Former dancer discovered Phoenix, Dunst

Iris Burton, a former hoofer who discovered a slew of child actors, died Saturday in Woodland Hills. She was 77 and had been suffering from pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Services for Burton will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills.

Burton discovered child thesps including River Phoenix, Kirsten Dunst and Henry Thomas. At one point in the 1980s, Burton had child actors in virtually every sitcom. Over the years, her clients included Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Drew Barrymore, Tori Spelling, Fred Savage, Jerry O’Connell and Kirk Cameron. She co-represented Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Hartnett until recently.

Burton got into the tenpercentery biz following her divorce from actor-director-scribe Sidney Miller, whom she met on the set of “The Ten Commandments.” Burton, who had a son, Barry, to support, had gone on welfare when agent William Schuller, who repped a young Ron Howard, gave her a job. While there, she gravitated toward child stars and eventually started the Iris Burton Agency.

“She represented a who’s who of child stars,” said David Permut, who got to know her when considering Barrymore for an Eddie Murphy vehicle that never got made. “We all take pride in discovering people in this business. She did it in spades.”

Born in Gotham, Burton started as a dancer, hoofing on Broadway in shows such as “Top Banana,” starring Phil Silvers. In the 1950s, she moved to Hollywood, where she danced in the film version of “Top Banana,” among other productions.

Burton never lost her larger-than-life personality.

“She was always brassy,” Permut said. “She always said what was on her mind. She was always an ex-showgirl from New York.”

Arlyn “Heart” Phoenix, mother of the acting brood, said Burton protected her children’s welfare like a mother bear. “I will miss her very much,” she said, starting to tear up. “She always stood by my kids in every way. She had a deep respect for the choices we made.”

At the time Burton discovered the Phoenix acting clan, Hart Phoenix was working for an NBC casting agent and the children were singing for money in Westwood.

Permut said Burton always had a big Christmas party at her hilltop home “for all the kids.”

Her son, Barry, became an actor, co-starring in such films as “Saturday Night Fever” and “Fame.” In 1985, he won a Tony for the Neil Simon hit Broadway comedy “Biloxi Blues.”

Donations may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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