Walter Mirisch

Walter Mortimer Mirisch (born November 8, 1921) is an American film producer. He is president and executive head of production of The Mirisch Corporation, an independent film production company, which he formed in 1957 with his brothers, Marvin and Harold.[1] He won the Academy Award for Best Picture as producer of In the Heat of the Night (1967).[2][3]

Walter Mirisch
Walter Mortimer Mirisch

(1921-11-08) November 8, 1921
OccupationFilm producer
Years active1947–present
Parent(s)Josephine Urbach Mirisch
Max Mirisch
  • Academy Award for Best Picture as producer of In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  • Producer of the Year Award, Producers' Guild of America (1967)
  • National Association of Theater Owners (1972); and then ShowaRama (1975)
  • Life and career

    Early years

    Born to a Jewish family[4] in New York,[5] one of two sons born to Josephine Frances (née Urbach) and Max Mirisch.[6] His father emigrated from Krakow in 1891 at the age of 17 arriving in New York City where he worked as a tailor.[5] His mother was the daughter of immigrants from Hungary and Poland.[5] His father was previously married to Flora Glasshut with whom he had two sons; she died of cancer at the age of 40.[5] Mirisch graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and entered the movie business as a summer vacation usher in Jersey City's State Theater, soon moving up to higher positions at other theaters. In 1942, he received a BA degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the following year graduated from Harvard's Graduate School of Business Administration.[7] He produced his first film, Fall Guy (1947) for Monogram Pictures.[7]


    At the age of 29, Mirisch became production head at Allied Artists Studio, initially only a division of Monogram, with some 30 films to oversee. During his tenure, he found time to personally produce Flat Top (1952), Wichita (1955), which received a Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as Best Outdoor Drama of 1955, The First Texan (1956), and An Annapolis Story (1955). Among other films, he supervised the productions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Friendly Persuasion (both 1956), and the Billy Wilder-directed Love in the Afternoon (1957).

    Mirisch heads that category of creative producers who have learned their craft thoroughly from the very inception of a project through all phases of its production process. Known in the industry as a perfectionist, he supervises every detail of his films from the earliest stages to the final release.

    The Mirisch Company was founded in 1957.[8] It produced 68 films for United Artists, including three that won the Academy Award for Best Picture – The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961) and In the Heat of the Night (1967), which also won four other Oscars.[6][3] Among the most noteworthy Mirisch projects that Walter personally produced are: Man of the West (1958); The Magnificent Seven (1960); Two for the Seesaw (1962); Toys in the Attic (1963); the film version of James A. Michener's monumental novel, Hawaii (1966), which was nominated for seven Oscars, and its sequel, The Hawaiians (1970); Midway (1976), the saga of America's greatest naval victory; the tender and moving Same Time, Next Year (1978); and Romantic Comedy (1983).

    For NBC television network, Mirisch was executive producer of Wichita Town with Joel McCrea (1959–1960), Peter Loves Mary (1960–1961), Desperado; Return of Desperado; Desperado: Avalanche At Devil’s Ridge; Desperado: Legacy; Desperado: Sole Survivor; and in 1993, Troubleshooters: Trapped Beneath The Earth. Mirisch was executive producer of Lily in Winter for the USA Network in 1994, A Class for Life for ABC in 1995, as well as The Magnificent Seven, a weekly series for CBS in 1997.

    Ron Howard has said of Mirisch, "From Bomba, the Jungle Boy to Some Like It Hot and In the Heat of the Night . . . Walter Mirisch produced many of the films which dazzled and inspired me (and I'm not kidding about Bomba. I loved those movies as a kid). When I later acted in one of his (lesser) productions, The Spikes Gang, I learned that a prolific and brilliant producer could also be a terrific guy and a wonderful teacher."[5]

    Honors and awards

    Mirisch received the 1967 Academy Award for Best Picture for his production of In the Heat of the Night.[3]

    Throughout the years, he has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including The Producer of the Year Award: first, from the Producers' Guild of America (1967); later, the National Association of Theater Owners (1972); and then ShowaRama (1975).

    In addition, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Award of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for "outstanding contribution to the entertainment field" (1976), the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his "consistently high quality of motion picture production (1978), and the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is given to an individual whose "humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry" (1983).

    Mirisch has served three terms as president of the Producers Guild of America. He served four terms as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is a former president and Governor of the Performing Arts Council of the Los Angeles Music Center, as well as a trustee of the Motion Picture and Television Fund. Mirisch is also an Emeritus member of the board of directors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of Los Angeles, and the board of directors of the UCLA Foundation.

    He was decorated by the Republic of France with its Order of Arts and Letters in 1961.

    In May 1989, he received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In June 1989, he was the recipient of the UCLA Medal, the university's highest award.

    In 2004, he was honored with a retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art entitled "The Magnificent Mirisches". The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York honored him in 2006 with a retrospective of twelve films.

    On February 2, 2008, Mirisch presented the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year award at the 19th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards. The top honor (the equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture) went to Scott Rudin, Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men.

    Personal life

    He was married to Patricia Kahan (1924-2005); they had three children, Anne Mirisch Sonnenberg, Andrew Mirisch and Lawrence Mirisch.[9] His son, Lawrence, is the founder of the Mirisch Agency.[4]

    Selected filmography

    Year Title Notes
    1958Fort Massacreproducer
    Man of the Westproducer
    1959The Gunfight at Dodge Cityproducer
    The Man in the Netproducer
    Cast a Long Shadowproducer
    1960The Magnificent Sevenexecutive producer
    1961By Love Possessedproducer
    West Side Storyexecutive producer (uncredited)
    The Children's Hourexecutive producer (uncredited)
    1962Follow That Dreamexecutive producer
    Kid Galahadexecutive producer (uncredited)
    Two for the Seesawproducer
    1963The Great Escapeexecutive producer (uncredited)
    Toys in the Atticproducer
    The Pink Pantherexecutive producer (uncredited)
    1964633 Squadronexecutive producer (uncredited)
    A Shot in the Darkexecutive producer (uncredited)
    1966The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Comingproducer (uncredited)
    1967How to Succeed in Business Without Really Tryingexecutive producer (uncredited)
    In the Heat of the Nightproducer
    1968The Partyexecutive producer (uncredited)
    The Thomas Crown Affairexecutive producer (uncredited)
    1969Sinful Daveyexecutive producer
    Some Kind of a Nutproducer
    1970Halls of Angerexecutive producer
    The Landlordexecutive producer (uncredited)
    The Hawaiiansproducer
    They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!executive producer
    1971The Organizationproducer
    Fiddler on the Roofexecutive producer (uncredited)
    1974The Spikes Gangproducer
    Mr. Majestykproducer
    1978Gray Lady Downproducer
    Same Time, Next Yearproducer
    The Prisoner of Zendaproducer
    1983Romantic Comedyproducer


    • Mirisch, Walter (2008). I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-22640-9.


    1. King, Susan (June 17, 2008). "Career stories from a storied producer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
    2. Gaydos, Steven (February 3, 2015). "Walter Mirisch Looks Back on His First Producing Credit". Variety. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
    3. "The 40th Academy Awards". Retrieved August 17, 2016.
    4. Jewish Journal: "At Pepperdine, ruminations on Hollywood’s patrimony straight from its (Jewish) patriarchy" by Danielle Berrin October 6, 2013 | cached version at Archived December 22, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
    5. Mirisch, Walter. "I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History". University of Wisconsin Press. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
    6. Douglas Martin, Marvin Mirisch, 84, Hollywood Producer of 60's, The New York Times, November 20, 2002
    7. Gaydos
    8. King
    9. "Patricia Kahan Mirisch". Los Angeles Times. May 3, 2005.
    • Jeanine Basinger (2008). "Walter Mirisch". filmreference. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
    Non-profit organization positions
    Preceded by
    Daniel Taradash
    President of Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences
    Succeeded by
    Howard W. Koch
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