Walter Mirisch

Walter Mirisch is the producer, in whole or in part, of more than one hundred films. The many honors bestowed on the Mirisch Company, an independent filmmaking organization which he founded in 1957 with his late brothers Marvin and Harold, include three Oscars for best picture – The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), each of which won additional multiple awards.  

Known in the industry as a perfectionist, he supervises every detail of his films from the earliest stages to the final release. Among the most noteworthy Mirisch projects that Walter personally produced are: In The Heat of the Night (1967); Man of the West (1958); The Magnificent Seven (1960); Two for the See-Saw (1962); Toys in the Attic (1963); Hawaii (1966); Midway (1976), the saga of America’s greatest naval victory; Dracula (1979); the tender and moving Same Time, Next Year (1978); and Romantic Comedy (1983). 

Other outstanding Mirisch films include John Ford’s The Horse Soldiers (1959); William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour (1961); John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963); Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther (1964), A Shot In The Dark (1964) and The Party (1968), all starring the late Peter Sellers; Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), One, Two, Three (1961), Irma La Douce (1963) and The Fortune Cookie (1966); Hal Ashby’s first film, the interracial dramedy The Landlord (1970); They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970), the sequel to In the Heat of the Night again starring Sidney Poitier; Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1968), an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture; The Thomas Crown Affair (1968); and the motion picture version of the smash Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof (1971), also an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture.

For NBC Television Network, Walter Mirisch was executive producer of Desperado (1987), written by Elmore Leonard; The Return of Desperado (1988); Desperado: Avalanche At Devil’s Ridge (1988); and in 1993, Troubleshooters: Trapped Beneath the Earth. Walter 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.

“I like to challenge an audience,” says Mirisch. “I especially like movies that are provocative…that have a meaningful theme while stimulating us with new ideas.”

A native of New York, Mirisch received a BA degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1942 and the following year graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Administration. In 1947, he produced his first film, Fall Guy, for Monogram Pictures Corporation. At the age of 29, Mirisch became production head at Allied Artists Studio with some 30 films to oversee. During his tenure, he supervised the productions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Love in the Afternoon (1957), among many others.

Throughout the years, Mirisch 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 Irving G. Thalberg Award of  the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his “consistently high quality of motion picture production” (1978), the Cecil B. DeMille Award of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contribution to the entertainment field” (1977), and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 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 of The Center Theatre Group 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.

Besides receiving the Academy Award for his production of In the Heat of the Night, he was decorated by the Republic of France with its Order of Arts and Letters in 1961.

In May of 1989, he received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Wisconsin. In June of 1989, he was the recipient of the UCLA Medal, its 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. In 2008, the University of Wisconsin Press published his autobiography, I Thought We Were Making Movies...Not History.

Walter Mirisch
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