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Mel Stuart, Award-Winning Documentarian, Dies at 83

By Tom White

Mel Stuart, whose career in film and television spanned nearly six decades and 150 films, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles at 83. The cause was cancer, as his daughter Madeline Stuart told the Associated Press.

While Stuart will always be best known for the classic 1971 feature Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, his documentary canon was prodigious. His Making of the President series, which covered the US presidential campaigns of 1960, 1964 and 1968, earned him an Emmy for the 1960 installment. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature  for his 1965 film Four Days in November. His 1973 film Wattstaxx, about a music festival featuring some of the greatest R&B artists of the time, takes a scintillating look at the state of Black America in the early 1970s, through the brilliant perspective of comedian Richard Pryor, making his cinematic debut. Stuart made profiles of artist Man Ray and filmmaker Billy Wilder for the PBS series American Masters, and one of his last documentaries, The Hobart Shakespearians, aired in PBS' POV in 2005 and was selected among the films in the US State Department-sponsored American Documentary Showcase, a cultural diplomacy program that toured to 50 countries around the world from 2009 through 2011. In recognition of the breadth and depth of his work, Stuart was honored with the IDA Pioneer Award in 2003.

Stuart was also one of the founding members of the International Documentary Association, and served as its Board President in 1994 and 1995. In the early 2000s, he and attorney Michael Donaldson spearheaded the Documentary Credits Coalition, working with cable giants Discovery Communications, National Geographic and Scripps to persuade them to improve their credit roll on their aired programs. And throughout his career, Stuart always dedicated himself to giving back as a mentor to scores of documentary filmmakers, following the example of his mentor, the late great television magnate David Wolper.    


Here are some more articles about Mel Stuart from the Documentary archives:

2003 Pioneer Award


The Hobart Shakespearians

For an appreciation by filmmaker David Vassar, click here.


Mel Stuart on his last day at his office, July 26, 2012. Photo: Harrison Engle