Arthur Hiller, the Oscar-nominated director of Love Story and a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the DGA, died today in Los Angeles of natural causes. He was 92. The Academy confirmed the news.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved friend Arthur Hiller,” said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs today. “I was a member of the Board during his presidency and fortunate enough to witness firsthand his dedication to the Academy and his lifelong passion for visual storytelling. Our condolences go out to his loved ones.”
The Canada-born Hiller’s career spanned five decades, starting in TV in the mid-’50s with credits including Playhouse 90, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Route 66 and The Rifleman. Jumping into feature films in the early 1960s, his early credits include The Americanization of Emily , his own personal favorite and a movie that has aged very well, and the Ryan O’Neal-Ali MacGraw romancer Love Story, which earned him the Oscar nom.
Love Story, which garnered seven Oscar noms overall, led to a streak of big movies for Hiller that spanned especially comedy including The Hospital, penned by Paddy Chayefsky (who also wrote Americanization Of Emily) ; Silver Streak with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; The In-Laws with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin; The Lonely Guy with Steve Martin; and Outrageous Fortune starring Shelley Long and Bette Midler. He also helmed the film adaptations of Neil Simon’s The Out of Towners and Plaza Suite. Hiller also directed biopic The Babe, the musical adaptation Man of La Mancha and the Al Pacino pic Author! Author! His final directing effort was 2006’s Pucked with Jon Bon Jovi.
“Arthur Hiller was an integral part of one of the most important experiences of my life,” MacGraw said today. “He was a remarkable, gifted, generous human being, and I will miss him terribly. My heart and love go out to his family.”
In the mid-1990s Hiller was tapped to direct the Joe Eszterhas-scripted An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, which seemed doomed from the get-go. Despite pulling together a cast that combined Hollywood players such as Harvey Weinstein, O’Neal, Gavin Polone and Eric Idle in parts, and then others including screenwriter Shane Black, producer Robert Evans, Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg and Sylvester Stallone as themselves, the film was a critical and financial disaster.
After the final cut, art imitated life for Hiller, who wanted nothing to do with the picture and asked for his name to be removed — which the DGA granted. So the film’s director credit ended up being “Alan Smithee” — the pseudonym used when a director wants to distance himself or herself from a project.
A longtime Governors Branch member, Hiller served as Academy president from 1993-97 and received the organization’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2001 for his philanthropy. He also served as DGA president from 1989-93. Hiller’s wife Gwen died earlier this year.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Arthur’s passing,” said DGA president Paris Barclay. “As a tireless crusader in the fight for creative rights and a passionate film preservation advocate, Arthur Hiller’s impact on the fabric of our industry will be felt for generations to come. As Guild president, Arthur was a warm and nurturing father figure who was deeply concerned with the personal and professional well-being of every one of our members. Whether lobbying on Capitol Hill for the artistic integrity of filmmakers worldwide, negotiating with the studios to secure health and pension provisions for our families, or establishing the first committee to advance opportunities for women and minorities, Arthur’s passion was exemplary and inspiring. Our Guild is stronger because of him, and our hearts go out to his family at this difficult time.”
Added DGA national executive director Jay D. Roth: “Arthur’s presidency was marked by a singular passion for and deep moral obligation to the protection of our members’ creative and economic freedoms. His spirited leadership as founding chairman of the Artists Rights Foundation in the early 1990s was instrumental in safeguarding against the physical alteration of our members’ creative work, both in film and television. As Arthur once said with his famously matter-of-fact panache, ‘Just because you bought the Mona Lisa, doesn’t mean you have the right to paint a mustache on her.’ Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and the many people who loved him.”
Hiller had severe eyesight problems in later life but it didn’t keep him from leading an active life and showing up at many industry events. At a special screening a few years ago for The Americanization Of Emily Hiller appeared for a Q&A following the film. The moderator , Deadline’s Pete Hammond, asked Hiller if he wanted to sit through the film first. “I can’t see my movies anymore unfortunately,” Hiller told him. “These days I can only feel them.” Fortunately for us Arthur Hiller has left behind a group of great movie entertainment the rest of us can see and feel.