Although actor/director Paul Mazursky enjoyed a lengthy and successful career spanning several decades, he rose to his greatest prominence during the 1970s, an era during which his films probed with uncommon insight and depth. Born Irwin Mazursky on April 25, 1930, in Brooklyn, NY, he studied literature at the nearby Brooklyn College. There he began acting, winning acclaim for a leading role in a 1950 campus revival of Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped. His performance caught the eye of scenarist Howard Sackler, who introduced the young actor to an aspiring filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick. Mazursky then took a leave of absence from his studies to travel to California to appear in Kubrick's little-seen debut feature, Fear and Desire, for which he changed his first name to Paul. Upon graduating in 1951, he migrated to Greenwich Village, where he studied method acting under Lee Strasberg. He also appeared in a number of stock productions, ranging from Death of a Salesman to The Seagull.
In 1955, Mazursky returned to the screen, appearing as a juvenile delinquent in Richard Brooks' The Blackboard Jungle. Major success continued to elude him, however, and he spent the next several years regularly appearing in small roles on television and both on and off-Broadway. He also appeared as a standup comic, first performing with fellow comedian Herb Hartig in an act billed as "Igor and H" and later touring the nation as a solo act. In 1959, Mazursky relocated to Los Angeles, forging a collaboration with fellow struggling performer Larry Tucker while working with the U.C.L.A. repertory company. In 1963, he and Tucker were both signed as writers for television's Danny Kaye Show, and two years later they penned the pilot for The Monkees. In 1966, Mazursky also appeared in Vic Morrow's low-budget Deathwatch, making his first return to film in over a decade. With the short subject Last Year at Malibu -- a parody of the Alain Resnais masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad -- Mazursky made his directorial debut, and in 1968 he and Tucker wrote the screenplay for the feature I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.