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.'”
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.