A highly competent and hard-working director, Stuart Rosenberg earned the respect of his peers and the eternal appreciation of fans for his contributions to film and television. Receiving his start as a television editor in New York in the 1950s, he broke into directing on such NYC-based crime shows as "Decoy" (syndicated, 1957-59) and "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-1963). After a decade largely comprised of small screen efforts, Rosenfeld struck cinematic gold with his sweltering prison camp saga "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), starring Paul Newman in one of his most memorable roles as an irascible convict serving time at a harsh Florida state prison farm. He quickly went on to direct feature material as diverse as the Jack Lemmon-Catherine Deneuve romance "The April Fools" (1969) and the visceral Walter Matthau crime thriller "The Laughing Policeman" (1973). The director worked with Newman again several times on films like the private eye tale "The Drowning Pool" (1975), but had his biggest commercial hit with the sensationalistic shocker "The Amityville Horror" (1979). Still working with the best and the brightest late in his career, he gave direction to superstar Robert Redford on "Brubaker" (1980) and guided up-and-comers Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts through their bravura performances in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984). While never a household name with audiences, Rosenberg's professionalism kept him continually employed as the director of several lauded films that stood the test of time.
Stuart Rosenberg was born on Aug. 11, 1927 in Brooklyn, NY to Sara and David Rosenberg. After high school, he was accepted at New York University, where he studied Irish literature. During this time, he met his future wife, Margot Pohoryles, and while enrolled as a graduate student, he took on work as both a student teacher and as an apprentice film editor. It was the latter position, an opportunity presented by the burgeoning television industry of the 1950s, which led the struggling student to his ultimate career destiny. After a number of years as a journeyman editor, he made the jump to directing, overseeing a number of episodes of the crime drama "Decoy" (syndicated, 1957-59), whose star, Beverly Garland, was the first actress to become the main protagonist on a television police procedural. Rosenberg continued to hone his craft with directing jobs on similar programs, like the hard-boiled actioner "Richard Diamond: Private Detective" (CBS/NBC, 1957-1960), starring David Janssen, and the police procedural "The Detectives" (ABC/NBC, 1959-1962).
Rosenberg's first shot at directing a feature film came with the organized crime docudrama "Murder, Inc." (1960), starring Stuart Whitman, May Britt and Peter Falk. Unfortunately, an impending writers and actors strike prompted a panicky 20th Century Fox to replace the neophyte director with Burt Balaban, who went on to complete the picture as quickly as possible, although Rosenberg retained partial credit. Falk's performance as mob hit man Abe "Kid Twist" Reles would earn the actor an Academy Award nomination. In addition to helming episodes of such popular TV offerings as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS/NBC, 1955-1962) and "Naked City" (ABC, 1958-1963), Rosenberg directed his second feature film - "Question 7" (1961), an ambitious post-war drama filmed in West Berlin and financed by the Lutheran Church. More television work followed, with episodes of the legal drama "The Defenders" (CBS, 1961-65) - one of which earned Rosenberg an Emmy Award - and the grim espionage thriller "Memorandum for a Spy" (NBC, 1965) adding to his growing list of credits.
After directing the made-for-TV crime drama "Fame is the Name of the Game" (NBC, 1966), Rosenberg took another shot at feature films with "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), adapted from a novel by Donn Pearce, who co-penned the screenplay. One of the most acclaimed prison dramas of all time, it starred Paul Newman as the titular ne'er do well who clashes with the boss of a Florida prison camp, played to iconic perfection by Strother Martin. Both Newman and Rosenberg earned high praise for the film that finally launched the latter's career as a filmmaker in earnest. He soon followed with European beauty Catherine Deneuve's first English language film, "The April Fools" (1969), co-starring Jack Lemmon as an unhappily married business man who mistakenly has an affair with his boss' equally miserable wife (Deneuve). Two more Newman films, "WUSA" (1970) and "Pocket Money" (1972), preceded one of Rosenberg's finer efforts in the crime genre, "The Laughing Policeman" (1973), a taught thriller starring Walter Matthau as a world-weary cop trying to solve a brutal machine gun massacre on a San Francisco city bus.
Rosenberg teamed with Newman one last time for "The Drowning Pool" (1975), the blue-eyed actor's second turn as novelist Ross Macdonald's sardonic private eye in a case involving blackmail in the Deep South and an old flame from the detective's past. The following year, he wrangled a star-studded cast that included Faye Dunaway, James Mason, Max von Sydow and Orson Welles for the based-on-fact wartime tragedy "Voyage of the Damned" (1976). A Charles Bronson shoot-'em-up "Love and Bullets" (1979) proved far less successful than Rosenberg's other effort that year - "The Amityville Horror" (1979), a surprise box office hit based on the best-selling book phenomenon about a family terrorized by evil spirits upon moving into a large house in suburban Long Island. The veteran helmer later replaced '60s filmmaking maverick Bob Rafelson to direct Robert Redford in the prison drama "Brubaker" (1980) before working with young Turks Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts in the highly-regarded, if commercially overlooked urban drama "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984).
Nearing the end of his career, Rosenberg endured a frustrating experience directing the feature "Let's Get Harry" (1986), an action-adventure starring Glenn Frey, Michael Schoeffling and Gary Busey as a group of friends on a mission to rescue a friend (Mark Harmon) kidnapped by a Columbian drug lord. Upset after producers shot additional footage and re-edited the film in order to capitalize on Harmon's rising popularity at the time, Rosenberg expressed his displeasure by crediting himself as Alan Smithee (a pseudonym used by directors to disown a project) for the critical and commercial flop. The director's final film was the low-key modern Western "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" (1991), starring Scott Glenn as fading rodeo rider returning home to his family and former lover after years on the circuit. Semi-retired, Rosenberg later taught directing at the American Film Institute for a number of years, where such future professionals as Darren Aronofsky and Todd Field numbered among his students. Stuart Rosenberg died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, CA on March 15, 2007. He was 79 years old.
By Bryce Coleman