Walter Mirisch honored for lifetime achievement

The Magnificent Seven in 35mm at The Aero


It’s been a busy summer. Trying to catch up on a backlog of entires.

leo-clifford-penn-fall-guyFirst off, on July 15th, producer Walter Mirisch received the KCET Cinema Series Lumière Award at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre presented by KCET CEO Michael Riley. With a shelf full of Oscars and Golden Globes, the great man isn’t hurting for awards on his mantle. Still, it was well deserved recognition for a lifetime of putting together great movies. And, it was a treat to hear him interviewed onstage [by Pete Hammond from]. His first producing credit was in 1947 for Fall Guy with Leo (Clifford) Penn, father of the famed Penn brothers. If Mirisch’s career had ended with the 1960s, he’d still be remembered as one of the most prolific producers. Even more amazing is that at 93 he’s still at it, going to the office daily and producing the latest Pink Panther movie, that combines live action and animation. He’s also the executive producer of the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven.


Directed by Norman Jewison and produced by Mirisch, In the Heat of the Night (1967), dealt with the racial tension of the era and is still relevant today. As Mirisch said in the interview, he and star Sidney Poitier are still the best of friends and lunch together every week (I guess producers and actors get along better than directors and actors!).0513604_2857_MC_Tx360 “The lesson of In The Heat of the Night” needs to be constantly re-learned,” he said. Eli Wallach credited the producer with turning a little known New York Jewish actor into everyone’s favorite Mexican bandido in The Magnificent Seven (1960). Thankfully, a Latino plays that character in the new version which boats a more diverse cast in the lead roles. Mirisch also noted his friendship with the late James Coburn who plays the knife fighter Britt in the 1960 original. “I was crazy about him,” said Mirisch who recalled first seeing the young actor in a Western he was producing. The episode was “The Night the Cowboys Roared” and Mirisch remembered him when it came time to cast the role of Britt (The James and Paula Coburn Foundation sponsored the event). Screenwriter Walter Newman, he said, wanted sole credit, so took his name off.


Mirisch then recounted how he and director John Sturgess adapted The Seven Samurai (1954) during a private screening of the Akira Kurosawa classic. Yul Brynner, who plays Chris, had Japanese contacts that were useful in acquiring the rights from the Toho film company.

images-3After the success of The Magnificent Seven, Mirisch, Coburn and Sturgess worked together again in The Great Escape (1963) which also starred Steve McQueen, a “talented kid” to whom the Mirisch Company gave one of his first breaks.

Thanks to JP Shields of KCET