- Paul Mazursky wrote and directed films such as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"
- Mazursky began career as actor, then moved into writing; he co-wrote "Monkees" pilot
- Mazursky films known for compassion and bittersweet wit
Paul Mazursky, a five-time Oscar nominee who directed and wrote such films as "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," "An Unmarried Woman" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," has died, his agent said Tuesday.
He was 84. The cause of death was not revealed, but Mazursky had been in ill health for some time.
Mazursky was known for his compassionate touch as a writer and director, guiding such performers as Dyan Cannon (1969's "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"), Art Carney (1974's "Harry and Tonto") and Jill Clayburgh (1978's "An Unmarried Woman") to Academy Award nominations for acting.
Carney, in fact, won a best actor Oscar for his performance as a widower who travels cross-country with his cat, Tonto.
Indeed, Mazursky was fond of such low-key, human stories, though usually with a dose of humor. "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" was about wife-swapping; "An Unmarried Woman" was about a wealthy New Yorker whose husband leaves her, putting her in the dating pool for the first time in years.
In a 1977 interview with Film Comment, Mazursky said that studios would have preferred him to make films for more money and with bigger stars, but he followed his gut, opted for a lower budget and went with character actor types over movie stars.
"They would prefer that I do one for $6 million rather than $2 million and shore it up with a couple of names. It's easier to sell. And I would have done it with a big star if I thought there was one who was perfect for the part," he said.
Instead, however, he cast people like Carney and Ron Silver (1989's "Enemies: A Love Story").
Other Mazursky-directed films include "Blume in Love" (1973), "Next Stop, Greenwich Village" (1976), "Moscow on the Hudson" (1984) and "Scenes from a Mall" (1991).
Mazursky was also a part of television history, having co-written the script for the pilot of "The Monkees."
Mazursky started out as an actor, making his debut in Stanley Kubrick's early work "Fear and Desire" (1954) and guest-starring in several TV series, including "The Twilight Zone" and "The Real McCoys." He made frequent appearances in his own films and was an often wise-cracking presence in other works, including "The Sopranos," in which he played a card dealer friend of Junior Soprano, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in which he played Norm, an assistant of Mel Brooks.
In real life, Brooks and Mazursky were close friends. When Mazursky received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame late last year, Brooks said, "If he were gay, and I were gay, I think we would hang out together. That's how much I love him."
"I love you too," Mazursky said.
"Prove it!" Brooks retorted. "Pick up the bill for once, why don't you."