Julia Phillips, producer, author, dies at age 57

First women to receive a best picture Oscar

This article was corrected on January 3, 2002.

Julia Phillips, the ebullient and caustic producer of “The Sting,” “Taxi Driver” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who was the first woman ever to receive a best picture Oscar, died Monday. She was 57.

Phillips died of cancer in her Hollywood home, according to her daughter, Kate Phillips, and son-in-law, Modi Wiczyk.

A few years after she married businessman Michael Phillips in 1966, the couple formed Bill/Phillips Prods. with actor Tony Bill. In contrast to her even-tempered husband, Phillips gained a reputation as a brilliant but intimidating raconteur who would say anything — one who stayed up all night, swore like a stevedore and smoked nonstop.

“I thought she’d make a good partner,” said Bill, with whom Phillips produced “The Sting” and “Taxi Driver.” “I was right.”

At the dawn of the 1970s, young and aggressive producers were something of an anomaly in Hollywood, and the trio took the town by storm.

In 1973, the 29-year-old Phillips walked onto the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage with her husband and Bill to receive the best picture Oscar for “The Sting.” True to form, she spoke first: “You can imagine what a trip this is for a Jewish girl from Great Neck,” she said. “I get to win an Academy Award and meet Elizabeth Taylor at the same time.”

What followed was a hot streak that still seems freakish 30 years later: After “Taxi Driver,” which earned the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes International Film Festival, Phillips produced “Close Encounters of The Third Kind.”

However, the 1977 film proved to be something of a coda for Phillips. After producing three of the decade’s iconic movies, she had a production deal at 20th Century Fox with a staff of 30. However, her raging cocaine habit took hold, and she didn’t produce another film for 11 years.

Born Julia Miller in Manhattan in 1944 and raised in Long Island, her father was a scientist who worked on the Los Alamos project that developed the atomic bomb. She worked in publishing before moving to production company First Artists, where she became the protege of David Begelman. There, she worked with actors like Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.

Phillips spent the 1980s getting clean and producing just one film, “The Beat” in 1988. She was also preparing to write a book, one that would make her famous in a new realm.

“You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again” showed that she was her father’s daughter: The 1991 tell-all memoir was nuclear fission in downtown Beverly Hills. Filled with tales of debauchery that invoked the names of luminaries like Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty and Martin Scorsese, the title made its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

“She was as ferocious a friend as she was a foe,” said Ruth Vitale, co-president of Paramount Classics. “She said what she meant and always said it. In this town, that’s a rare asset.”

In Phillips’ case, it was also a quality that ensured her career was truly over. According to Wiczyk, that didn’t trouble her. “She always said, ‘It turned me from an old producer into an icon.’ ”

Like any savvy producer, Phillips followed her hit with a sequel. She penned a follow-up to “Lunch,” “Driving Under the Affluence,” which was published in 1995.

“She was amazing,” said CAA’s John Ptak, who was Phillips’ first agent. “A few of us were truly lucky to be with her at the time.”

Besides daughter Kate, she is survived by a brother, Matthew.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

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