Director Sidney Lumet, who started his career as a child actor in the Yiddish theater and whose films examining social justice in America stand as landmarks of his craft, died April 9 of lymphoma at his New York City home. He was 86.
Both his parents were veterans of the Yiddish stage, father Baruch Lumet as an actor and director and mother Eugenia Wermus as a dancer. In later years, Sidney Lumet attributed his films’ emphasis on conscience and struggle for justice to his Jewish upbringing.
One of his first acting gigs was in Ben Hecht’s 1946 pageant, “A Flag Is Born,” which rallied American public opinion in support of a Jewish state in Palestine.
After serving as a U.S. Army radar repairman in Burma and India during World War II, Lumet got his start in television and hit it big with his first feature film, “12 Angry Men.” The 1957 movie, starring Henry Fonda as a holdout juror, earned Lumet the first of five Oscar nominations.
During a 50-year career, Lumet directed 43 feature films and hundreds of television episodes. Among them were such memorable movies as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” “The Verdict” and “Running on Empty.”
In 1976, his “Network,” about a disaffected TV news anchor, immortalized the phrase “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Lumet repeatedly returned to Jewish themes and characters, first in “The Pawnbroker,” about a haunted Holocaust survivor; followed by “Bye Bye Braverman,” about Jewish intellectuals in New York; “Daniel,” about the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy case; and “A Stranger Among Us,” unfolding in a Chasidic community.
Lumet was eulogized as “the last great movie moralist” and by fellow New Yorker Woody Allen, who observed, “Knowing Sidney, he will have more energy dead than most live people.”
He is survived by his wife, Mary; daughters Amy Lumet and Jenny Lumet; stepdaughter Leslie Gimbel; stepson Bailey Gimbel; nine grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.