Joan Micklin Silver, the filmmaker behind movies like Loverboy, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Big Girls Don’t Cry … They Get Even, died on Thursday at the age of 85. The director’s daughter, Claudia Silver, confirmed her passing to the New York Times on Friday, giving the cause of death as vascular dementia.
Having started her career writing children’s education films for Encyclopedia Britannica and the Learning Corporation of America, Silver’s first feature, 1975’s Hester Street, was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2011. An adaptation of author Abraham Cahan’s 1896 novel Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, about a Jewish immigrant couple living on the Lower East Size, studios felt Silver’s low-budget passion project was too niche and too ethnic to be marketable, as the dialogue is mostly in Yiddish. The director and her husband Raphael D. Silver eventually secured distribution, as well a Best Actress Oscar nom for Hester Street star Carol Kane.
As the Times observes, Silver found herself up against both anti-Semitism and sexism as she attempted to tell Jewish stories in, and despite, the ’70s studio system. “I had such blatantly sexist things said to me by studio executives when I started,” the director said in an American Film Institute interview in 1979. For example, “‘Feature films are very expensive to mount and distribute, and women directors are one more problem we don’t need.’”
Silver would go on to direct seven features and a host of television movies. 1977’s Between the Lines features Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, and Marilu Henner as some of the young journalists working at an alternative newspaper in Boston. 1988’s Crossing Delancey, based on the play by Susan Sandler, earned leading lady Amy Irving a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination for her turn as a single Jewish bookstore employee torn between an author and the local bachelor selected by her grandmother’s matchmaker.
Silver’s final feature, 1998’s A Carp in the Bathtub, starred Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, and Mark Ruffalo, while her final project was the 2003 TV movie Hunger Point. She’s survived by three daughters, Claudia, Marisa, and Dina, a sister, and five grandchildren.