Marvin J. Chomsky, a four-time Emmy-winning director whose credits include the seminal 1977 miniseries Roots, Holocaust and dozens of TV series including the original Star Trek and Hawaii Five-O, died Monday. He was 92.
His son, producer Peter Chomsky, told Deadline that his father died in his sleep but gave no other details.
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The elder Chomsky already was a veteran TV director when he scored an Emmy nomination for helming two episodes of the groundbreaking slavery saga Roots. He went on to win Emmys for directing the harrowing 1978 miniseries Holocaust, telefilms Attica (1980) and Inside the Third Reich (1982) and the Maximilian Schell-led miniseries Peter the Great (1986). He earned nominations for helming Evita Peron (1981), Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986) and Billionaire Boys Club (1987), also scoring an Outstanding Miniseries nom as the latter’s supervising producer.
When he accepted his Emmy for Inside the Third Reich, Chomsky noted that he had won awards for directing projects about events that “never should have happened.”
Born on May 23, 1929, in New York City, Chomsky began his career as an art director and set decorator before directing some episodes of medical drama The Nurses (aka The Doctors and the Nurses). He went on to helm multiple episodes of Maya and The Wild Wild West before directing three episodes of the original Star Trek: “And the Children Shall Lead,” “Days of the Dove” and “All Our Yesterdays.”
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Chomsky continued to direct TV dramas into the 1970s, including episodes of Gunsmoke, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Police Story, Mission: Impossible! and The Name of the Game, along with several telefilms. But his profile was heightened when he helmed multiple episodes of Roots, the ambitious and daring ABC miniseries starring LeVar Burton, John Amos, Louis Gossett Jr., Robert Reed and others. Based on Alex Haley’s stirring best seller, it was a phenomenon — shattering ratings records and becoming the most-watched TV drama in history. Nearly half of the U.S. population tuned in, kicking off TV’s Age of the Miniseries.
“Marvin Chomsky was a brilliant director who always thought his shots out very clearly,” the late Emmy-nominated Roots cinematographer Joseph M. Wilcots said in a 2007 interview for the Television Academy. “His direction, to me, was always precise and always clear.”
Chomsky followed up Roots by directing all four episodes of NBC’s Holocaust, which followed a fictional German Jewish family and a rising member of the SS amid the onset of Nazism and as the planet careened into World War II. It starred, among others, Michael Moriarty, Fritz Weaver, James Woods and a young Meryl Streep in her breakout role.
From there, Chomsky directed a series of TV movies including Attica, Evita Peron, Inside the Third Reich, I Was a Mail Order Bride, Tank and My Body, My Child, before pivoting back to miniseries such as Peter the Great, The Deliberate Stranger, Anastasia, Billionaire Boys Club, Brotherhood of the Rose and Strauss Dynasty — all of which he also produced. His final directing credit was for the 1995 TV movie Catherine the Great, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Along with Peter Chomsky — whose producing credits include Fargo, Mozart in the Jungle and Dead to Me — he is survived by sons David and Eric, daughter-in-law Genelle and granddaughter Liliana.
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