For years many people in the film industry have told me I needed to write about my career running United Artists, Paramount and Columbia, the hundreds of movies I made or was responsible for getting made, and the famous and infamous characters with whom I worked. And so I have.
In the introduction to my book, MUSTS, MAYBES, AND NEVERS: A Book About The Movies, I describe the contents as a book of fairy tales, all of which came true. But, remember this, all the characters in fairy tales are not Sleeping Beauties, Cinderella's, and dashing princes. There are, as you may remember, evil witches , nasty dragons and murderous villains. And so there are in MUSTS, MAYBES, AND NEVERS. For every Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Bob Fosse, or Steve Martin, there is a Stanley Kramer, Bill Cosby or Otto Preminger; not untalented, mind you, just nasty, greedy, or generally unpleasant. But, hey, what would the entertainment business be without them? The answer is easy -- less entertaining. Here are a few excerpts from some of the fairy tales:
"Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
Stanley Kramer brought the film in way over budget, so much so that the final cut of the film was now ultimately ours, not his. But he got to show us his cut. And in the screening room he announced proudly that "the film is four hours and one minute -- and I cannot and will not cut one frame." When all was said and done he had to cut the film to two hours and 40 minutes. I still thought it was 30 minutes too long.
After seeing Take the Money and Run I was convinced UA was the best home for Woody's unique talents. He and his agent, Sam Cohn, negotiated a six-picture deal with us and when we met to talk about what his first project should be Woody described a dark film about a jazz clarinetist with a depressing personal life. I was stunned; where was the great comic talent I had just made a deal with? I said it's approved, but for movie number six. (He made it years later with some changes as Sweet and Low Down). Woody said he'd get back to me. A few days later Sam called and said Woody had another idea -- the title is Bananas. All I said was "approved." It was a big hit.
I had an interesting idea that featuring relatively new musical talents in low-budget films could serve both our film and music divisions well. Our executive in London knew the manager of a little group, unknown outside their hometown of Liverpool. The manager, Brian Epstein, worked with us on a deal for movie, soundtrack rights and music publishing. Then it happened. The night the Queen of England applauded in time to to the group from Liverpool. The Beatles became The Beatles. And we had them. "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" -- and UA became a key participant in the historic, iconic, culture-shaping life of The Beatles.
Last Tango in Paris
United Artists, a company whose business was financing and distributing films, was acquired by the insurance giant Transamerica, a company who's business was actuarial tables. During this time, I was very excited about all the attention surrounding our major release, Last Tango in Paris, a film hailed as both a cinematic masterpiece by Pauline Kael in a six-page New Yorker article, and pornography on the cover of Time magazine. When the CEO of Transamerica called to demand that UA give up the film because they had lost a $300,000 policy from a client offended that UA made pornographic films, my boss, Arthur Krim, said the following: "Fine. David and I will buy the film and we will be leaving the company with it." The CEO said, "I'll get back to you." We never heard from him on the subject again.
I saw the Broadway production of Grease and left at intermission. I wasn't interested in the story, the characters or the music. Years later I was at Paramount and had a meeting with one of the great showmen/producers of his time -- Allan Carr. He pitched the idea of the movie version of Grease and I explained how I felt about the show, and pointed out that in its entire Broadway run no studio had shown any interest. Twenty minutes later he had convinced me, and I agreed to acquire the rights to Grease as a Paramount project so Allan Carr could make it into a film. That's the definition of what a good producer does when he produces. It made a fortune.
I read a script by a young filmmaker with whom I was anxious to work, and even after spending a fair amount of time trying to explain the concept to my boss, he just kept saying "it's not about anything". I eventually had to pass on American Graffiti. And to this day when I see George Lucas he reminds me that if we had made American Graffiti we could have had Star Wars.
OK, I didn't get Star Wars, but I did get James Bond, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny, The Jerk and many more. All in the book.
David Picker's book MUSTS, MAYBES AND NEVERS: A BOOK ABOUT THE MOVIES will be published on October 2nd and available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.