After battling a long illness, writer-director Paul Mazursky died in Los Angeles on June 30 of pulmonary cardiac arrest. He was 84.
He started out as an actor in Stanley Kubricks Fear and Desire in the 1950's. From there he went on to write for The Danny Kaye Show and even co-wrote the pilot for The Monkees. His first screenplay was the Peter Sellers comedy I Love You Alice B. Toklas (1968) In his latter years he acted in the HBO shows The Sopranos (Sunshine, a poker dealer) and as Mel Brooks' associate Norm on Curb your Enthusiasm.
But from the time he directed his first film that he also co-wrote (Larry Tucker) about some swingers, The critically acclaimed Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1968) Mazursky seemed to have his finger on the pulse of American society.
The film earned him his first Oscar nomination. From that time through the 1980's Mazursky directed a string of quirky dramatic comedies that dealt with a lot of current social issues. Films like the Academy Award nominated (Best writing, Best original Screenplay) Harry and Tonto (1974) about an old man hitchhiking across the country with his cat won the hearts of moviegoers at the time.
Of course this was the 1970's and people were taking a lot more chances with films then they do now. Just watch the documentary- The 1970's- A Decade Under the Influence which he is included in and you will understand.
His films like - the Best Picture- nominated An Unmarried Woman (1978), and the popular Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986). Alex in Wonderland (1970), Blume in Love (1973), the autobiographical Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), Willie & Phil (1980), Tempest (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Moon Over Parador (1988), Enemies, A Love Story (1989) and Scenes from a Mall (1991). Seemed to channel the zeitgeist of the times.
He earned five Oscar nominations for his films and directed six actors to nominations. Jill Clayburgh and Art Carney winning for Best Actor and Best Actress. On February 1st of this year he received the Screen Laurel Award. The Writers Guild of America's lifetime achievement award. The award was presented by his friend Mel Brooks.
The WGA's Howard Rodman touted Mazursky's writing talent at the time of the WGA Achievement Award:
“Paul Mazursky’s talents as an actor (he was in Stanley Kubrick’s first film) and filmmaker (one of the signature directors of the 1970s) should not be allowed to obscure a central fact: he is among our greatest living screenwriters. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, An Unmarried Woman – five films in six years, any of which can make you laugh and cry, break and mend your heart. His voice is strong, unique, hilarious, wise, unmistakable. He is fearless about his characters’ flaws, but always has the generosity of spirit to make us see the ways in which they are far more like us than not. His work in the ’80s and ’90s – Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Scenes from a Mall – only deepens that generosity"