Sunday, April 21, 2024

Books: Try Not to Hold it Against Julian Schlossberg, The Secret Ingredient in Broadway and NY Hits for Decades


Few people probably recognize the name Julian Schlossberg. But in New York, and Hollywood, he’s been the secret ingredient in dozens of successful Broadway shows and films for decades.

Julian at 81 years young is now finally publishing a memoir on Tuesday called “Try Not to Hold It Against Me.” We won’t. Julian’s list of triumphs are numerous, but so too are his near-misses, the shows or movies he almost put together. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in show business.

The main thing is, he’s been the guiding hand behind comic genius Elaine May for decades, producing her plays and movies, as well as his involvement with Woody Allen and dozen of other stars. (I should add, he’s also one of the few in the biz who really understood early on the power of owning a film library.)

“Try” is filled with information I didn’t know and am now very happy to have in my head. Plus the book comes with a foreword by Elaine, who doesn’t usually write these things. But their friendship is long.

How ‘in’ is Julian? His third wedding was hosted by Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue in their Westport, Connecticut backyard for 80 people in a tent, with Peter Duchin conducting the orchestra. Get the picture?

Fifty one years ago, Schlossberg produced Elaine May’s first movie, the classic “A New Leaf,” which starred her and Walter Matthau. But things might have been different. Julian recalls that Cary Grant, considered a god of screwball comedy, might have been the lead.

He writes:

One day, as she [Elaine] was casting, she received a call from Cary Grant. He
had read the script and wanted to play the lead. His only concern was
the end of the film, where he had to be in the water—specifically the
rapids. I asked Elaine, “Why did you turn him down? He’d have been
perfect.” Elaine smiled and told me, “I knew nothing then. I didn’t even know about doubles or stand-ins. When Walter Matthau”—who played
the role—“didn’t want to go into the rapids, I told him I’d turned down
Cary Grant because he wouldn’t go in the water. Walter went in.”

And that’s how famous movies get cast.

It was Schlossberg who produced Woody Allen’s ill fated musical, “Bullets Over Broadway,” based on his hit movie. The musical was praised and people loved it, but without an original score (they used existing music) it was doomed. But it did launch the career of Nick Cordero (who six years later would be among the first to succumb to COVID). The producers originally thought they had Bobby Cannavale, but a film project interfered with the dates. Julian remembers:

“In rehearsal and in previews, I was constantly reminding Nick that
try not to hold it against me he was playing a killer. He needed to be meaner and tougher. I said I
was going to get him a little cute dog to kick before he first went on. We
would laugh. The last time I said, “Meaner, please,” he replied, “Julian,
I’m a Canadian.” But he did get tough, and was nominated for a Tony.”

“Try Not to Hold it Against Me” is peppered with famous movie names, like George C. Scott, Shirley MacLaine, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Mike Nichols, and so on. But it also crosses over into the music biz. Schlossberg’s first job as a consultant after leaving Paramount Pictures was advising Allen Klein in a lawsuit between him and The Beatles over “Let it Be.” Almost a decade later he’d go on to co-produce the “No Nukes” concert film with Danny Goldberg, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and John Hall of Orleans.

Did I forget his Tony nomination for producing the play “Fortune’s Fool” in 2002 with Alan Bates and Frank Langella? Well, for more you’re going to have to read the book. And there’s a lot!

And PS, you know you’ve reached the heights when Al Hirschfeld draws you with May, Allen, and David Mamet. Wow!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News