Joan Micklin Silver, the American film-maker best known for the Jewish-inflected romcom Crossing Delancey and the largely Yiddish-language immigrant romance Hester Street, has died aged 85. The New York Times reported that Silver’s daughter Claudia said the cause of death was vascular dementia.
Silver was both one of the few female directors operating in US cinema in the 1970s, as well as one of the few film-makers that tackled specifically Jewish material – still a rarity in a Hollywood that had traditionally been dominated by Jewish figures in production and studio roles.
After a TV movie based on the F Scott Fitzgerald story Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Silver and her husband teamed up for her second feature, Between the Lines, about the struggles of an alternative newspaper based in Boston that is taken over by a conglomerate. Released in 1977, its cast featured a list of future major names, including Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, Lindsay Crouse and Marilu Henner.
Silver’s third film, a 1979 adaptation of Ann Beattie’s novel ‘Chilly Scenes of Winter, marked a step upwards in financial terms, with backing from Hollywood studio United Artists, but it proved a troubled experience; it became something of a sleeper hit after the original upbeat ending and title were both dispensed with.
Silver marked time with more TV movies until she returned to features in 1988 with what remains her best known film: Crossing Delancey. Like her debut, it was set in the Lower East Side, and also revolved around a female protagonist experiencing the push-pull of tradition and assimilation; the film’s star is Amy Irving, then married to Steven Spielberg. Crossing Delancey shares considerable DNA with When Harry Met Sally, released a year later, as well as the TV sitcom Seinfeld, which also began its nine-year run in 1989.