Scholars, writers and other researchers can go behind the scenes of some of America’s most beloved classic films as long-sealed materials from the Mirisch Corp., one of Hollywood’s most successful production houses, are now available at UCLA Library.
Founded by Walter Mirisch, along with his brothers Marvin and Harold in the late 1950s, the Mirisch Corp. produced hit movies like “Some Like it Hot” (1959), “The Apartment” (1960), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “West Side Story” (1961), “The Great Escape” (1963) and “In the Heat of the Night” (1967).
Walter Mirisch, who died Feb. 24, was an active member of The UCLA Foundation board of directors for many years. He was 101. In 1989, he received the UCLA Medal, the campus’s highest honor.
“The Mirisch Company (and its other entities) is arguably the most important independent film production company of the mid-20th century, especially during its early and hugely successful partnership with United Artists,” said Miki Bulos, performing arts curator at UCLA Library Special Collections. “If the company only produced ‘The Apartment,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ — all of which are represented in the collection — it would be enough to ensure its place in Hollywood history.”
The collection includes copies of scripts for films and television shows produced by Walter Mirisch and the Mirisch Corp., location photos, fan letters and Mirisch’s personal correspondence with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and most influential businesspeople.
“The good-humored Walter Mirisch was respected by a wide range of Hollywood talent, and his immensely successful company cultivated long-term relationships with auteur directors such as Norman Jewison, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise and William Wyler,” said Todd Wiener, motion picture curator at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library. “Mirisch’s generous, passionate and persistent spirit is present throughout the collection in his correspondences with everyone from the biggest names in the business to fans in middle school.”
Walter Mirisch was born in 1921 in New York City, where he and his brothers were raised by Polish-Jewish parents. After serving in military manufacturing during World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1942 and graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration the following year.
He moved to Hollywood to apply his new business expertise to a personal passion — movies. Walter Mirisch began producing films for Monogram Pictures and became an executive producer at Allied Artists in 1951. He took the next step in his career in 1957 when he formed the Mirisch Corp., which won Best Picture Oscars for “The Apartment” and “West Side Story.”
In 1967, Walter Mirisch won an Academy Award for his work on “In the Heat of the Night,” and was named Producer of the Year by the Producers Guild of America. He was active in his community, serving four terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and three terms as president of the Producers Guild of America.
The Mirisch Corp. records are held in UCLA Library Special Collections, which stewards the campus’s rare and unique materials and is also home to hundreds of other collections related to performing arts. Related collections include Collection of Motion Picture Scripts, 1921-; Collection of Motion Picture Posters, 1924-1996; Dorothy Arzner Papers, ca. 1920-1979; and Television Stills Collection 1950-.