Review: ‘Marty Jurow Seein’ Stars’

Marty Jurow, producer of such film classics as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Terms of Endearment," once proclaimed, "I've never been fired from any job, never prodded to leave." Jurow speaks in sentimental, almost reverential terms about most of his colleagues, his prose a parade of "wonderful, legendary, enchanting" superlatives.

Marty Jurow, producer of such film classics as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Pink Panther” and “Terms of Endearment,” once proclaimed, “I’ve never been fired from any job, never prodded to leave,” After reading “Marty Jurow Seein’ Stars,” it’s easy to understand why. Jurow speaks in sentimental, almost reverential terms about most of his colleagues, his prose a parade of “wonderful, legendary, enchanting” superlatives. But appearances can be deceptive. Under the smooth veneer lie a series of sharply truthful observations.

Some of the material is familiar to informed fans, but the wealth of photographs capture seven decades of glamour. The book offers many previously unknown nuggets about personalities ranging from Marlon Brando to Elvis Presley.

After a rosy, glowing introduction by co-author Philip Wuntch, which covers Jurow’s Brooklyn childhood, acting aspirations and experiences as an MCA agent, the book picks up steam with a description of Jack Warner as a cold, paranoid man who became enraged when he saw his assistant Jurow taking notes. “I want no notes, no written word to leave this screening room,” Warner exploded. Then, in an effort to remove the harshness of his appraisal, Jurow adds, “working with Warner was baptism by fire … but the flames were sometimes even beautiful.”

Jurow sets a Warner Brothers legend straight: that Ronald Reagan was the original choice to play Rick in “Casablanca.” Not so — Reagan was slated for the role of Victor Laszlo before being bumped by Paul Henreid. The most compelling chapter in the book deals with Hal Wallis, a notoriously stingy individual but a brilliant all-around filmmaker.

Occasionally, Wallis would fail to utilize gifted players under contract, and Jurow, as his right-hand man, had to push and champion Burt Lancaster before Wallis would acknowledge his star quality. Kirk Douglas, also a Wallis contractee, proves the most unsympathetic character in Jurow’s gallery of portraits — a hard-driving egotist so competitive that Lancaster refused to let him visit as he lay dying.

Katharine Hepburn has been the subject of more starry-eyed puff pieces than any other actress, and this one is no exception. “Kate Hep,” as Jurow refers to her, was endlessly devoted to John Ford and Spencer Tracy, her two great, difficult, alcoholic loves. We also hear of her helpful script suggestions on “Summertime,” and how grateful director David Lean was — a startling contrast to Arthur Laurents’ account of how Hepburn destroyed the picture.

The way Frank Sinatra landed the plum part of Maggio in “From Here To Eternity” gets another spin. In this version (which sounds accurate), Jurow consulted William Morris agent George Woods, after Harry Cohn refused to consider Sinatra. Cohn screamed, “I wouldn’t let that bum in my studio,” and Woods in turn spoke to mobster Meyer Lansky and Lansky’s “aide” Jimmy Blue Eyes. Jimmy simply said, “Cohn. He owes us. Expect a call.”

Most illuminating as a study of Hollywood insecurity and competition is a tale about Natalie Wood in “The Great Race.” Wood noticed that the telephone extension cords of her co-stars, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, were longer than hers, and demanded that Jurow give her an extension cord of equal length, stating, “In all things, I want to be on the same level with Jack and Tony. I don’t want to give away an ounce of my position.”

Sometimes Jurow offers information which clashes with what we’ve read. He says that Barbara Stanwyck turned down “Mildred Pierce,” when she has been quoted as saying how desperately she wanted the role; and he claims that Desi Arnaz wasn’t really the great businessman and producer other sources such as Hedda Hopper claim — that he was allowed to seem that way by a manipulative Lucy in the background.

On the whole, however, the book has a sweetness and honesty that reflect Jurow’s generous nature. He’s a fan as well as a producer, somewhat like an indulgent parent who frowns on the antics of his film-star children but remains determined to see them in the best possible light.

Marty Jurow Seein' Stars

Southern Methodist U. Press; 159 Pgs.; $20.95


Martin Jurow as told to Philip Wuntch
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