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Producer keeps personal touch

At 84, Brown shows no sign of slowing down

If it really is the simple things that make a difference in a person’s life and career, then the young Turks of Hollywood ought to pay more attention to how David Brown runs his office. A recent call to the vet producer’s Gotham-based Manhattan Project was answered on the first ring by the man himself.

Brown of “Jaws,” “The Sting,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Deep Impact,” “Chocolat,” 35 Oscar noms, 16 Oscars, a shared Irving G. Thalberg Award (with Richard Zanuck) and a couple of billion in box office revenues, doesn’t hide behind a wall of voice-mail, assistants and power lunches.

“Doris is on the other line,” says Brown simply of is longtime exec assistant Doris Wood. (Any production company execs complaining about studio cutbacks on their million-dollar overhead deals may want to suppress this Hollywood minute.)

At 84, Brown shows no sign of slowing down. “It’s been a good year,” he says.

In fact, it has been a very good year for the one-time managing editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and story maven for Daryl F. Zanuck. Among other things, “Chocolat,” on which Brown holds a producers credit with Kit Golden and Leslie Holleran, is up for five Oscars (picture, actress, supporting actress, adapted screenplay and score).

In what seems to be an annual event, other studio execs are grumbling about Miramax’s aggressive Oscar campaign for the film, which despite some critical raves and strong word of mouth has grossed just $29 million.

“It’s the same old story,” says Brown of the carping. “Since (show business) began, some people have always resented another person’s success.”

Or put another way, Hollywood types love to indulge in a little schadenfreude — joy at another’s misfortune — whenever they can.

“It’s insulting to believe that a marketing campaign can win an Oscar,” he continues. “The Academy is more independent than it has ever been.”

In the 1930s and 1940s, for example, studios like MGM had 5,000-plus employees pulling for the home team and Acad members tended to vote in blocs. Now almost everyone’s a freelancer.

“If a movie’s no good. If it doesn’t resonate with the audience, it’s not going to win anything,” Brown concludes.

While he continues his long-time association with Zanuck, Brown has a full slate of films, TV projects and Broadway shows on his own plate. First up: “Along Came a Spider,” a Paramount Pictures release and Morgan Freeman starrer that’s set for an April debut. The pic is a prequel to the 1997 Freeman-Ashley Judd movie “Kiss the Girls.”

Brown also has two film projects in the advanced stages of development. Miramax’s “Romanoff,” a take on the life of the famous Hollywood restaurateur and impostor Mike Romanoff, is out to an A list of directors.

The true-life subject of the film passed himself off as a relative to Russian nobility to gain credence with Hollywood royalty. When it became known that his claims were false, he remained the toast of showbiz cognoscenti. No casting has been announced.

Also in the wings, “Framed,” a remake of a Brit thriller that has been penned by Daniel Petrie Jr. (“Beverly Hills Cop,” “The Big Easy,” “Toy Soldiers”) for TNT. Petrie has helming duties on the project as well.

“Everyone in the business wants to work with him,” says Petrie of Brown. “His reputation, how he conducts himself and how he works with writers, they’re all big pluses. He gets people to do their best work by creating an atmosphere and relationship through which that can happen.”

For his part, Brown is also continuing his involvement with Broadway theater. Musical “The Sweet Smell of Success” (based on the acclaimed 1957 film starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis) is skedded to open in Chicago in December and in Gotham in February.

In the midst of backers auditions is “Mister Goldwyn” starring Alan King, a play about Hollywood legend and studio founder Samuel Goldwyn.

“I’m far too old to retire,” says Brown, with a chuckle, of his still full-time approach to the biz. “Middle age is lethal. That’s when you’ve had it. But at my age you’ve beaten the odds. Like Andy Rooney said: ‘As long as I have my marbles, I’m not going anywhere.’

“Besides, what would I retire to?”

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