Biography

The director who struck gold with such 1970s box-office hits as Airport 1975 (1974) and Midway, Jack Smight's story is an example of a man utilizing his true-life experiences to craft a successful film career, with his wartime experiences offering more than adequate creative fuel for an enduring career in film. The son of Irish immigrants, Smight was born in Minneapolis and joined the Army Air Corps as soon as he came of age. His training as a navigator ultimately preparing him for the missions in the Pacific that he would fly during World War II, Smight's prowess in the sky provided him with numerous experiences that would later be echoed in his enduring cinematic career. Meeting up with former high school chum and bandmate Pete Arness (later Peter Graves) upon enrolling as a drama major in the University of Minnesota after the war, the duo frequently appeared on-stage together and, with the blessings of their significant others, set out for Hollywood in early 1949. Greeted at the train depot by Peter's older brother James (of Gunsmoke fame), the older Arness offered the useful advice to either start cooking or get out of the kitchen -- and the kitchen was soon filling with the smell of a gourmet meal. Though Smight would initially gain attention for his acting skills, a desire to work behind the scenes found him landing a job at NBC in hopes of educating himself about film and video. Soon promoted and working on both coasts following successful training on The Colgate Comedy Hour, Smight earned his first Emmy as a result of his directorial debut. Moving on to television work which included impressive credits for Naked City, The Twilight Zone, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Smight's feature debut came with the 1964 feature I'd Rather be Rich, a remake of the 1941 comedy It Started With Eve. Numerous features followed throughout the 1960s and '70s, with a confident Smight frequently moving between television and film. Sitting comfortably in the captain's chair for the 1974 sequel Airport 1975, Smight's wartime experiences proved elemental to the film's success. Two years later those wartime experiences would once again come in handy for Midway, a feature that wove the intriguing tale of a pivotal battle in the Pacific during World War II. In the following years, Smight would take the helm for such features as Damnation Alley (1977) and Number One With a Bullet (1987); his prolific work in the 1970s would ultimately prove his career high point. His last film was the 1989 adventure The Favorite. On September 1, 2003, Jack Smight died of cancer in his Valencia, CA, home. He was 78. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi