It’s easy to see why Academy Award and Emmy winning director, screenwriter and producer Barry Levinson is considered by many insiders as one of the most multifaceted and successful filmmakers of the last thirty years. His films are well crafted and personal, frequently serious and often provocative. He explores diverse subjects including race relations, coming of age struggles in small town USA, the pursuit of the American dream through the immigrant experience, revenge and political satire. His films have broad appeal and proven box office success, yet Levinson is an enigma, a filmmaker who remains successful while operating just under the radar of mainstream notoriety.
After relocating to Los Angeles from Baltimore where he grew up, he began writing for popular American variety shows of the 1970’s – The Tim Conway Show and The Carol Burnett Show among the most notable. A string of successful screenplays for the Mel Brooks’ comedies Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977), and the Oscar nominated script he co-wrote with then-wife Valerie Curtin, And Justice for All (1979) allowed Levinson to helm his first movie, the low-budget critically praised film Diner in 1982. Diner launched Levinson’s career. He was considered a filmmaker of merit after that and deservedly received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. In many ways Levinson followed suit after Diner, taking on more commercial and economically viable projects like The Natural with Robert Redford in 1984, Tin Men with Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito in 1987 and Good Morning Vietnam with Robin Williams that same year. But what remained the same from picture to picture was the indelible Levinson stamp, a personal touch eliciting strong performances through well told stories and keen direction. The hallmark of any director is this imprint. Scorsese, Howard, Lumet – you can very often trace this imprint from picture to picture among the most successful filmmakers in history. Some credit Good Morning Vietnam as the performance nurtured by Levinson that freed Robin Williams from the straight-jacket role of Mork from the popular television series, Mork & Mindy.
Levinson’s biggest and most successful film came the following year when he directed Rain Man (1988) for MGM. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, the movie earned over $350 million dollars in box office receipts and solidified Levinson’s status as a bankable filmmaker. Rain Man garnered four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Levinson continued into the 1990’s with a number of successful films including Disclosure (1994), Sleepers (1996), Liberty Heights (1999) and most recently What Just Happened (2008) and the HBO film You Don’t Know Jack (2010) with Al Pacino. Levinson has worked with an all-star roster of actors including Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Al Pacino, Robin Williams and John Turturro among many, many others. Through his television production company with Tom Fontana (The Levinson/Fontana Company) Levinson has served as executive producer for several successful series, including Homicide: Life on the Street for NBC from 1993-1999, and OZ for HBO from 1997-2003.
In 2003, Levinson published his first novel, Sixty-Six, directed two webisode ads for American Express in 2004 and currently blogs for the Huffington Post. At 68, he continues to write, direct and producer and has several projects at imdb.com listed as in development. While he has yet to achieve the kind of house-hold name recognition afforded to many of his peers, he remains a steady source of topical, inviting projects and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Sources and Further News: