Sandy Lieberson Producer Big Break Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Sandy Lieberson’s career spans nearly 60 years and a wide range of activities, including producing films such as “Performance,” attacked at the time of its 1970 release, but now regarded as a masterwork of British cinema. Variety first noted Lieberson in 1961 when he was a talent agent leaving Los Angeles for a gig at the Jaffe Agency and a lifelong business adventure in Europe.

You were a young agent with major clients at William Morris. Why move to Europe?

I was the first male secretary at the Morris office, working for the agency’s president, Abe Lastfogel. A lot of people didn’t like it when I got promoted to agent. One of those who really didn’t like it was Sam Weisbord. When I advised my client, Susan Oliver, to turn down a TV series and stick to film, Weisbord was furious, and called me a stupid, disloyal a**h**e who cost the agency millions in lost commissions. I didn’t see a future there.

And Europe’s allure?

It was partially because so many Jaffe clients were working in Europe due to the tax laws of the time. If you worked overseas and didn’t report the income, it was tax-free money. So lots of actors, directors and writers were working in Italy, Spain and the U.K. There was also a lot of blacklisted talent working in Spain and Italy.

Europe in the early ’60s must have been a colorful place.

One of my first tasks was to get some of the younger Jaffe clients in “Cleopatra,” which was shooting in Italy. So it was my responsibility to find the handmaidens for Cleopatra’s court.

That doesn’t sound too taxing.

My real first job was to sit in the offices of Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, and wait for the brown paper bag with the cash for our clients. That’s the way you got paid in Europe in those days.

All this prepared you to produce films yourself?

I came from the Hollywood studio system, and I discovered a completely different way to work. It was the director’s medium. So I saw how Fellini and Visconti worked with their writers, how they collaborated and developed scripts and the kinds of stories they wanted to tell. They were personal and idiosyncratic, and it was a relaxed way of filmmaking. It was the zenith of Italian cinema. Neo-realism had moved on, and they were making new kinds of movies: De Sica, Rossellini, Germi.

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