition in an effort to find solutions. Lumet's most important criterion is not whether the actions of these men are right or wrong but whether the actions are genuine. If these actions are justified by the individual's conscience, this gives his heroes uncommon strength and courage to endure the pressures, abuses, and injustices of others. Frank Serpico, for example, is the quintessential Lumet hero in his defiance of peer group authority and the assertion of his own code of moral values.

Nearly all the characters in Lumet's gallery are driven by obsessions or passions that range from the pursuit of justice, honesty, and truth to the clutches of jealousy, memory, or guilt. It is not so much the object of their fixations but the obsessive condition itself that intrigues Lumet. In films like The Fugitive Kind, A View from the Bridge, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Pawnbroker, The Seagull, The Appointment, The Offense, Lovin' Molly, Network, Just Tell Me What You Want, and many of the others, the protagonists, as a result of their complex fixations, are lonely, often disillusioned individuals. Consequently, most of Lumet's central characters are not likable or pleasant, and sometimes not admirable figures. And, typically, their fixations result in tragic or unhappy consequences.

Lumet's fortunes have been up and down at the box office. One explanation seems to be his own fixation with uncompromising studies of men in crisis. His most intense characters present a grim vision of idealists broken by realities. From Val in A View from the Bridge and Sol Nazerman in The Pawnbroker to Danny Ciello in Prince of the City, Lumet's introspective characters seek to penetrate the deepest regions of the psyche.

Lumet's recently published memoir about his life in film, Making Movies, is extremely lighthearted and infectious in its enthusiasm for the craft of moviemaking itself. This stands in marked contrast to the tone and style of most of his films. Perhaps Lumet's signature as a director is his work with actors—and his exceptional ability to draw high-quality, sometimes extraordinary performances from even the most unexpected quarters: Melanie Griffith's believable undercover policewoman in A Stranger among Us and Don Johnson's smooth-talking sociopath in Guilty as Sin. These two latest examples of the "Lumet touch" with actors demonstrate that he has not lost it.

—Stephen E. Bowles, updated by John McCarty

Sidney Lumet

views updated May 21 2018

Sidney Lumet

Filmmaker Sidney Lumet (born 1924) has made some of America's most memorable movies, including Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network. His films have received more than 50 Academy Award nominations. Often called "an actor's director," Lumet is known for the superior performances he draws from his actors.

Sidney Lumet's films often deal with social themes, such as the police, law, or Jewish life. Most of his films are shot in New York City and are often rough and emotional. Lumet treats the camera as an actor, making sure that the camerawork relates to what is happening dramatically. His vast technical knowledge allows him to use the tools of camera, lighting, and set design in a subtle yet distinctive style that is all his own.

A Child of the Theater

Lumet was born on June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were actor Baruch Lumet and dancer Eugenia Wermus Lumet, both performers in Yiddish theater. Eugenia Lumet passed away when her son was a child. Lumet began his acting career at age four at the Yiddish Art Theater in New York City. He played many roles on radio and on Broadway, where he first performed in 1935. Lumet appeared in his only film role at the age of 15 in One Third of a Nation, in 1939. World War II interrupted Lumet's acting career; he spent three years in the U.S. army, including stints in Burma and India, where he served as a radio repairman. He often got into fights with his fellow servicemen, many of whom were from the South.

From Actor to Director

Lumet studied acting with Sanford Meisner, a famous acting teacher. In 1947 Lumet founded an off-Broadway theater troupe that included Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach, taught acting, and directed plays. In 1950 he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and became a respected director of live television programs, including a crime series called Danger and a program titled You Are There. New York City was the heart of television production during the Golden Age of television of the 1950s, and many talented writers, actors, and directors lived and worked there. At the time, television was a medium that allowed intimate direction, much like the theater. Many television directors, like Lumet, progressed to films, often focusing on complex social and psychological themes and retaining a style derived from their informal origins in television.

Lumet creates "message pictures," movies that tackle social problems, and has been viewed as among the most perceptive and unsentimental directors of this genre. His films often feature actors who studied "Method" acting, characterized by an earthy, introspective style. And along with cinematographer Boris Kaufman, Lumet creates the appearance of spontaneity, an improvisational look achieved by shooting much of his work on location.

Lumet's work falls into several categories: the message picture; adaptations of plays and novels; large, showy pictures; films about families; tense melodramas; and New York-based black comedies. According to Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin in their A Short History of the Movies, "Lumet's sensitivity to actors and to the rhythms of the city have made him America's longest-lived descendant of the 1950s Neorealist tradition and its urgent commitment to ethical responsibility. … Beneath the social conflicts of Lumet's best films lies the conviction that love and reason will eventually prevail in human affairs, that law and justice will eventually be served—or not."

In 1957 Lumet directed his first film, Twelve Angry Men, a courtroom drama that was based on a TV play. The film received the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for Academy awards for best picture, best director, and best screenplay adaptation. In this film Lumet used a theme that would reappear later in his work: the motif of the enclosed space. Twelve Angry Men was filmed almost entirely in a single room, and in his book Making Movies, the director described the feeling he was trying to create. "One of the most important dramatic elements for me was the sense of entrapment those men must have felt in that room. … As the picture unfolded, I wanted the room to seem smaller and smaller. … The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie."

Theatrical Adaptations

Harkening back to his roots in the theater, Lumet proceeded to direct three films that were adapted from plays. In 1960 he made The Fugitive Kind, based on the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams and starring Marlon Brando. The theme, according to Lumet, was "the struggle to preserve what is sensitive and vulnerable both in ourselves and in the world." Next came A View from a Bridge, an adaptation of a play by Arthur Miller. Long Day's Journey into Night, based on the Eugene O'Neill play, starred Katharine Hepburn and Jason Robards in a tale of a family's downward spiral into tragedy. In 1965 Lumet made the film The Pawnbroker, a powerful work about a Holocaust survivor haunted by his past and trapped in a lonely present that starred Rod Steiger. In this film, Lumet once again used the theme of the enclosed space, showing the main character caught in his own prison of pain.

From Slump to Apex

After The Pawnbroker Lumet's career entered a slump. He made a number of films in the second half of the 1960s, but not until 1971 did he have another hit with The Anderson Tapes, starring Sean Connery in a crime caper, followed by The Offense, a film about police brutality. Lumet's next work, Serpico, about police corruption, marked the beginning of the most respected period of his career. Lumet described the film as "a portrait of a real rebel with a cause." In 1974 he made Murder on the Orient Express, based on the Agatha Christie mystery, for which Ingrid Bergman won an Academy award. In this period piece, Lumet noted, "The object was to thrust the audience into a world it never knew—to create a feeling of how glamorous things used to be.… Richness was the order of the day. … Nodetail was spared in creating a glamorous look."

Dog Day Afternoon, which received Academy Award nominations for best picture and best director, is a dark comedy about a bank robbery. The film, made in 1975, was based on actual events involving a bisexual man who wanted to rob a bank to finance his male lover's sex-change operation. Film critic Pauline Kael called the film "one of the best 'New York' movies ever made." Regarding Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet explained that because the material was so shocking, he felt his first obligation was to indicate to the audience that these events really happened. To do so, Lumet shot the entire beginning section with a hidden camera, filming ordinary people on the streets of New York.

In 1976 Lumet made Network, a satire about television. The film received ten Academy Award nominations and won four, including best actor, best actress, best original screenplay, and best supporting actress. Lumet also walked away with a Golden Globe and two Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards for Network. In a 1995 interview with Rick Schultz, the director asserted that television has anesthetized the American consciousness and blurred the line between reality and fiction.

In 1981 Lumet won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best director for Prince of the City, a three-hour film about police corruption. He also receive an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, which he co-wrote. The theme of this work, Lumet noted in his book, is that "When we try to control everything, everything winds up controlling us. Nothing is what it seems." Lumet's The Verdict, a courtroom drama starring Paul Newman, was nominated for best picture and best director in 1982. The 1980s also saw release of Lumet's Deathtrap, Daniel, Garbo Talks, Power, The Morning After, Running on Empty, and Family Business. Running on Empty, about a family on the run from the FBI, won awards for two actors, and the screenplay won a Golden Globe.

In the 1990s Lumet directed Q&A, A Stranger among Us, Guilty as Sin, Night Falls on Manhattan, Critical Care,and Gloria. In 2000 Lumet directed The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenmann, the story of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jewish woman who attempts to use her Nordic looks to escape the concentration camps during World War II. Reflecting on the director's body of work as a whole, film critic Leonard Maltin noted that "Lumet's films are generally intelligent and marked by a clean, unobtrusive directing style, but his signature is the caliber of the performance he elicits from his actors who speak of him—and his theater-based rehearsal process—in the most glowing terms."

A Return to Television

For the 2000-2001 television season, the A&E Network featured 100 Centre Street, a series created by Lumet, who also directed and served as executive producer as well as writing several episodes. The series concerns prosecutors, defense attorneys, and accused criminals as their lives unfold in the night court of the city of New York. The show broke new ground in high-definition video as one of the first major TV series to use Sony's 24P technology.

A Messy Personal Life

Lumet has been married four times. His first marriage, to Rita Gam, a television actress, ended in divorce. His second wife was Gloria Vanderbilt, the heiress who made a name for herself as a very successful designer. Married on August 27, 1956, the couple remained together for seven years. When Vanderbilt ended the union, Lumet attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills. He telephoned Gail Jones, the daughter of singer Lena Horne, to tell her what he had done, and she called the police. Lumet and Jones, a journalist and author, were married from 1963 until 1978 and have two daughters, Amy and Jenny, both actors. After his third marriage ended in divorce, Lumet married Mary Gimbel in 1980.

Aram Saroyan, in Trio: Oona Chaplin, Carol Matthau, Gloria Vanderbilt. Portraits of an Intimate Friendship, described Lumet's personality as crisp and kinetic. "He really seemed to be, quite naturally, the Hollywood idea of the 'director'," noted Saroyan, "—always hugging everybody and calling them 'baby' and 'sweetheart.' And yet there was something genuinely sweet and generous in the way he did it."


Cunningham, Frank R., Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision, University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

Lumet, Sidney, Making Movies, Knopf, 1995.

Maltin, Leonard, Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia, Signet, 1994.

Mast, Gerald, and Bruce F. Kawin, A Short History of the Movies, Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

Matthau, Carol, Among the Porcupines: A Memoir, Turtle Bay Books, 1992.

Saroyan, Aram, Trio: Oona Chaplin, Carol Matthau, Gloria Vanderbilt. Portraits of an Intimate Friendship, Linden Press, 1985.


People Weekly, June 10, 1985.


Mr. Showbiz, (October 25, 2001). □

Lumet, Sidney

views updated Jun 11 2018

LUMET, Sidney

(b. 25 June 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), actor, producer, and television and film director who honed his craft during the golden age of live television and, during the 1960s, began his career as a New York City–based feature filmmaker noted for his expertise with actors and the efficiency and economy of his productions, which often addressed social, moral, political, and ethical issues.

Lumet was the son of Polish immigrants Baruch Lumet, a professional actor in Warsaw, Poland, and Eugenia Wermus Lumet, a dancer; both were veterans of New York's Yiddish theater.

Lumet made his acting debut at the age of four on the radio show The Rabbi from Brooklyn, which Baruch Lumet wrote and directed. In 1928 the five-year-old Lumet appeared on the Yiddish stage alongside his father. As a child and adolescent he read Karl Marx, had a membership in the Young Communist League, and met the playwright Maxwell Anderson, the composer Kurt Weill, and the painter Marc Chagall. Lumet served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps from 1942 to 1946.

Lumet studied with Sandford Meisner at the American Playhouse and was creatively active playing juvenile roles. He was expelled from the newly formed Actor's Studio for rejecting its single acting technique philosophy. Along with other dissidents, Lumet formed the Actor's Workshop, where he conducted a course in the history of drama beginning with contemporary work and tracing back to the Greeks.

Lumet taught acting at the High School of Performing Arts and learned stage directing with productions of Moliere's Bourgeois Gentleman and Doctor's Dilemma and Albert Camus's Caligula. At the age of twenty-six he was offered an assistant director position in the television division of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). This training ground refined Lumet's skills with actors as he learned the language and purpose of the camera, lenses, composition, blocking, and editing. He directed a staggering five hundred live television dramas at the height of the popularity of this medium. Lumet built one of the most impressive resumes of the era, directing 150 episodes of the CBS series Danger, twenty-six episodes of You Are There, and working on assignments for Omnibus, Best of Broadway, Alcoa Theater, and Goodyear Playhouse.

Lumet was married to Rita Gam from 1949 to 1954 and Gloria Vanderbilt from 1956 to 1963. On 23 November 1963 he married Gail Jones, with whom he had two children; the couple divorced in 1978. Lumet married Mary Gimbel in 1980.

In 1957 the actor Henry Fonda gave Lumet the opportunity to direct Twelve Angry Men, a theatrical film he was producing. The low-budget New York production was completed in just nineteen days for $343,000. The conscience of the Reginald Rose script and exploration of democracy at work in the criminal judicial system kindled Lumet's lifelong interest in the moral spectrum of justice.

In the 1960s Twelve Angry Men led to the flowering of a new American cinema. Lumet's training taught him to pre-plan every shot and to work on his feet with intelligence and visual acuity. His political upbringing and sensitivity to social causes merged with his background in the theater to produce a morality that represented the prevailing consciousness of artists of the decade.

Lumet immediately understood the importance of an independent and ethical film artist. Bringing in low-budget films on schedule guaranteed his freedom, because it allowed him to make many films that expressed his fervent views on socially responsible issues. He embraced the philosophy that writers and actors were messengers who could deliver society's truths and create a forum for difficult topics that demanded a cinematic voice.

Tapping into his familiarity with theater, Lumet's first three films of the 1960s were adaptations of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, and Arthur Miller plays. The Fugitive Kind (1960) is a rendering of Williams's overheated Orpheus Descending (1957) and is notable for Marlon Brando's electric performance. Shot in sequence, Long Day's Journey into Night (1962) successfully exploits the all-star cast of Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, and Dean Stockwell as the Tyrone family, and it is faithful to the play's script. A View from the Bridge (1962) is Arthur Miller's play of forbidden love and betrayal, set in Brooklyn, New York.

After examining the power of sexuality and complex relationships among very different families, Lumet moved into the center of the most-feared global horror of the 1960s, depicted in Fail Safe (1964). The film probed the dangers of the nuclear weapons race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Working again with Henry Fonda, who portrayed the president of the United States, Lumet emphasized the moral agony of a single man. The president is forced by his core values and the enormity of his responsibility to make a decision that not only will annihilate thousands of people he represents, but also will destroy the very lives of his own family. The Pawnbroker (1965) examines the pain and guilt of a Holocaust survivor who struggles with an inability to express emotion. Flash cuts of life in the concentration camp enhance Rod Steiger's emotionally shattering performance.

Lumet was a New York City filmmaker who placed his city at the heart of the drama. Fail Safe concludes with a montage of the vibrant metropolis just seconds before it is sacrificed for the sins of the military-industrial complex. The Pawnbroker chronicles the effects of moral and urban decay of a New York that was home to many who could not live down the past and confront the issues of a decade of changing values and mores. The Hill (1965) explores injustice in a military prison. The Group (1965) is an adaptation of the Mary McCarthy novel that focuses on the social and psychological lives of eight women from Ivy League backgrounds. The Deadly Affair (1967) is a dark adaptation of the John Le Carre novel of espionage. In 1968 Lumet brought Anton Chekov's Seagull to the screen. Bye Bye Braverman (1968) is a comedy concerning third-string literary intellectuals who attend the funeral of a forty-one-year-old colleague. In this film, decades before Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), Lumet brought the emotional and physical horror of the Holocaust to the screen and satirized the intellectual culture of Jews, a subject about which he had intimate knowledge. Unlike the moguls who created Hollywood, Lumet was not afraid to deal with his Jewish heritage. Lumet closed the decade with The Appointment (1969), a story of obsessive jealousy that destroys a woman's spirit. In the subsequent three decades Lumet dedicated himself to considerations of law enforcement, police corruption, and judicial ethics in Serpico (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Prince of the City (1981), The Verdict (1982), and Q and A (1990).

Lumet directed theatrical adaptations of Equus (1977), The Wiz (1978), and Deathtrap (1982), and the political dramas Daniel (1983), a fictional account of the Rosenberg spy case, and Running on Empty (1988), which explored the family tensions of underground 1960s radicals.

Lumet's contribution to 1960s filmmaking was a commitment to honest and heartfelt performances realized through a visceral cinematic technique. He probed our sense of right and wrong in a world that since the 1960s has had an increasingly complex social, ethical, and political context.

Sidney Lumet, Making Movies (1995), is a moviemaking primer that gives insight into the director's distinctive methods. Jay Boyer, Sidney Lumet (1993), and Frank R. Cunningham, Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision (rev. ed., 2001), are probing critical studies of the filmmaker's work.

Vincent LoBrutto

Lumet, Sidney

views updated May 14 2018


LUMET, SIDNEY (1924– ), U.S. theatrical and film director. Born in Philadelphia, Lumet, the son of actor Baruch Lumet and dancer Eugenia Wermus Lumet, was a child actor at the Yiddish Art Theater. He appeared on Broadway in 1937 and later directed off-Broadway shows. Between 1937 and 1948 he performed in such Broadway productions as Dead End; The Eternal Road; Schoolhouse on the Lot; Morning Star; Journey to Jerusalem; and Seeds in the Wind. In 1947 he founded an off-Broadway group of actors that consisted of former members of Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio, including Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach, who had become dissatisfied with Strasberg's concepts. On Broadway, Lumet directed Night of the Auk (1956); Caligula (1960); and Nowhere to Go but Up (1962).

Lumet joined the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1950 and gained a reputation as a director of live television dramas. He directed such tv series as Studio One (1948); Danger (1950); Crime Photographer (1951); and You Are There (1953), as well as the musical Mr. Broadway (1957); All the King's Men (1958); the miniseries The Sacco-Vanzetti Story (1960); and Rashomon and The Iceman Cometh (1960).

On the screen, the first film that Lumet directed was Twelve Angry Men (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1957). In 1959 he directed Tennessee Williams' The Fugitive Kind, and in 1962 Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. His later movies, most of which were shot in New York City, include Fail-Safe (1964), The Pawnbroker (1965), The Hill (1965), The Group (1966), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), Funny Girl (1968), The Appointment (1970), The Anderson Tapes (1971), Serpico (1973), Murder onthe Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1975), Network (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1976), Equus (1977), Prince of the City (which he co-wrote; Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, 1981), Death-trap (1982), The Verdict (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1982), Family Business (1989), A Stranger among Us (1992), Guilty as Sin (1993), Night Falls on Manhattan (which he also wrote, 1997), and Gloria (1999).

Among his numerous awards and nominations, Lumet was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Directors Guild of America in 1993; won the Joseph L. Mankiewicz Excellence in Filmmaking Award at the Director's View Film Festival in 2004; and received the Honorary Academy Award of Merit in 2005. Lumet's book, Making Movies, was published in 1995.


J. Boyer, Sidney Lumet (1993); F. Cunningham, Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision (1991, 20012).

[Jonathan Licht /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]