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Irvin Kershner

Irvin Kershner

film director
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro film director
Countries United States of America
Occupations Film director Film producer Actor Film actor Film editor
A.K.A. Ирвин Кершнер
Gender male
Birth April 29, 1923 (Philadelphia)
Death November 27, 2010 (Los Angeles)
Education University of Southern California, Temple University, Tyler School of Art, USC School of Cinematic Arts
The details

Irvin Kershner (born Isadore Kershner; April 29, 1923 – November 27, 2010) was an American actor and director of film and television. He gained notice early in his career as a filmmaker for directing quirky, independent films, later moving on to films such as The Empire Strikes Back, the James Bond adaptation Never Say Never Again, and RoboCop 2.


Irvin Kershner was born in Philadelphia, to Jewish parents. 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. 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.

During World War II, Kershner served three years with the U.S. Eighth Air Force as a flight engineer. 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 (1921–1968) 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.

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

Kershner was the son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants. 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."

The Empire Strikes Back

Kershner is best known as the director of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the immediate sequel of the 1977 hit film Star Wars. Kershner was a surprising choice for such a movie. According to Kershner himself, he once asked producer George 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."

Kershner, who was an appealing directorial candidate to Lucas because of his focus on character development, was first reluctant to direct the film. 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." 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."

Later work

Kershner had projects that he was going to be involved with in the late 70s and early 80s. He signed on to direct an adaptation of I, Robot from a script by Harlan Ellison, which was never filmed. 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.

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. In 2000 he was a member of the jury at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival.

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. He and the Founding Director Martha Nell Smith remained close and he served as her advisor until the end of his life.


Kershner, who had been a heavy smoker most of his adult life, died on November 27, 2010 at his home in Los Angeles after three and a half years with lung cancer. Kershner had been working on photography before his death. He is survived by two sons, David and Dana.


  • Winner, Lifetime Career Award – Saturn Awards (2010)
  • Winner, Director of Achievement – Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (2002)
  • Winner, Best Director, The Empire Strikes Back – Saturn Awards (1980)
  • Winner, Best Dramatic Presentation, The Empire Strikes Back – Hugo Awards (1980)
  • Nominee, Best Director, Special Program-Drama, Raid on Entebbe – Emmy Awards (1976)
  • Winner, OCIC Award, Hoodlum Priest – Cannes Film Festival (1961)
  • Nominee, Palme d'Or, Hoodlum Priest – Cannes Film Festival (1961)


Year Title Contribution Notes
1955 Confidential File Director Television series
Episode "Horror Comic Books" (1955)
1958 Stakeout on Dope Street Director, Writer
1959 Now is Tomorrow Director Television film
1959 The Young Captives Director, Producer
1961 Hoodlum Priest Director
1959–1961 The Rebel Director Television series
35 episodes
1961 Cain's Hundred Director Television series
Episode "Degrees of Guilt" (1961)
1961 Ben Casey Director Television series
Episode "My Good Friend Krikor" (1961)
1962–1963 Naked City Director Television series
Episodes "Bringing Far Places Together" (1962)
"And by the Sweat of Thy Brow..." (1963)
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Director Television series
Episode "The End of the World, Baby" (1963)
1963 Face in the Rain Director
1964 The Luck of Ginger Coffey Director
1966 A Fine Madness Director
1967 The Flim-Flam Man Director
1970 Loving Director
1972 Up the Sandbox Director
1974 S*P*Y*S Director
1976 The Return of a Man Called Horse Director
1977 Raid on Entebbe Director Television film
1978 Eyes of Laura Mars Director
1980 The Empire Strikes Back Director
1983 Never Say Never Again Director
1986 Amazing Stories Director Television series
Episode "Hell Toupee" (1986)
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Actor Zebedee
1988 Wildfire Executive producer
1989 Traveling Man Director Television film
1990 RoboCop 2 Director
1993 SeaQuest DSV Director Television series
Pilot episode "To Be or Not to Be" (1993)
1994 On Deadly Ground Actor Walters
1995 Angus Actor Mr. Stoff
1997 American Perfekt Producer
2003 Manhood Actor (as Irv Kershner) Gentleman
2005 Berkeley Actor (as Irv Kershner) Statistics professor
2009 The Lost Tribe Executive producer
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