Joan Micklin Silver Dies: Barrier-Breaking Film Director For ‘Hester Street’ And ‘Crossing Delancey’ Was 85

Bruce Haring
·2 min read

Joan Micklin Silver, a film director who broke several barriers for female filmmakers, died Thursday at her Manhattan home. She was 85 and her death was attributed to vascular dementia by her daughter.

Silver’s 1975 film Hester Street, the story of an immigrant Jewish couple on the Lower East Side of Manhattan set in the 1890s, was turned down by various studios as “too ethnic.” Silver also faced discrimination as a female film director. So backed by family members, she made the movie on a low budget in 34 days. The black and white film was in Yiddish with English subtitles.

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Ms. Silver’s husband, Raphael D. Silver, was a tireless supporter. A commercial real estate developer, he financed the film and even worked to get it distribution. The film went on to earn $5 million after its October 1975 debut, a massive increase from its $370,000 budget. Actress Carol Kane was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.

The objections that faced Hester Street were repeated in the 1980s when Silver wanted to make Crossing Delancey, a romantic comedy starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. This time, director Steven Spielberg was a supporter, and suggested she send the script to a Warner Entertainment executive.

The film resonated with him, and Crossing Delancey went on to gross more than $116 millioin worldwide.

Born May 24, 1935, in Omaha, Micklin was the child of Russian immigrants. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York and married three weeks after graduation. She taught music and dabbled in local theater in the Cleveland, Ohio area for the 11 years following that, then moved to New York with the family in 1967.

She worked with Linda Gottlieb at the Learning Corporation of America and they wrote and produced educational and documentary short films, including The Immigrant Experience in 1972.

The team went on to write screenplays, with Silver and Gottlieb’s Limbo making it to Universal Studios.

Silver went on to write Off Broadway theater, and directed seven feature films and a half-dozen television movies. Her final film was 2003’s Hunger Point.

Survivors include daughters Claudia, Dina and Marisa Silver; a sister, Renee; and five grandchildren. Her husband died in 2013 after a skiing accident.

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