The University of Wisconsin Press

Film / Autobiography / Popular Culture


I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History
Walter Mirisch
Forewords by Sidney Poitier and Elmore Leonard

Wisconsin Film Studies

Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

“Legendary producer, visionary filmmaker, courageous seeker of truth, especially in troubling times.”—Sidney Poitier, from his foreword

This is a moving, star-filled account of one of Hollywood’s true golden ages as told by a man in the middle of it all. Walter Mirisch’s company has produced some of the most entertaining and enduring classics in film history, including West Side Story, Some Like It Hot, In the Heat of the Night, and The Magnificent Seven. His work has led to eighty-seven Academy Award nominations and twenty-eight Oscars. Illustrated with rare photographs from his personal collection, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History reveals Mirisch’s own experience of Hollywood in its golden days and tells the stories of the stars—emerging and established—who appeared in his films, including Natalie Wood, John Wayne, Peter Sellers, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, and many others.

With hard-won insight and gentle humor, Mirisch recounts how he witnessed the end of the studio system, the development of independent production, and the rise and fall of some of Hollywood’s most gifted (and notorious) cultural icons. A producer with a passion for creative excellence, he offers insights into his innovative filmmaking process, revealing a rare ingenuity for placating the demands of auteur directors, weak-kneed studio executives, and troubled screen sirens.

From his early start as a movie theater usher to the presentation of such masterpieces as The Apartment, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Great Escape, Mirisch tells the inspiring life story of his climb to the highest echelon of the American film industry. This book assures Mirisch’s legacy—as Elmore Leonard puts it—as “one of the good guys.”

This is a photo of author Walter Mirisch in the autumn.Walter Mirisch is the producer, in whole or in part, of more than one hundred films. Among the Mirisch Company’s honors are three Oscars for best picture—The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961), and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Mirisch has also received two honorary Academy Awards, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1977) and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1983); he has been honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award (1977) presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures (1995) presented by the Producers Guild of America. He has been decorated by the Republic of France with its Order of Arts and Letters, has received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and is a recipient of the UCLA Medal, that university’s highest award. Mirisch served three terms as president of the Producers Guild of America and four terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History Book Promo:

UW Madison Walter Mirisch Interview:


“From Bomba, the Jungle Boy to Some Like It Hot and In the Heat of the Night . . . Walter Mirisch produced many of the films which dazzled and inspired me. (And I’m not kidding about Bomba. I loved those movies as a kid.) When I later acted in one of his (lesser) productions, The Spikes Gang, I learned that a prolific and brilliant producer could also be a terrific guy and a wonderful teacher. No surprise then that Walter has given us a wise and utterly engrossing look at his life . . . and extraordinary experiences in this film business.”
—Ron Howard

“Walter Mirisch’s love of movies led him to make some of the best films that the industry has produced. Whether as producer or as an executive of one of the best production companies in town, he has seen it all and now can tell it all to you from his own fiercely independent perspective.”
—Steven Spielberg

“Walter Mirisch has written the quintessential behind-the-scenes book on the glory days of Hollywood. If you ever wanted to know everything there was to know, this will surely be touted as a ‘bible’ of our industry—for Walter tells it as it really was, with the integrity for which he is known and loved. It is an engaging story; insightful and entertaining, poignant with personal anecdotes.”
—Julie Andrews and Blake Edwards

“A compelling look at a remarkable life and the inside scoop on how the film business really works.”
—Larry King

“The book is jammed with nifty behind-the-scenes tales and anecdotes he has collected on and off the set.”
—Robert Osborne, Hollywood Reporter

“I love learning things I didn’t know about the movie business. That’s why I enjoyed Walter Mirisch’s memoir so much; it’s full of insights and revelations drawn from his long and storied career. . . . I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History is a panoramic look at the film industry from the 1940s to the 1990s, with all its highs and lows. I would call it a must-read.”
—Leonard Maltin

“Mirisch’s engaging memoir, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, is exactly the kind of book anyone who has had the privilege of knowing Mirisch over the decades would have expected of him. It is unpretentious, straightforward and is suffused with a sustaining love of family and of filmmaking. He takes an honest pride in his accomplishments and accolades while sharing the credit with his collaborators but takes full responsibility for the inevitable failures and disappointments that beset all filmmakers.”
Los Angeles Times

“It’s really very simple: The movies he produced are Walter Mirisch’s greatest testament. Some Like It Hot. The Apartment. The Magnificent Seven. The Great Escape. West Side Story. In the Heat of the Night. The Pink Panther. A Shot in the Dark. The Party. Man of the West. The Thomas Crown Affair. Fiddler on the Roof. It is an amazing roster of quality that has, as they say, stood the test of time, including three Best Picture winners (The Apartment, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night). Mirisch’s new memoir, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, is a detailed, precise record of a working producer. It’s not about the accumulation of power or money, nor is it about making movies as an excuse to snag women. It is, rather, a comprehensive account of how movies get made — their creative and financial organization.”
—Scott Eyman, Palm Beach Post

“Quite a read. . . . In Mirisch’s moving, candid, star-filled memoir—illustrated with rare photos from his personal collection—he tells a lifetime’s worth of astounding stories about how movies get made and shares his hard-won insight with gentle humor.”
On Wisconsin


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There is also a press kit with downloadable images of the cover and other reviewer specific information.

The cover of Mirisch's book features a photo collage of Walter Mirisch with his awards, in front of a background with a running list of all the famous movies he helped produce.

April 2008
LC: 2007046830  PN
470 pp.  6 x 9  59 b/w photos

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Cloth $29.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-22640-4
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Produced by the Mirisch Company:

  • Some Like It Hot
  • West Side Story
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • The Great Escape
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • The Apartment
  • The Pink Panther
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Hawaii
  • The Horse Soldiers
  • One, Two, Three
  • Man of the West
  • The Children’s Hour
  • The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
  • Toys in the Attic
  • Two for the Seesaw
  • The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Midway
  • How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
  • Same Time, Next Year
  • The Landlord
  • Wichita
  • Mr. Majestyk
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Organization
  • The Party
  • A Shot in the Dark
  • Irma La Douce








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