May 17th, 2022
Eden Smith's Beaches Library Blueprint

Q2. On what street in the Beaches did a famous Hollywood director grow up on??

Q5. Where did Norman Jewison attend high school?

Telling a Great Story

From Kippendavie Avenue to Hollywood Boulevard

By Beth Parker

Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison, world-renowned film director, producer and actor, is a Beacher. Just this past April, he was honoured in Los Angeles for his stellar career, which included the founding of the Canadian Film Centre. Whether in Hollywood, or during his time working in London, England, New York or Toronto, Jewison's life was shaped by his experience growing up in the Beaches community where he learned from an early age the importance of telling a great story. Norman's own story began in 1926 on Lee Avenue, across from Kew Beach. As typical of the times, he was born "at home", in his case at his grandmother's house. He grew up with his family in a small apartment above his parent's dry goods store and post office at the corner of Kippendavie Avenue and Queen Street East. The store sold everything from thread to undershirts. As you would expect, Norman helped in the store while growing up and attending school, first at Kew Beach Public School and later, Malvern Collegiate. His responsibilities included selling Christmas trees in front of the store when he was a teenager. Today the store still operates as a convenience store and flower shop.

Saturdays at the Movies

Norman has many wonderful memories of "life growing up in the Beach". All summer long he and his friends canoed, swam, played ball and fished in the lake. Because it was the Depression, the young shopkeeper's son had to figure out how to find entertainment without spending money.

Fascinated by the movies, Jewison would find ways to earn ten cents so he could go to the Beach Theatre (now the Beach Mall on Queen Street East, between Kenilworth Avenue and Waverley Road). Ten cents was difficult to come by in the 1930s, but already a clever businessman, the young Jewison would collect two cents from various friends, go to the movies then act out what he had seen to his paying audience. As a budding actor-storyteller, he soon discovered through these performances that not only could he get people's attention but also he could entertain them and make them laugh.

Jewison's love of performance continued when he entered Malvern Collegiate where another famous student attended, pianist Glenn Gould. One alumnus fondly remembers Jewison's high school participation in school shows as "Norm Jewison and Bill Witham and their fantastic minstrel shows!"

After graduating from high school, Jewison served in the Canadian Navy overseas during Word War II. Upon his return, he attended Victoria College, University of Toronto, where he graduated with a BA. Today, Jewison is the Chancellor of Victoria College.

Jewison's professional career began to take shape during his summers at university when he worked at the Banf Hotel and became involved in local theatre production. His first attempts to find work in television in Toronto, then the US, were unsuccessful. He eventually moved to London, England where he wrote scripts and acted for the BBC. He then returned to Toronto and directed TV shows for the CBC. His reputation quickly spread to the US where he was recruited to direct and produce variety shows and musicals in New York, such as the Andy Williams Show. Following a suggestion by actor Tony Curtis that he should consider directing films, he embarked on a film career in Hollywood, California in 1962.

Professional Taking Stories to Hollywood

Services Life in his parents' store, and a community like the Beaches, gave Jewison "stories" that he would remember and take with him throughout his life and career. Certainly the storytelling and performances he used to do during his childhood prepared him for "pitching his story" to Hollywood producers.

"I believe that those years in the Kippendavie store and my adolescent love of performance prepared me for my future career," he writes in his memoirs. When in later life he was presented with the Irving Talberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement at the Oscars ceremony in 1998, he danced around the stage like a little boy who'd just won "most valuable player". Accepting a standing ovation from his colleagues in the star-studded audience, he commented:
"Don't worry about the top gross, don't worry about the Top 10 or the Bottom 10, or the demographics. Just tell good stories that will move us to laughter and tears—and perhaps reveal a little bit to us about ourselves."

Drawing Inspiration from Life

Whether you watch The Cincinnati Kid, Moonstruck or The Thomas Crown Affair, a predominant feature of Jewison's films is, without at doubt, his ability to tell a great story. He always knew that he could make people laugh, as shown in movies such as, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming, but Jewison was also deeply affected by real stories of struggle that he saw around him.

In the early 1950s he took a trip through the southern United States where he was appalled by the open racism and inequality. On a hot day in Memphis he climbed onto a bus, naive about the real impact of the anti-racial laws of the time.

"I went to the back and sat in the back seat with a window opened," he says. "The bus started and stopped. The bus driver looked at me and said, ‘Are you trying to be funny sailor? Can't you read the sign?'

The driver meant the sign in the bus that said, ‘Colored people to the rear.'

"I didn't know what to do," said Jewison, "I got angry. I got up and said, ‘Let me of the bus.'"

This experience gave Jewison a lifelong concern with racial issues and discrimination. Such themes are clearly depicted in many of his films, specifically In the Heat of the Night.

Jewison also has demonstrated great skill in depicting great Jewish stories, such as Fiddler on the Roof. Despite his surname, however, his religious background is British Protestant. In his autobiography, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me, he describes going to the Kenilworth synagogue in the Beaches with his friend Stanely Sznn when he was six years old. To his dismay, Jewison discovered then that he was not Jewish!

Jewison was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and was promoted to Companion ten years later. In 1987, he moved back to Canada and settled on his beloved farm in Caledon. In 1988, Jewison founded the Canadian Film Centre, one of the world's most advanced film and television training institutes. He has been nominated for the best director Academy Award on a number of occasions and in 1998, was awarded The Irving G. Talberg Memorial Award as a "Creative producer, whose body of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production." In 2001, a park in downtown Toronto was named after him. Norman Jewison has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Today, Norman Jewison is 82 and lives in Caledon, Ontario.

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