Love Story director Arthur Hiller dies at 92

Canadian film director Arthur Hiller, whose sentimental Love Story is one of the most popular romantic movies ever made, has died at the age of 92.
Arthur Hiller
Arthur Hiller

NEW YORK • Arthur Hiller, an Oscar-nominated director whose long career in the movies flourished in the 1970s with crowd- pleasers such as the successful Love Story, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 92.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced his death.

Hiller, who for a time was one of Hollywood's most commercially potent directors, piloted almost 70 feature films, television movies and series episodes in a wide range of genres - from the 1975 Holocaust drama, The Man In The Glass Booth, to the 1979 screwball comedy, The In-Laws.

He made two hit films from Neil Simon scripts - The-Out-of-Towners (1970) and Plaza Suite (1971) - and two with the popular comic team of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder: Silver Streak (1976) and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989).

But Hiller's greatest commercial success was Love Story, which grossed an imposing US$106 million in 1970, the equivalent of about US$665 million (S$891 million) today.

Based on a screenplay by Erich Segal (a Yale classics scholar who turned it into a best-selling novel that sold more than five million copies), the film portrayed the tragic romance of a wealthy Harvard law student (Ryan O'Neal) and a Radcliffe music major (Ali MacGraw), the product of a working- class Italian-American family.

In a time of bruising social upheaval, Love Story offered a strong, simple palliative, turning audiences teary-eyed (although some found it sappy) and catapulting the careers of O'Neal and MacGraw.

Writing about the movie after the novel was published, critic Roger Ebert was as admiring of one while he was withering about the other. "The film of Love Story is infinitely better than the book," he wrote.

"I think it has something to do with the quiet taste of Arthur Hiller, its director, who has put in all the things that Segal thought he was being clever to leave out. Things such as colour, character, personality, detail and background."

Hiller's emphatic, uncomplicated direction brought home the themes of class and generational reconciliation embedded in Segal's story, while Francis Lai's score took care of the sentiment.

Characteristically, Hiller brought in the production ahead of schedule and under budget, earning his sole Oscar nomination in the process. (Franklin J. Schaffner won the Oscar for Patton, that year's Best Picture winner.) Love Story earned six other Academy Award nominations, including for Best Actor (O'Neal) and Best Actress (MacGraw). Lai's score won an Oscar.

Hiller's personal favourite among his films, he often said, was The Americanization Of Emily, a 1964 feature set in wartime London about the tentative love affair between a young war widow (Julie Andrews) and an American naval officer (James Garner) as D-Day approaches.

The film strikes an unusual, precarious balance between social comedy and psychological drama and drew on Hiller's wartime experience as a navigator for the Royal Canadian Air Force based in Britain.

Hiller was born on Nov 13, 1923, in Edmonton, Alberta, one of three children of Jewish immigrants from Poland.

His first contact with show business came through his parents, who formed a community theatre in Edmonton to present plays in Yiddish. He helped his parents build and paint sets and made his acting debut at age 11.

He is survived by his daughter, son and five grandchildren.

His wife, Gwen Hiller, a social worker and librarian, died in June, also at 92. She was born in Edmonton 10 days before her husband.

Their family has noted that when they were schoolmates, he proposed to her when they were eight years old. Their marriage, in 1948, lasted 68 years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Love Story that touched audiences'. Print Edition | Subscribe