Joseph Sargent, one of the great TV movie directors of all time who also helmed the original The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, died today at his Malibu home after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 89. He directed 50 TV movies, including more Emmy-winning motion pictures for television or miniseries than any other director. The only time two TV movies tied for the same Emmy, both pictures were his. Working until he was 84, Sargent won four Emmys among nine nominations and three DGA Awards during his long career. He received Emmy nominations – and DGA Awards – for his last two HBO projects: Something The Lord Made and Warm Springs.
Among his dozens of TV movies, minis and specials were Amber Waves, Love Is Never Silent, Tomorrow’s Child, Choices Of The Heart, World War II: When Lions Roared, The Karen Carpenter Story, Miss Rose White, The Marcus Nelson Murders, Miss Evers’ Boys, Caroline? and A Lesson Before Dying.
Sargent also directed a handful of features — highlighted by the gripping 1974 thriller The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, which starred Walter Matthau as an NYC dispatcher who faces off with the Robert Shaw-led hijackers of a subway train, and lowlighted by the 1987 throwaway Jaws: The Revenge, which landed him a raft of Razzie noms.
“When it comes to directing Movies for Television, Joe’s dominance and craftsmanship was legendary — for the past 50 years,” said DGA president Paris Barclay. “With eight DGA Awards nominations in Movies for Television, more than any other director in this category, Joe embodied directorial excellence on the small screen. He was unafraid of taking risks, believing in his heart that television audiences demanded the highest quality stories. ... His biographies demonstrated an exactitude for period accuracy while simultaneously infusing historical figures with true-to-life spirit and passion. Joe once said that he was ‘drawn to projects possessing edge’ — material that can make some comment or contribution to the condition of man,’ and it is this ‘edge’ that is his enduring directorial legacy.”
Along with the telepics, Sargent also directed episodes of such classic TV series as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Star Trek, The Fugitive, Lassie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The F.B.I., Daniel Boone and Kojak. Watch a clip above from his 2006 interview with the Archive of American Television in which he recalls explaining how to play Dr. Spock to Leonard Nimoy.
“Television can bring a certain amount of enlightenment,” he said in that interview. “You’re not gonna change the world with that one film, but you can make a little bit of a dent. If we can make enough dents, it’s a hell of a medium because it reaches out to so many young minds as well as some entrenched minds. It can be quite gratifying when certain things take place.”
Sargent is survived by Carolyn Nelson Sargent, his wife and collaborator for 44 years, and their daughter, actress-writer Lia Sargent.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.