SANTA MONICA, CALIF. -- Martin Ritt, 76, the maverick director of the films "Norma Rae," "The Front" and "The Long Hot Summer" who once was blacklisted in Hollywood, died at a hospital here Dec. 8. He had a heart ailment.

He was the director of 25 films and 250 television shows. Mr. Ritt, who often set his films in the South, never shied from controversial issues, such as racial prejudice in "Sounder," blacklisting in "The Front" and labor rights in "The Molly Maguires" and "Norma Rae."

The son of Jewish immigrants, Mr. Ritt started his career as an actor in New York in the late 1930s. After serving in the Army during World War II, he worked on live television shows until he was blacklisted in the 1950s.

He made his first feature, "Edge of the City," with Sidney Poitier in 1957. A year later, he filmed Faulkner's "The Long Hot Summer" and "The Sound and the Fury."

Both films were adapted by his most frequent collaborators, Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., who also worked with him on "Hombre," "Hud," "Norma Rae" and "Murphy's Romance."

In 1965, Mr. Ritt worked with Richard Burton in "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and with Barbra Streisand in "Nuts" in 1987. He also directed the 1961 jazz movie "Paris Blues" starring Poitier and Paul Newman, and worked with Walter Matthau in the eccentric 1972 comedy-drama, "Pete 'n Tillie."

In 1984, he traded in his director's cap to play baseball manager Burly De Vito in Neil Simon's comedy, "The Slugger's Wife." In 1989, Mr. Ritt directed his last movie, "Stanley and Iris," which starred Jane Fonda and Robert DeNiro.

Survivors include his wife, Adele, of Pacific Palisades, Calif.; and two children.