Joseph Sargent, who directed The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and MacArthur for the big screen and captured three Emmys for his telefilm work, died Monday at his home in Malibu from the lung disease COPD, publicist Dick Guttman announced. He was 89.
Sargent worked behind the network camera until he was 84 — his last project was the 2008 CBS/Hallmark telefilm Sweet Nothing in My Ear, starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin in the story of a deaf couple struggling to decide whether to give their deaf son a cochlear implant.
He also recently directed Jessica Lange in the multiple-personality drama Sybil (2007) for CBS and guided a pair of HBO projects that won Emmys for outstanding made-for-television movie: Something the Lord Made (2004), starring Mos Def as a pioneering heart surgeon eradicating racial barriers, and Warm Springs (2005), with Kenneth Branagh as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Sargent received an Emmy in 1973 for directing the pilot episode of the gritty CBS cop drama Kojak, one of his nine career Emmy noms. He also reeled in four Directors Guild of America awards from nine noms.
“With eight DGA Awards nominations in movies for television, more than any other director in this category, Joe embodied directorial excellence on the small screen,” DGA president Paris Barclay said in a statement. “He was unafraid of taking risks, believing in his heart that television audiences demanded the highest quality stories — whether chronicling uncomfortable historic events like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study in Miss Evers’ Boys or compelling personal stories about inspiring individuals like heart surgery pioneers Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas in Something the Lord Made.
“His biographies demonstrated an exactitude for period accuracy while simultaneously infusing historical figures with true-to-life spirit and passion. Joe once said that he was drawn to projects possessing “edge” — material that can make some comment or contribution to the condition of man, and it is this edge that is his enduring directorial legacy.”
He directed Emmy-winning performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander in the Auschwitz drama Playing for Time (1980), and by Amanda Plummer in the family reunion tale Miss Rose White (1992).
Sargent won his telefilm Emmys for directing Love Is Never Silent (1985), starring Mare Winningham, Cloris Leachman and Sid Caesar; Caroline? (1990), with Stephanie Zimbalist; and Miss Rose White.
In addition to the taut New York City subway hostage drama The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) starring Walter Matthau and the 1977 biopic MacArthur toplined by Gregory Peck, Sargent directed the features The Hell With Heroes (1968) starring Rod Taylor; White Lightning (1973) with Burt Reynolds; and Jaws: The Revenge (1987).
Born Giuseppe Danielle Sorgente on July 22, 1925, in Jersey City, N.J., Sargent served during World War II, then studied acting at the Actors Studio in New York under Lee Strasberg.
He gained experience in episodic TV as an actor, then directed for such series as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Lassie, The Fugitive, Star Trek (the 1966 episode "The Corbomite Maneuver") and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Sargent and his wife of 44 years, Carolyn, helped co-found Deaf West Theatre and the Free Arts Clinic for Abused Children. Recently, he served as Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence for the directing program at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles and as the first professor of a masters program in film directing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, where he and his wife resided for 40 years.
In addition to his wife, survivors include daughters Lia and Athena (from his previous marriage to the late Simon & Simon actress Mary Carver) and nieces Charlotte and Emma.