Irvin Kershner

Irvin Kershner
Born (1923-04-29)April 29, 1923
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died November 27, 2010(2010-11-27) (aged 87)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Alma mater University of Southern California
Occupation Film director
Years active 1952–2009

Irvin Kershner (born Isadore Kershner; April 29, 1923  November 27, 2010) was an American director of film and television and actor, best known for directing quirky, independent films early in his career, and then The Empire Strikes Back, the James Bond adaptation Never Say Never Again, and RoboCop 2.


Irvin Kershner was born in Philadelphia in 1923.[1] His artistic and cultural background was a mixture of music and art. The study of music (violin, viola, and composition) was the most important activity of his early years.[2] He attended Temple University's Tyler School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Later, he went to New York and Provincetown to study with the famous painting teacher Hans Hofmann. He then moved to Los Angeles where he studied photography at the Art Center College of Design.

During World War II, Kershner served three years with the U.S. Eighth Air Force as a flight engineer.[3] He later began his film career at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, teaching photography and taking cinema courses under Slavko Vorkapić, a montage artist and then dean of the School. Kershner then accepted a job as still photographer on a State Department film project in Iran under the Point Four Program, which ultimately led to an assignment as a director and cinematographer of documentaries in Iran, Greece and Turkey with the United States Information Service.

When he returned to the States, he and Paul Coates (1921–1968) developed Confidential File, a documentary television series. Kershner worked as writer, director, cinematographer, and editor. He later developed and directed the television series The Rebel (1959–61), as well as the pilots for Peyton Place, Cain's Hundred, Philip Marlowe, and others.

He then moved on to feature films, including: Hoodlum Priest (which starred Don Murray); The Luck of Ginger Coffey (with Robert Shaw and Mary Ure); A Fine Madness (with Sean Connery, Joanne Woodward, and Jean Seberg); The Flim-Flam Man (starring George C. Scott); Up the Sandbox (with Barbra Streisand); Loving (with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint); The Return of a Man Called Horse (starring Richard Harris); the critically acclaimed TV movie Raid on Entebbe (an intense true-life drama which was nominated for nine Emmys, including Best Direction); and the supernatural thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (starring Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones).

Kershner was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants.[4] He considered himself an internationalist, saying "I've been a student of Christianity. I've been interested in the historical basis of the Muslim religion. I studied Buddhism. I don't think of myself as a Jew except by birth, as I don't follow the customs. I'm a Jew because other people consider me so. My pride is in being international."[5]

The Empire Strikes Back

Kershner is best known as the director of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the immediate sequel of the 1977 hit film Star Wars.[6] Kershner was a surprising choice for such a movie. According to Kershner himself, he once asked producer George Lucas, "Of all the younger guys around, all the hot-shots, why me?" Lucas replied, "Well, because you know everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know, but you're not Hollywood."[7]

Kershner, who was an appealing directorial candidate to Lucas because of his focus on character development, was first reluctant to direct the film.[8] When asked by Lucas to work on the project over lunch, Kershner refused. Kershner's agent was told about the meeting and encouraged him to take the job. Kershner later discussed his motivations: "I was grabbed by the fairytale which Lucas invented and wanted to be part of keeping it alive."[9] Of his cinematic style, Kershner has said, "I like to fill up the frame with the characters' faces. There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face."[10]

Later work

After The Empire Strikes Back, Kershner directed Never Say Never Again (Sean Connery's return to the role of James Bond), the HBO film Traveling Man (starring John Lithgow and Jonathan Silverman, this film earned Kershner an ACE Award nomination), and RoboCop 2. He also directed the pilot of the television series seaQuest DSV, and he made his debut as an actor in the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), in which he played Zebedee, the father of the apostles James and John. He played a film director in Steven Seagal's On Deadly Ground. He was a faculty member at the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.[11] In 2000 he was a member of the jury at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival.[12]

In fall 2002, spring 2003, fall 2004, and spring 2004, Kershner served as a Visiting Professor and Research Associate at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, College Park. He and the Founding Director Martha Nell Smith remained close and he served as her advisor until the end of his life.


Kershner died on November 27, 2010 at his home in Los Angeles after three and a half years with lung cancer.[4][3] Kershner had been working on photography before his death.[13] He is survived by two sons, David and Dana.[4]



Year Title Contribution Notes
1955 Confidential File Director Television series
Episode "Horror Comic Books" (1955)
1958 Stakeout on Dope Street Director, Writer
1959 Now is Tomorrow Director Television movie
1959 The Young Captives Director, Producer
1961 Hoodlum Priest Director
1959–1961 The Rebel Director Television series
35 episodes
1961 Cain's Hundred Director Television series
Episode "Degrees of Guilt" (1961)
1961 Ben Casey Director Television series
Episode "My Good Friend Krikor" (1961)
1962–1963 Naked City Director Television series
Episodes "Bringing Far Places Together" (1962)
"And by the Sweat of Thy Brow..." (1963)
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Director Television series
Episode "The End of the World, Baby" (1963)
1963 Face in the Rain Director
1964 The Luck of Ginger Coffey Director
1966 A Fine Madness Director
1967 The Flim-Flam Man Director
1970 Loving Director
1972 Up the Sandbox Director
1974 S*P*Y*S Director
1976 The Return of a Man Called Horse Director
1977 Raid on Entebbe Director Television movie
1978 Eyes of Laura Mars Director
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Director
1983 Never Say Never Again Director
1986 Amazing Stories Director Television series
Episode "Hell Toupee" (1986)
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Actor Zebedee
1988 Wildfire Executive producer
1989 Traveling Man Director Television movie
1990 RoboCop 2 Director
1993 SeaQuest DSV Director Television series
Pilot episode "To Be or Not to Be" (1993)
1994 On Deadly Ground Actor Walters
1995 Angus Actor Mr. Stoff
1997 American Perfekt Producer
2003 Manhood Actor (as Irv Kershner) Gentleman
2005 Berkeley Actor (as Irv Kershner) Statistics professor
2009 The Lost Tribe Executive producer


  1. Barson, Michael. "Biography – Irvin Kershner, American director". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
  2. Myers, Joseph (December 9, 2010). "In Memoriam: Irvin Kershner joins the Force". South Philly Review. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  3. 1 2 McLellan, Dennis (November 30, 2010). "Irvin Kershner dies at 87; film director". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  4. 1 2 3 Weber, Bruce (November 29, 2010). "Irvin Kershner, Hollywood Director, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  5. Arnold, Alan (1980). Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Sphere Books. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-3452-9075-5.
  6. The Associated Press (November 29, 2010). "Famed Jewish Hollywood director, Irvin Kershner, dies at 87". Haaretz. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  7. Nashawaty, Chris (November 29, 2010). "'Empire Strikes Back' director Irvin Kershner: An appreciation". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  8. Ryan, Mike (October 18, 2010). "In Hindsight, 'Empire Strikes Back' Director Irvin Kershner Would've Helmed One of the Prequels". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  9. Allan, Jani. Fasten your seatbelts! The force is with you again Sunday Times (South Africa). 1 June 1980
  10. Director's commentary on the Empire Strikes Back DVD.
  11. "In Memoriam: Irvin Kershner". USC School of Cinematic Arts. November 30, 2010. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
  12. "22nd Moscow International Film Festival (2000)". MIFF. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  13. Dichiara, Tom (November 27, 2010). "Irvin Kershner, Director Of 'The Empire Strikes Back,' Dies At 87". MTV. Retrieved 2015-12-21.

External links

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