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Producer Mark Johnson says a film critic changed his life. The young filmmaker had just finished executive producing his first film, which also marked the directorial debut of his friend Barry Levinson.

Johnson was convinced that he and Levinson had made a very special movie, but the test screenings were horrible, and MGM, which was supposed to release the film, told the budding duo the future of “Diner” was uncertain. “They didn’t know what to do with it,” recalls Johnson. “And we were worried it was going to stay on the shelf.”

So the distraught producer recruited the help of his mother. “She had become best friends with Pauline Kael, probably the most influential critic in the country. I didn’t even know that she knew Pauline Kael.”

Johnson showed the film to Kael in a New York screening room, and she liked “Diner” so much that she called the executives at MGM insisting that they give the film a theatrical release. Kael also assured them that she would write a glowing review, and predicted that her colleagues in the mainstream media would follow suit, which they did.

“Without her support,” Johnson says, “I doubt the movie would ever have been released and, had it not been released, Barry Levinson and all six major actors and I could have had very different careers.”