Producer recounts a golden age in Hollywood
Martin Jurow, the producer of such classics as "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Pink Panther," and "Terms of Endearment," may have never become a major Hollywood producer, but his new book offers rare personal insights into the world of Hollywood and some of its greatest stars.
Written without the rancor or bitterness that seem to characterize other Tinseltown autobiographies, "Marty Jurow Seein' Stars: A Show Biz Odyssey," published by Southern Methodist University (SMU) Press, features clear and colorful writing from Philip Wuntch, the longtime chief film critic for The Dallas Morning News.
In a joint interview with Jurow and Wuntch at Jurow's comfortable Dallas home, where he lives with Erin-Jo, his wife of more than 50 years, Wuntch is emphatic about his regard for the producer.
"What the movie industry desperately needs now is Martin Jurow," Wuntch says. "We've just come off a terrible summer filled with totally mediocre quality, and all the films Martin produced and all of the films he worked on in any capacity were above average. They were character-driven and quality-driven. Today, the plots and characters are there really to service special effects."
Working as an agent and studio executive before becoming a full-fledged producer, Jurow represented and worked with such stars as Katharine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra, as well as legendary producers Jack L. Warner and Hal Wallis.
Jurow's book also contains a lot of humor, even though some of his encounters with rich and famous authors and actors seemed anything but funny to him at the time.
Discussing his plans to produce the film version of Truman Capote's best-selling novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Mr. Jurow says in his book that his vision for the production "seemed to ignite his [Capote's] enthusiasm, but my loyalty to his ideas was about to be sorely tested."
It seems that Capote, the author, wanted to be Capote, the actor, and play the film's leading man, a part that went to suave star George Peppard. But Jurow's years of clutch thinking and smooth talking were about to pay off in a master stroke of cajoling.
"Truman, the role just isn't good enough for you," Jurow says he found himself suddenly explaining. "All eyes will be on Holly Golightly through every frame of the picture. The male lead is just a pair of shoulders for Holly to lean on. You deserve something more dynamic, more colorful."
"You're right, I deserve something more dynamic," Jurow recounts the egotistical author replying.
Like many film screen and stage luminaries, Jurow had first wanted to be an actor, but soon realized his greatest talents were on the business and production side of theater and film.
As a child growing up in Brooklyn, Jurow first became enthralled with show business while attending live vaudeville performances on Sunday afternoon family outings. He attended William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., playing many leading roles, before going to and graduating from Harvard Law School, which prepared him for the business side of Broadway and Hollywood productions.
Early in his career as a producer, Jurow hired the now-famous director Blake Edwards, after having seen his work on the comedy "Operation Petticoat," starring Cary Grant. It marked the beginning of a close professional association and friendship. Edwards would go on to direct Jurow's production of "The Pink Panther," as well as its many sequels.
Jurow also recalls in his book how Frank Sinatra, in a major slump as a singer and actor in the 1950s, landed the plumb role of Maggio in the early 1950s movie "From Here to Eternity."
While Jurow was head of William Morris's East Coast film department, he asked Sinatra if he could act as his representative for his next movie role. Having little faith in his own slim prospects, Sinatra agreed, and Jurow approached Hollywood producer Harry Cohn about casting him as Maggio.
Cohn couldn't see Sinatra playing a bitter loser, but Jurow persisted. And one night, Jurow says he went over to the home of his friend George Woods, a nightclub impresario, to "recount my woes."
Mr. Woods was having dinner, Jurow says in his book, with an associate of reputed mobster Meyer Lansky named Vincent Ado, aka "Jimmy Blue Eyes." Sensing Jurow's melancholy, Jimmy Blue Eyes asked him what was bothering him. After telling him he had gotten nowhere with Cohn, Jurow says Jimmy Blue Eyes said, in a scene which seemed to come right out of an Edward G. Robinson movie, "Cohn. He owes us."
"Mr. Sinatra never knew the full story of what had transpired, but he was always courteous to me," Jurow relates in his book.
As an agent, Jurow had his share of more experienced mentors, too, but few as glamorous as four-time Oscar winner Ms. Hepburn, who was one of the "stable" of stars in the talent agency Jurow was working for at the time. "She, a professional actress, became a mentor to me, hotshot Harvard Law School grad," Jurow writes. "She pointed out aspects to each contract, explaining their ramifications in diction as precise as her cheekbones."
Jurow, who moved to Dallas with his wife and daughter in the late 1970s, where he continued to produce films as well as teach college film courses, has had more time in recent years to reflect on his experiences when he was in the Hollywood and New York centers of the entertainment world. But his overall feeling for the industry hasn't changed that much over the past 60 years.
Looking at a gallery of signed star photographs, ranging from Hepburn to Kirk Douglas to Peter Sellers, lining the front hallway of his modest but comfortable Dallas home, Jurow paraphrases the title of a famous Jimmy Stewart movie, one he had nothing to do with making or casting: "It's been a wonderful life!"