Mel Stuart was born in New York, and during his college years aspired to become a composer. However, after graduating from New York University, he decided to change direction and began to pursue a career as a filmmaker. In 1954, he began working as an assistant editor for a company that made commercials. There, Stuart became a special assistant to avant-garde filmmaker Mary Ellen Bute. Several years later, Stuart obtained a position as a film researcher for Walter Cronkite’s breakthrough series – The 20th Century. In 1959, David Wolper asked him to join a newly formed production company. For the following 17 years, Stuart served as a key executive with the Wolper Organization. During that time he produced and directed dozens of documentaries – – among them, The Making of the President, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Four Days in November and Wattstax. He also directed various features including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.
In 1977 the Wolper Organization was acquired by Warner Brothers. Since that time, Stuart has been an independent producer and director. Among his productions have been documentaries such as Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde and Billy Wilder – The Human Comedy, AFI’s 100 Years-100 Movies, Inside the KGB and the seventy-nine part series, Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He also worked in long-form fictional television, producing or directing various dramas such as Bill, The Triangle Factory Fire and Ruby and Oswald and the twelve-hour miniseries- The Chisholms.
In November 2002, St. Martin’s Press published Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Stuart’s remembrance of the creation of the film. (ISBN: 0312287771)
His latest directing efforts have been a series dealing with the lives of well-known American poets and a one hour special for PBS entitled The Hobart Shakespeareans which deals with an extraordinary teacher, Rafe Esquith, and his class of inner city school children.
Among the many acknowledgments of his work have been four Emmies, a Peabody Award, an Oscar Nomination and numerous awards from festivals around the world. For two years Stuart served as President of the International Documentary Association.
He has been a guest lecturer on the subject of film and video production at various universities throughout the United States.
Over the years Stuart has made over one hundred and eighty films. In his professional life he has followed two dictums – “Work is good, no work is bad” and “never rationalize your emotional response to your own work”
Stuart lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Roberta. He has three very talented children, Madeline, Peter, and Andrew.