Longtime agent and film executive Robert Littman died Monday of cancer. He was 63. Littman’s career spanned 40 years and included stints at MGM and Columbia Pictures.
He started at age 21 at the Hugh French Agency in 1959, and spent the next nine years boosting its talent department from a seven-person stable to a roster that included Gene Hackman, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Gene Wilder, Martin Landau, as well as current SAG prexy William Daniels.
In 1967, Littman became a founding partner in Chartwell Artists, but soon left to become head of the William Morris Agency’s London office. From there, he quickly moved from repping Peter Ustinov, David Niven and David Lean to becoming co-chairman of MGM film production, supervising production for all MGM pics shot outside the U.S. Littman made movies with such filmmakers as Lean (“Ryan’s Daughter”) and Ken Russell (“The Boy Friend”).
Littman returned to the U.S. in 1972 for a brief stint at Columbia Pictures “at Columbia’s worst time,” as he once described it, serving under then-prexy Stanley Schneider, and later, under another agent-turned-exec, David Begelman.
Littman was as colorful a raconteur as he was a heavy drinker. One friend of 40 years, Mike Wise of the Artists Agency, recounted, “He was a good friend, and an original. He showed up at my wedding, drunk. … He then lured away three or four guests to play at a poker game.” Added Wise fondly, “He lost a lot of money that night.”
After two difficult years at Col as executive in charge of creative affairs, Littman ankled to open his own talent shop, the Robert Littman Co. There, he had a hand in packaging pics like “The Deer Hunter,” “Altered States,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “The Woman in Red.”
His client list included, for the second time, Wilder and Mason — as well as new clients such as James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Mia Farrow, Cheryl Ladd and David Bowie. He also repped helmers like Nicolas Roeg and John Cassavetes, and scribe Christopher Isherwood.
“He lived life so fully, with a lot of style and humor,” said Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing, “and at the end, with an enormous amount of courage.”
Littman had been diagnosed with cancer seven years ago, and according to friend of 40 years Alan Ladd, had quit drinking over nine years ago. The two had met on the Universal lot when Littman, who’d lost his license due to drunken driving, asked Ladd for a ride.
“I remember he told me he was riddled with cancer six years ago,” Ladd said. “When I got to the hospital to see him after his surgery, he was in bed smoking a cigarette. That would have cured me of cigarettes for the rest of my life. But then, that was Robert: He was going to do things his own way.”
Indeed, in a short bio that Littman penned himself recently, he wrote, “… as I look back, I am rather amazed.”
Littman is survived by daughter Victoria, son Joshua, brother Paul Littman, sister Jaqueline Weiner, and mother Cissie Littman. A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount lot.