American director Sidney Lumet originally planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, Yiddish Art Theatre actor Baruch Lumet. On-stage from the age of five, the younger Lumet studied at New York's Professional Children's School and acted in numerous Broadway productions, most notably Dead End. With several other New York-based actors, Lumet was featured in the agitprop film drama One Third of a Nation (1939); he played Sylvia Sidney's crippled kid brother, sparking the film's climax by setting fire to a disease-ridden tenement house and perishing in the conflagration.
After wartime service, Lumet decided he'd had enough of acting and started to focus on the production end of the business. Working his way up the summer stock ladder, Lumet began directing for live television in 1950, working on such distinguished series as Omnibus and Studio One, and filmed anthologies like Alcoa-Goodyear Theatre. He directed his first film, Twelve Angry Men (1957), at the request of producer/star Henry Fonda; the director later confessed that it was a grueling learning experience for both himself and novice producer Fonda, though he took pride in finishing the film in 19 days and under budget. For his efforts, he garnered a Best Director Oscar nomination. Lumet directed a few more films, but drew more satisfaction out of stage and TV work. In 1960, he gained notoriety for directing The Sacco-Vanzetti Story on NBC; the drama drew flack from the state of Massachusetts (where Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were tried and executed) because it was thought to postulate that the condemned murderers were, in fact, wholly innocent. But the brouhaha actually did Lumet more good than harm, sending several prestigious film assignments his way, including his 1962 artistic triumph Long Day's Journey Into Night.