Elliott Kastner, a former MCA agent who produced more than 60 films in the past four decades, including “Where Eagles Dare” and a trio of Raymond Chandler adaptations, died Wednesday in London of cancer. He was 80.
His two Hollywood films taught him the value of star power, and so he set Warren Beatty for “Kaleidoscope.” After that, he worked with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton on the 1968 “Eagles,” plus such stars as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Sellers, James Mason, Jack Nicholson, Robert Shaw, Robert Mitchum, Michael Caine, Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Bridges.
The World War II thriller “Where Eagles Dare” was the first adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel and he subsequently produced or exec produced other MacLean thrillers: “When Eight Bells Toll” with Anthony Hopkins and Corin Redgrave, “Fear Is the Key,” featuring a young Ben Kingsley, and “Breakheart Pass” with Charles Bronson.
Kastner’s first producing venture was an Ann-Margtret drama, “Bus Riley’s Back in Town,” in 1965 and he hit it big with his second outing, the 1966 Paul Newman private eye pic “Harper” (1966). For his third film, “Kaleidoscope,” he raised private money, then sold the completed pic to Warner Bros.
“That was the beginning of producers taking control creatively by self financing,” said his stepson Cassian Elwes, who formerly headed William Morris Agency’s indie film financing wing.
Kastner was American born, and spent much of his professional life alternating between Hollywood and Europe.(In the 1950s, he was stationed with U.S. European Command in Frankfurt and Paris.) He partnered with Jerry Gershwin in Via Winkast Film Prods., a shingle based at Pinewood Studios.
“It’s incredible the people he worked with,” Elwes said, who worked with his stepfather on 1984’s “Oxford Blues,” starring Rob Lowe and Ally Sheedy.
Marlon Brando’s former agent and Kastner’s former producing partner Jay Kanter remembered that Kastner “had a love-hate relationship with Brando, but he always ended up on Brando’s good side. I think Brando just appreciated what kind of guy Elliott was and especially the kinds of movies Elliott was trying to make. Elliott had a wonderful way with writers and that dates all the way back to his days as an agent at MCA. If there were two words to pin down the essence of Elliott, it’s the title of that great Sinatra song: ‘My Way.'”
Kastners most recent pic credits include “Angel Heart” (1987, with Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke), “Sweet November” (2001, Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves) and the Greek-lensed “Opa!” (2005).
Kastner also produced film versions of the Chandler novels “The Long Goodbye” (1971), “Farewell, My Lovely” (1975) and “The Big Sleep” (1978).
Kastner was expert at dealing with high-maintenance actors. According to “Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers,” the star fought with Kastner to take the directing credit for 1967’s “Bobo” from Bob Parrish, but the producer stood firm.
One day Sellers refused to leave his trailer, “because someone was wearing green,” Elwes said. Kastner went into his trailer and had a talk with the thesp, after which Sellers was never late again, Elwes said.
In the mid-1970s, Kastner knew Nicholson wanted to work with Brando, both of whom were neighbors on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles.
“They hardly knew each other even though they were practically next door,” Elwes said. So Kastner went up to their homes and told them they should work together, which led to them co-starring for him in “The Missouri Breaks” (1976), directed by Arthur Penn.
Kastner is survived by his wife, Tessa Kennedy; son, Dillon, and daughter, Milica, as well as stepchildren who include Elwes’ brothers, actor Cary Elwes, and Damian Elwes, an artist.
Private services will be held in London and a later memorial is planned for California.
(Gordon Cox contributed to this report.)