Larry Vaughn with Mentora Vaughn Gratrix
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Archive for the ‘Producers’ Category

“At Least You Could Have Put Some Clothes On”- Meeting Frank Yablans

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Photo: Frank Yablans (right) on the set of The Fury with director Brian de Palma.

“In her memoir, Joan Didion said this about grief,
‘A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty.'”
—Meryl Streep

This year at the Oscars, Meryl Streep honored those who passed away: “As we reflect tonight on the loss of so many talented people this year, it’s hard not to feel that emptiness because in the time they had they filled our lives with so much. Whatever role they played in moviemaking, the films that they were a part of made us laugh, and think, and cry, and consider life with fresh eyes: they tickled us, raised our spirits when we needed it, challenged our minds, and shocked our complacencies. Through their work, they shared a piece of their soul, and so we will miss them with the same sadness as we miss an old friend. But their work will stand and will remind us how lucky we were to have them with us for a while. There will never be anyone like them, each and every one.”

So many names honored that evening brought back fond memories. However, when I saw Frank Yablans, I smiled as I recalled my first meeting with him. . .

We planned a trip to California to introduce the studios to Ideas, Inc. Everyone seemed impressed with our work, but expressed concern about how their marketing departments would fit in with a so-called “joint marketing venture.” That had been my greatest concern all along.
On that trip I learned, once again, that one should never underestimate Heyward Morgan. One evening we were down at the hotel lounge around midnight. I was worn out from a long day of tooting my own horn to the Hollywood elite. I told Mr. Morgan, “I’ve had it. I’m going to bed.” He said good night and that he would be up later.
I went to my room, got in bed, and was half asleep when Mr. Morgan started banging on the door. “Larry, Larry, you in there?” In undershorts and T-shirt I stumbled to the door. I opened the door to find him standing there with another man. They walked into my room.
Mr. Morgan said, “Larry, do you know who this is?”
I looked at the man, extended my hand, and said, “No, sir.”
The man introduced himself. “Hello, Larry, I am Frank Yablans.”
I said, “Mr. Yablans, would you excuse me while I put some clothes on? I had just turned in for the night.”
Mr. Morgan spoke up. “Phooey with clothes, Larry, I told Frank all about your work. Where is your briefcase?”
Frank Yablans was not only one of the most respected producers in Hollywood, he was one of the most respected producers in the entire world. His movies were household names around the world. Besides being a celebrated producer and director, he was currently the President of Paramount Pictures. And there I was, undressed, hair messed up, sitting on the side of my wrinkled bed telling Frank Yablans how great I was.
He listened, asked questions, and made several positive comments about my campaigns. Then he said, “Fellows, I’m sold! Your work is very good, but you have to sell my marketing guys. Here, write this name and number down. Call Jackson’s secretary tomorrow and make an appointment to see him. Be sure to tell her I told you to call.”
We chatted a few more minutes before Mr. Yablans said good night and left the room. After Mr. Yablans had gone, I looked at Mr. Morgan and said, “Boss, if you ever pull a stunt like that on me again, I’ll shoot you!”
He laughed and said, “At least you could have put some clothes on.”
I slammed the door as he whisked out of the room. Needless to say, I was so wound up from the last hour’s events that I slept very little that night.
(Excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen, available on Amazon)

Honestly, this story always reminds me of what a remarkable man I worked for—Heyward Morgan. Most movie stars of that day would have had a hard time getting Frank Yablans to visit their hotel room. That unexpected meeting showed me that Frank Yablans and I had something in common: we both had a hard time saying no to Heyward Morgan.

My Lunch with Leonard Nimoy & His Vulcan Ears

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A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
—Leonard Nimoy
(shared on Twitter a few days before his death)

It would be hard to live on planet Earth and not know who Mr. Spock is from Star Trek. Even if you’re not a Star Trek fan (which would be hard to believe!), no one has worn Vulcan ears better than Leonard Nimoy. I, like so many other fans, was saddened to hear of the passing of Leonard Nimoy. While he had his share of struggles (like so many of us do), he will always be remembered for his contribution to Star Trek, as he would frequently “boldly go where no man has gone before.” I actually had the pleasure once of having lunch with Leonard Nimoy at Paramount Studios. Here’s an excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen:

We spent the majority of the following day visiting the distribution arm at Paramount Studios. We had lunch with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy at the Paramount commissary. Mr. Shatner and Mr. Nimoy were taking a lunch break from filming their weekly Star Trek television series. Walter Matthau stopped by our table while on lunch break from filming the film version of the Neil Simon play, Plaza Suite.
A comical moment happened during lunch while Mr. Morgan (who always spoke extremely loudly) was speaking. Mr. Nimoy interrupted Mr. Morgan, cupped his Vulcan ear in his hand, and then leaned in toward Mr. Morgan and bellowed, “What? What did you say? My Vulcan ear makes it hard for me to hear.” I laughed out loud, as I couldn’t help but think, “Now, that’s got to be a first: asking Heyward Morgan to speak louder!”

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The Hollywood Reporter published an article by Kim Masters on February 27, 2015. (You can read the full article here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-leonard-nimoy-was-convinced-778379.) I love this story because it reminds me of so many behind-the-scenes stories that we share in Hollywood’s Chosen. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The original script for the first Star Trek movie did not include Mr. Spock.

The project was conceived as what would have then been the most expensive television project ever, with a budget of $3.2 million. When that vision died, Paramount — which had watched other studios feast on Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — decided to make a movie instead.

With a planned $18 million budget, the studio courted director Robert Wise (West Side Story), who took the job not because he loved the old television series but because his wife and father-in-law were fans. Based on their comments on the script, he told the top film executives at Paramount, Michael Eisner and a young Jeffrey Katzenberg, that Spock was essential.

But there was a big problem. Leonard Nimoy did not care at all for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who had engaged him and then dropped him from another project without explanation. And he was suing Paramount for using his likeness on merchandise without his permission. When his agent called about the movie, Nimoy told him, “If you ever call me again about Star Trek, you’re fired.”

At the time, the actor was in New York appearing onstage in Equus. Katzenberg called and said he’d like to come see the play. Flattered that Katzenberg would fly across the country for that purpose, Nimoy agreed to meet with him.

Backstage two days later, Katzenberg pressed Nimoy to have coffee with him. In three more meetings over the following days, Katzenberg listened to Nimoy’s grievances about Roddenberry and Paramount. Katzenberg suggested that Nimoy could do the film while the litigation was pending, but Nimoy replied, “I just can’t do that. I’m sorry.”

Within a couple of weeks, Paramount settled the lawsuit. Nimoy received a check from the studio at 5 p.m. and a copy of the Star Trek script an hour later. By 7 p.m., Paramount rang to set up a meeting. . . .Production started before the script was set. As the project fell weeks behind schedule, Nimoy and William Shatner devised a workable third act as Roddenberry was pushed aside. The budget climbed from $18 million to $45 million — staggering for the time. For Katzenberg, the ordeal almost derailed his career. (He briefly quit or was fired before Eisner brought him back.) The buzz on the movie was so negative that theaters tried to get out of playing it. But Paramount held them to their contracts so they would be forced to meet guarantees that the studio believed would offset inevitable losses from the movie. To everyone’s surprise, the film was a $82 million hit and with its sequels and spinoffs, became Paramount’s biggest franchise.

When Nimoy wanted to make his directorial debut on the third film in the series, Eisner was reluctant to entrust him with this now-valuable property. Nimoy was clear: Eisner needed a director, and he needed Spock — both problems that Nimoy could solve. “You and I are having a very important meeting,” he told Eisner. “This might be the last time we ever speak to each other. We’re either going to start working together on something, or we’re literally down to the final moments of our relationship!”

The result was another hit — and Nimoy went on to direct the fourth Star Trek movie and other hits, including the 1987 smash 3 Men and a Baby. By then running the Disney studio, Eisner and Katzenberg were no longer in the Star Trek business, but they had been wise to keep Nimoy in the fold.

This article has been adapted from a section of Kim Masters’ book, Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.

A special thanks to J.P. Brooks for sending me the link to this article. We’re always looking for fresh material for our blog, so please send us an email or use our contact page.

 

“An Evening with Robert Evans”

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This week we have a guest post from our good friend John H. Hersker. John is a fourth-generation theatre operator who serves on the board of the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and most recently was President and CEO of Movie Tavern, a chain of dine-in movie theatres based in Texas. Before that he worked for Paramount Pictures for over 26 years, where he rose from being a sales rep in Paramount’s Philadelphia branch office to be Executive Vice President for Distribution at the Hollywood studio. I met John in 1986 when he was Paramount’s Florida Branch Manager, and through the years we have enjoyed swapping stories about some of the famous and fascinating people we have met in our film careers. This week we are pleased that John has agreed to share one of those stories.

An Evening with Robert Evans
By John H. Hersker
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A highlight of my career at Paramount Pictures was getting to know Robert Evans, the legendary producer and former studio head who revived Paramount in the 1960’s and 70’s with such hits as The Godfather, Love Story, and Rosemary’s Baby.

Long before he published his memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, I admired Evans and was grateful for his contributions to the industry.

My parents were independent theatre owners and I literally grew up in the business. Classic films like The Godfather did more than put food on our table. They instilled in me a love of movies and the business of movies that eventually brought me to Paramount.

During the years that I worked at the studio I was fortunate to spend time with Evans and always found him to be gracious and charming. One such occasion was an advance screening of the film version of The Kid Stays in the Picture at his Beverly Hills home in the spring of 2002.

Evans had invited executives from Paramount and Warner Bros. as a show of gratitude for a favor from Mann Theatres which at the time was co-owned by the two studios. He was about to receive his star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and Mann had agreed to the placement of the star directly in front of its famed Chinese Theatre.

Evans wanted that particular spot so that his star would be next to that of his close friend, Jack Nicholson. Given his cinematic accomplishments, granting the request was something of a no-brainer, but it was typical of Evans to express his appreciation with the classy gesture of a private screening at his home, complete with champagne and caviar.

Though everyone loved the movie, it was Evans himself who proved to be the star attraction. Late into the evening he regaled us with stories about his life and his elegant estate which he had purchased when he was head of Paramount back in the sixties. The studio had paid for all renovations except one that Charlie Bluhdorn, chairman of parent company Gulf + Western, refused to approve.

As we stood around his oval-shaped pool we learned that Evans had designed a Plexiglas walkway that, with the press of a button, would jut out just below the water’s surface. His plan was to amuse his friends by seeming to “walk on water.” But as Evans explained in his Austrian-accented Bluhdorn voice, he was shot down: “You’re CRAZY, Evans! You think you’re Moses! You’re CRAZY!” So the walkway never got built.

Bluhdorn was probably right to nix the idea, as I suspect Evans knew. The effect, while theatrical, would have been unnecessary.

Robert Evans never walked on water—but he didn’t have to. He gave the world a bounty of classic films, writing his own unique chapter in Hollywood history…and for a gathering of appreciative guests, some thirty years later, turned a warm April evening in Beverly Hills into a night to remember.

Meet the Man Who Saved Paramount Pictures…

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It’s not really about the movie business, it’s about staying in the picture.
—Robert Evans

One of my fondest memories with the man who introduced me to Hollywood, Heyward Morgan, was my first movie screening. I not only met movie stars that evening; I had the opportunity to meet a producer for the first time, Robert Evans.

Excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen:

To top off that grand day, that evening Mr. Morgan and I went to the movie screening. When I walked into the theatre, I felt like someone had just dropped me into a fantasy world. Celebrities were everywhere. I whispered to Mr. Morgan, “There are the stars of Love Story: Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. And there is Robert Evans, who is married to Miss McGraw.” I noticed that Mr. Evans and I had something in common: we were both skinny and had long dark hair.

Mr. Morgan added, “Robert is also head of production at the studio. I will introduce him to you later.”

Mr. Morgan seemed to enjoy my being star-struck. He commented, “Larry, you had best get used to the Hollywood crowd.” He winked at me as he commented, “These folks are no different than you and me. They put their pants on one leg at a time.” Smiling, he said, “Tonight is just the beginning.”

Mr. Evans is the man responsible for taking a struggling studio and turning it into the most successful studio in Hollywood—Paramount Pictures.

Despite his inexperience, this talented man had the gift of knowing what the public would pay to see. While at Paramount, he was responsible for films that are still household names today: The Godfather, Chinatown, Love Story, Marathon Man, True Grit and Rosemary’s Baby—just to mention a few.

Moive Trivia: What “A” actor got his first part in Robert Evan’s 1970 mega hit, Love Story? None other than Tommy Lee Jones.

Robert Evans has written two books: The Kid Stays in the Picture and more recently The Fat Lady Sang.

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Fans, Thank Your Lucky Stars For This Man…

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Not every father gets a chance to start his son off in his own footsteps.
—Alan Ladd

Spending thirty-two years in the Hollywood industry left me with some fond memories and some stories that are so amazing and really quite unbelievable! Here’s one of those stories…

In early 1977, I had an interesting dinner with Charlie Jones, the Florida branch manager for Twentieth Century Fox. Charlie was telling me about his recent manager’s meeting in LA at the Fox studio with Alan Ladd, Jr., who at the time was the president and head of production.

Charlie became irritated at the meeting when Mr. Ladd stepped down from his elevated desk (he was a short man) in his buckskin jacket with tassels and western boots to introduce the men in the field to his latest project. Charlie said, “Larry, would you believe that he actually taped black and white photographs of all these goofy Sci-Fi characters on the walls of his office! He then proceeds to tell us tells us that he gave the green light on this little fantasy film. And now he expects us to get you,” Charlie eyeballed me, “and the other film buyers to commit to play the film prime time in the summer.”

I smiled at Charlie and told him it was way too early for him to start worrying about commitments to play a Sci-Fi film anytime—let alone peak playtime. Besides, I said, “If it screens poorly, Mr. Ladd will end up having to move his little project picture to the fall and away from the big summer movies.”

That little Sci-Fi film everyone was afraid to touch was pure genius—Star Wars! And wait, there’s more to the story . . . and it’s told in Hollywood’s Chosen (available September 5th).

Star Wars Trivia:

Alan Ladd, Jr. will always be remembered for his decision to give George Lucas the green light to make Star Wars and for supporting Lucas when no one else could see the vision (even when the 20th Century Fox Board of Directors wanted to put an end to Lucas’ Star Wars). Star Wars seemed to be doomed as Lucas struggled with budget issues, location difficulties, and even problems with the story itself. The studio was shaking its head for fear that the film would end up being an embarrassment.

However, in early May of 1977, Star Wars’ first public screening received a glowing reception! Not surprisingly, Mr. Ladd was moved to tears during the screening at seeing his problem child (that he supported against all odds!) become a box-office phenomenon as it shattered all records and became one of the top grossing films of all time. To date, the Star Wars films have grossed over $4.83 billion.

If I were George Lucas, I would have photos of Alan Ladd Jr. plastered all over Skywalker Ranch!