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Paul Mazursky

Film writer and director

Film writer and director

Born April 25, 1930; Died June 30, 2014.

Paul Mazursky, who has died aged 84, reflected changing social values in the West in the second half of the 20th century, or perhaps more specifically in liberal, middle-class America, with a series of comedy-dramas that delighted both audiences and critics, beginning with the wife-swap movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

It was one of the biggest hits of 1970, made a star of Elliott Gould, revived Natalie Wood's career and led to a spate of Hollywood movies about the new "permissive society".

Robert Culp, Wood, Gould and Dyan Cannon play married couples who are best friends. Culp and Wood return from a hippy retreat with new ideas on free love, and Cannon, the most conservative in the group, eventually suggests they swap partners during a trip to Las Vegas.

Mazursky always had a fine sense of the ridiculous and Gould has one of the best lines when he says: "First, we'll have an orgy, then we'll go see Tony Bennett."

Mazursky's other films included An Unmarried Woman (1978) and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), and he achieved some notable successes with actors and actresses who were not exactly A-List, steering Art Carney, a television actor with a drink problem, to the Best Actor Oscar for Harry and Tonto (1974).

It was part of a spate of road movies, but instead of hippy adventurers as protagonists, it had Harry, an elderly widower played by Carney, and Tonto, his elderly cat.

Mazursky's family originally came from Ukraine, his father worked as a labourer and his mother played piano at dancing classes. He was born Irwin Mazursky in Brooklyn, New York, in 1930. His original intention was to become an actor and in his early twenties he had a starring role in Stanley Kubrick's debut feature Fear and Desire (1953). But Mazursky also began writing for television and scripted the comedy I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968), in which Peter Sellers plays a lawyer who runs off with a hippy girl. He got his chance to direct with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

He was sometimes compared with Woody Allen, who starred in Scenes from a Mall (1991), one of Mazursky's final films. They were cinema's equivalent of singer-songwriters, writing and directing films that drew from their own lives and social milieus.

Mazursky directed 15 feature films and was nominated for an Oscar for the scripts for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Harry and Tonto, An Unmarried Woman and Enemies: A Love Story (1989), and also as producer for best picture for An Unmarried Woman, but he never won. He also continued acting and had recurring roles in The Sopranos (2000-01) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (2004-09).

He is survived by his wife and a daughter.

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