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A life making movie magic

Joel Cox earns plaque on Walk of Western Stars

Posted: March 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 25, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Cox earned the 1992 Academy Award for Film Editing for “Forgiven.”

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Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series on Santa Clarita Valley residents involved in the arts.


The Oscar lives in a beautiful mirrored box on a bookcase in the Newhall home of Joel and Judy Cox.

Awarded by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cox’s Oscar for Best Film Editing was earned  for the 1992 film “Unforgiven.”

However, Oscar doesn’t hold the place nearest and dearest in Cox’s heart. Instead, it is a more modest appearing award that features the figure of a man holding the logo of the American Cinema Editors, encased in acrylic.

More awards

The award, the ACE Lifetime Achievement Award, was presented to Cox at the 62nd annual ACE Eddie Awards on Feb. 18.

“This award means the most to me because it was presented to me by my peers,” Cox said.

Cox, the longtime film editor for Clint Eastwood, has worked on more than 40 films, almost all Eastwood epics.

He will join the late actor Glenn Ford, as the 2012 Newhall Walk of Western Stars honorees. Cox’s Walk of Western Stars plaque will be unveiled April 19.

Warner Bros.

A Los Angeles native, Cox was a child actor who found his life’s work almost by accident.

He first appeared on screen as a baby in the 1942 film “Random Harvest.”

Cox’s father worked as a stand-in actor and a carpenter. His mother worked as a secretary. He grew up in North Hollywood.

After he graduated from North Hollywood High School Cox started work in the mailroom at Warner Bros. in Jan. 16, 1961.

“It took three interviews to get into the mailroom,” he said. “I have had employment at Warner Bros. for 52 years.”

During his time working in the mailroom, Cox would often see studio chef Jack Warner walking around the lot.

“If he said ‘Good evening young man,’ then you could converse with him,” Cox said. “If he didn’t acknowledge you, walk by him — because you knew he was thinking and didn’t want to be interrupted.”

Cox said it was an amazing time in his life.

“I feel very fortunate that I was able to be part of old Hollywood,” he said. “That’s not how it is today. It’s completely changed.”

After six months in the mail room, Cox got the opportunity to become a film messenger.

“I got to ride a bicycle and push the film around the lot,” he said.

The job was supposed to be temporary. However, after his third day on the job the head of the editing department called Cox into his office.

“He asked me if I had thought about editorial. I told him, ‘Three days ago, I didn’t know a thing about editorial but I’m intrigued,’” Cox said. “He told me ‘everybody loves your work and your attitude, would you be interested in working in this department?”

Cox said yes, and was promised the next open job. He worked in the mailroom for three years before an opening materialized.

“I turned down assistant directing, a job in the camera department and numerous other jobs, because I wanted  that job,” he said.

Clint Eastwood

After paying his dues on a variety of films and working in television, Cox soon started to learn his craft in earnest.

Cox obtained an interview with Eastwood’s film editor Ferris Webster.

He was hired by Webster to work as an assistant on the 1976 film “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

His intense work ethic impressed Eastwood.

After the film was finished Eastwood told Cox, “I don’t know what your plans are, but my plan is to have you on my crew and my team from here on out.”

Film editing

Cox said film editing appealed to him because, “I’m a hands-on person. I like to create with my hands.”

He attributes his success with his work ethic.

“You have to have a work ethic, people want to employ people who want the job, not just somebody who is filling space,” he said.

Cox acknowledges that he may be the only employee of a studio that has come out of the mailroom to win an Academy Award. In addition to knowing the craft, Cox said you have to be able to work with people, too.

“You have to know your craft and be very artistic, but you also have to know how to deal with people and how to listen to people,” he said. “The relationship between a director and an editor is closer than any two people on the crew.”

Cox said film editors spend months after a film has wrapped working with the director. “You spend day after day working together and the director has to have confidence in you,” Cox said.

Hobbies and life

Cox said he enjoys building and creating with his hands. “I think I’ve built or altered something at every house we’ve lived in,” he said. “I built my own house in Arizona.”

Cox and his wife, Judy, have been married 42 years. They have four children, Tammy, Rebecca, David and Daniel.

The newest passion in Cox’s life is his Mystic Hills winery in Paso Robles.

“We bought a piece of property in Paso Robles to retire,” he said. “Then we went wine tasting and decided to build a vineyard.”

A humble and quiet man, Cox said he prefers to learn about other people than talk about himself.

“A lot of people get caught up in Hollywood,” he said. “But you have to keep it in perspective.”

Cox’s advice is to learn a craft and be patient.

“It took me 11 years to get where I wanted,” he said. “Clint’s got a great line, ‘Deserve has nothing to do with it, you have to earn it.’”

An evening with Joel Cox, Oscar-winning editor of “Unforgiven,” 7 p.m. Saturday, April 14, $25/ticket (includes wine reception) at Hasley Hall Theatre, College of the Canyons. Join Joel Cox, 2012 Walk of Western Stars honoree and film editor of Western classics “The Outlaw,”  “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Pale Rider” and “The Wild Bunch,” for an interactive discussion of his career working with Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah. A wine reception will precede the event, and proceeds will benefit The College of the Canyon’s Cinema Program and the International Film Festival at College of the Canyons. On Thursday, April 19, Cox’s plaque will be unveiled on the Walk of Western Stars at 7:30 p.m. Old Town New-hall on Main Street.

661-287-5590

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