DIRECTOR IRVIN KERSHNER PASSES AWAY AT 87




IRVIN KERSHNER, a film director who made big movies with well known stars, died on Saturday.

He was 87.

Mr. Kershner passed away at his Los Angeles home following a 3½ year battle with lung cancer said long time friend and Hollywood publicist DICK GUTTMAN.

IRVIN KERSHNER was a tall man with long angular features whose authority on the set was leavened with wit and good humour. THE NEW YORK TIMES once described him as “court jester, cheerleader and undisputed boss all at once” and as “Ichabod Crane with humanity.”

His resume was more than respectable, with films in a variety of genres that earned critical plaudits if not always popular acclaim and that often found him working with major stars.

His early movies included UP THE SANDBOX, in which BARBRA STREISAND played an oppressed Manhattan resident engaged in a series of outlandish fantasies.

Mr. Kershner later worked on a number of big budget films, including the supernatural thriller THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978), which starred FAYE DUNAWAY as a haughty and evidently clairvoyant fashion photographer who has visions of murder and a JAMES BOND flick with SEAN CONNERY and KIM BASINGER: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

He was the only person to ever direct films from two legendary franchises (BOND and STAR WARS). Even he thought he was an unlikely choice to make THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the now highly regarded follow up to STAR WARS (1977), GEORGE LUCAS’ colossally successful science fiction extravaganza.

Mr. Lucas had been Mr. Kershner’s student at the University Of Southern California film school and the two had remained friends. Even so, Mr. Kershner turned down Mr. Lucas’ offer at first, until, as he recalled in a public interview at the Colorado Film School, Mr. Lucas told him the future of the series was at stake.

“‘Well, I want you to think about it,’ he says,” Mr. Kershner related, “because if the second one works, then I’ll make more. If it doesn’t work, that’s the end of Star Wars.”’

After extracting a promise that Mr. Lucas would give him freedom to make his own movie, Mr. Kershner accepted.

The result was a motion picture that introduced the gnomish character Yoda, who supervises the Jedi training of LUKE SKYWALKER (MARK HAMILL) while DARTH VADER (JAMES EARL JONES) and the villainous galactic empire pursue the determined band of heroes including PRINCESS LEIA (CARRIE FISHER) and HAN SOLO (HARRISON FORD), as well as a new character, LANDO CALRISSIAN, played by BILLY DEE WILLIAMS.

The 1980 production was a darker story than the original. In it, Luke Skywalker learns that Darth Vader is his father. EMPIRE initially got mixed reviews but has gone on to become one of the most critically praised movies ever made.

Mr. Kershner told VANITY FAIR in October that he tried to give the sequel more depth than the original.

“It took a few years for the critics to catch up with the film and to see it as a fairy tale rather than a comic book,” he said.

Mr. Kershner said he had only one sharp disagreement with Mr. Lucas. The script originally called for Princess Leia to tell Han Solo “I love you” and for him to say “I love you too.”

“I shot the line and it just didn’t seem right for the character of Han Solo,” Mr. Kershner commented.

Instead, HARRISON FORD improvised the reply: “I know.”

Mr. Lucas wanted the original dialogue. However, after test previews sparked an enthusiastic response, he agreed to leave HARRISON’S wisecrack in. It has gone on to be one of the best known lines in the series.

According to the web site BOX OFFICE MOJO, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK took in more than $538 million in worldwide box office receipts, ranking it 69th on the list of highest earning films in history.

ISADORE KERSHNER was born in Philadelphia on APRIL 29, 1923.

His parents were Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine, where Isadore’s two older sisters were born. His father MORRIS supported the family selling fruits and vegetables from a street cart. Young Isadore studied music and art; he played the viola and the violin and attended the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. He also studied photography at the Art Center College Of Design in Southern California.

He changed his name to IRVIN after serving in the Army Air Forces as an airplane mechanic and flight engineer during World War II. His first moviemaking job was as a documentarian for the United States Information Service in Iran, Greece and Turkey.

Mr. Kershner was also an occasional actor. He played the priest Zebedee in MARTIN SCORSESE’S THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.

“He had the most incredible spirit, an exuberance for life. Always working, always thinking, always writing, amazingly gifted and forever curious,” said BARBRA STREISAND.

“We all enjoyed knowing Kersh, learning from him and admired his creative spirit and indomitable will,” FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA remarked of his friend.

“It was always exciting to talk with him about all aspects of cinema and life. He will most certainly be missed.”

“The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I considered him a mentor,” GEORGE LUCAS said in a statement.

“Following Star Wars, I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want to direct the second movie myself. I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humour. That was Kersh all over.”

“I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures. I was trying to build something and I knew Kersh was the guy to help me do it. He brought so much to the table.”

“I am truly grateful to him.”

Mr. Kershner was married and divorced twice. He is survived by two sons: DAVID of Los Angeles and DANA of Lummi Island, Washington.

In recent years, Mr. Kershner taught screenwriting at the University
Of Southern California while continuing to produce, write and create still photographs.

“My father never really retired. He had a powerful drive to create — whether it be through film, photography or writing,” DAVID KERSHNER said.

At the time of his death, he was working on a documentary about his friend, writer Ray Bradbury and a musical called DJINN, about the relationship between a Jewish immigrant and an Arab sheik in Palestine before it became Israel.

DAVID KERSHNER said his father told him in September: “You have to throw yourself into things. There is no second way.”

“Passion gives you energy.”

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