Irvin Kershner
Isadore Kershner

(1923-04-29)April 29, 1923
DiedNovember 27, 2010(2010-11-27) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Occupation(s)Film director, producer, actor
Years active1952–2009

Irvin Kershner (born Isadore Kershner; April 29, 1923 – November 27, 2010) was an American director for film and television.

Early in his career as a filmmaker he directed quirky, independent drama films, while working as a lecturer at the University of Southern California. Later, he transitioned to high-budget blockbusters such as The Empire Strikes Back, the James Bond adaptation Never Say Never Again and RoboCop 2. Through the course of his career, he received numerous accolades, including being nominated for both a Primetime Emmy Award and a Palme d'Or.

Early life

Irvin Kershner was born in Philadelphia, to Russian-Jewish parents. They were born in Talne, Russian Empire.[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.[3]

During World War II, Kershner served three years with the U.S. Eighth Air Force as a flight engineer.[4] 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 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.[5]

He then moved on to feature films, including: The 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 Michael Sarrazin, George C. Scott and Sue Lyon); Loving (with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint); Up the Sandbox (with Barbra Streisand); The Return of a Man Called Horse (starring Richard Harris); the critically acclaimed TV movie Raid on Entebbe (a 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).[6]

Kershner was the son of Jewish immigrants.[7] 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."[8]

The Empire Strikes Back

Kershner directed The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the sequel of the 1977 hit film Star Wars.[9] Writer-producer George Lucas knew Kershner as a teacher in the film program at USC School of Cinematic Arts.[10] Kershner was a surprising choice in directing the film. According to Kershner himself, he once asked 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."[11]

Kershner, who was an appealing directorial candidate to Lucas because of his concern for character development, was at first reluctant to direct the film.[12] 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."[13] 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".[14]

Kershner turned down a chance to direct Return of the Jedi (1983), having spent almost three years of work on The Empire Strikes Back. Richard Marquand was eventually chosen to direct the third film in the original trilogy. Kershner stated, in retrospect, that he would have accepted an offer to direct one of the films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy had they been produced sooner, as Lucas originally estimated the first of them to be ready for release in 1988 rather than in 1999.[12]

Later work

Kershner had projects that he was going to be involved with in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He signed on to direct an adaptation of I, Robot from a script by Harlan Ellison, which was never filmed.[15] Later, he was initially hired by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown to direct an adaptation of Eric Van Lustbader's novel The Ninja from scripts by W.D. Richter and Tom Cole, but the project was cancelled following months of pre-production.[16]

After 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.[17] In 2000, he was a member of the jury at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival.[18]

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, where he also provided cinematography training.[19] 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 a 3+12-year battle with lung cancer.[4][7] Kershner had been working on photographic projects before his death.[20] He was looked after by his two sons, David and Dana.[7]



As director

Year Title Notes
1958 Stakeout on Dope Street Also screenwriter
1959 The Young Captives
1961 The Hoodlum Priest OCIC Award
Nominated- Palme d'Or
1963 Face in the Rain
1964 The Luck of Ginger Coffey
1966 A Fine Madness
1967 The Flim-Flam Man
1970 Loving
1972 Up the Sandbox
1974 S*P*Y*S
1976 The Return of a Man Called Horse
1978 Eyes of Laura Mars
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Saturn Award for Best Director
Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
1983 Never Say Never Again
1990 RoboCop 2

As actor

Year Title Role Director Notes
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Zebedee Martin Scorsese
1990 RoboCop 2 Gerber Himself Uncredited
1994 On Deadly Ground Walters Steven Seagal
1995 Angus Mr. Stoff Patrick Read Johnson
2003 Manhood Gentleman Bobby Roth
2005 Berkeley Statistics Professor (final film role)

As producer

Year Title Director Notes
1988 Wildfire Zalman King Executive
1997 American Perfekt Paul Chart
2009 The Lost Tribe Roel Reiné Executive

Television director

Year Title Notes
1955 Confidential File Episode: "Horror Comic Books"
1959 Now Is Tomorrow Television film
1959–61 The Rebel 35 episodes
1961 Cain's Hundred Episode: "Degrees of Guilt"
Ben Casey Episode: "My Good Friend Krikor"
1962–1963 Naked City 2 episodes
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Episode: "The End of the World, Baby"
1977 Raid on Entebbe Television film

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Special Program

1986 Amazing Stories Episode: "Hell Toupee"
1989 Traveling Man Television film
1993 SeaQuest DSV Episode: "To Be or Not to Be"


Awards and nominations


  1. ^ Barson, Michael. "Biography – Irvin Kershner, American director". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  2. ^ Myers, Joseph (December 9, 2010). "In Memoriam: Irvin Kershner joins the Force". South Philly Review. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  3. ^ "USC Cinematic Arts | School of Cinematic Arts News". Retrieved May 4, 2022.
  4. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (November 30, 2010). "Irvin Kershner dies at 87; film director". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  5. ^ "Acclaimed Director Irvin Kershner Passes". Television Academy. Retrieved May 4, 2022.
  6. ^ "Irvin Kershner". Retrieved May 4, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce (November 29, 2010). "Irvin Kershner, Hollywood Director, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Famed Jewish Hollywood director, Irvin Kershner, dies at 87". Haaretz. The Associated Press. November 29, 2010. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  10. ^ "George Lucas Mourns the Death of His Friend, Colleague, and Mentor Irving Kershner". Collider. November 30, 2010.
  11. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (November 29, 2010). "'Empire Strikes Back' director Irvin Kershner: An appreciation". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Ryan, Mike (October 18, 2010). "In Hindsight, 'Empire Strikes Back' Director Irvin Kershner Would've Helmed One of the Prequels". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  13. ^ Allan, Jani. Fasten your seatbelts! The force is with you again Sunday Times (South Africa). June 1, 1980
  14. ^ Director's commentary on the Empire Strikes Back DVD.
  15. ^ Weil, Ellen; Wolfe, Gary K. (2002). Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever. Ohio State University Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0814250891.
  16. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (April 19, 1983). "Zanuck/Brown Leaving Fox". The New York Times. p. 19. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  17. ^ "In Memoriam: Irvin Kershner". School of Cinematic Arts. University of Southern California. November 30, 2010. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  18. ^ "22nd Moscow International Film Festival". Moscow International Film Festival. 2000. Archived from the original on November 18, 2017. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  19. ^ Harrison, Regina (January 2003). "'Mined to Death' Documentary Film". Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  20. ^ Dichiara, Tom (November 27, 2010). "Irvin Kershner, Director Of 'The Empire Strikes Back,' Dies At 87". MTV News. MTV. Archived from the original on June 16, 2015. Retrieved December 21, 2015.