Paul Mazursky’s death on Monday June 30th was mourned by those he worked with as a loss of a talented filmmaker and a good man. Actress Tracy Nelson recalls her career and self-esteem was at low ebb before both were rescued by Mazursky’s casting her in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986). Other actors remember his skill and kindness were both always evident and on display.
Mazursky’s film work, as a writer, actor, and director always explored society’s own discoveries and innovations, be they cultural or simply quirky. As a young actor he appeared in “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955), a film that examined post-war delinquency and helped usher in the rock and roll era. His first screenplay to be produced was the counterculture comedy “I Love You Alice B. Toklas” (1967). He looked at wife swapping in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969), old age in “Harry and Tonto” (1974), which won Art Carney a Best Actor Oscar, divorce and infidelity in “An Unmarried Woman” (1978), and Soviet defection in “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984). His films were invariably funny, poignant, intelligent, and pointed.
He was born Irwin Mazursky in Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn College. He studied with Lee Strasberg and had some roles in New York theater. He appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s first film, “Fear and Desire” (1953).
Paul Mazursky never left one area of his talent to concentrate on another. He kept acting as he had since the 1950s, even after his writing and directing careers became successful. Along with films, Mazursky appeared on TV programs like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Sopranos,” as well as doing voiceover work on “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Mazursky was no stranger to the small screen, having co-written the pilot for “The Monkees” in 1966.
Mazursky’s work explored and reflected its own culture, and his work was, as critic Richard Corliss has stated, unmatched for its originality and cohesion.