Paul Mazursky, 84, actor, director
LOS ANGELES - Paul Mazursky, the innovative and versatile director who showed the absurdity of modern life in such movies as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and An Unmarried Woman, has died.
The 84-year-old filmmaker died of pulmonary cardiac arrest Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
As a talented writer, actor, producer, and director, Mr. Mazursky racked up five Oscar nominations, mostly for writing such films as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and Enemies, A Love Story. He also created memorable roles for the likes of Art Carney, Jill Clayburgh and Natalie Wood.
Later in life, Mr. Mazursky acted in such TV series as The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Once and Again.
He was born Irwin Mazursky in 1930, in Brooklyn. During the Depression, the family lived on the small wages his father earned as a laborer for the federal Works Progress Administration.
When Mr. Mazursky graduated from high school, he changed his name from Irwin, which he hated, to Paul.
Mr. Mazursky had always dreamed of becoming an actor, and he appeared in student plays at Brooklyn College. With the school's permission, he flew to California to act in Fear and Desire, director Stanley Kubrick's first film. When he received bad reviews, Mr. Mazursky buckled down to studying acting with a variety of teachers, including Lee Strasberg. But he found the most success behind the camera.
Mr. Mazursky and his writing partner, Larry Tucker, first triumphed with the script for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a clever takeoff on the emerging sexual freedom of the late 1960s. Warner Bros. turned it down for fear of its racy subject, but Columbia scooped it up and accepted Mr. Mazursky's proviso that he would direct the film. It was a success at the box office and set up Mazursky as rising director of the new school.
His next film was Alex in Wonderland, also cowritten by Tucker, starring Donald Sutherland as a young director who, like Mr. Mazursky, had a hit first movie and mulled about what to make for his second. Critics scorned it.
Mr. Mazursky ended his relationship with Tucker and spent six months with his family in Rome and London, recovering from his failure. He later returned to filmmaking, continuing with his socially adept films, many of which he wrote, produced, directed, and acted in, including the autobiographical Next Stop, Greenwich Village, as well as An Unmarried Woman, Tempest, Moscow on the Hudson, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
"I know there are some wonderful filmmakers with really tragic views of life," Mr. Mazursky told The Atlantic magazine. "But for me, absurdity is just around the corner. I see it all the time."
Over the years, he was nominated four times for screenplay Oscars: 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, 1974's Harry and Tonto, 1978's An Unmarried Woman, and 1989's Enemies, A Love Story. As a coproducer, he also shared in the best picture nomination for An Unmarried Woman.
Mr. Mazursky returned to semi-autobiography in his poorly received 1993 film The Pickle, about an aging movie director grappling with professional and personal stumbles.
Surviving are his wife, daughter, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.