The Call From Andrew Lloyd Weber
Sunset Blvd, one of the grimmest and sardonic movies about Hollywood, directed by Billy Wilder, was going to become a musical.
We had gotten a call from across the pond from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s people. Andrew wanted to adapt the classic Sunset Blvd into a musical production. Andrew already had a few songs written. At Paramount’s pleasure, Andrew would fly in to LA to play them for us.
Billy Wilder’s incredibly dark drama was considered in most academic circles a classic. The drama focused on an aging Hollywood movie star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who lures a young hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden) into her decaying Hollywood mansion to write her comeback movie and to become her lover. The saga does not end well. The ending became the opening scene, and the movie, one long flashback.
The Swimming Pool
Sunset Blvd. famously opens with a dead screenwriter lying face down in a swimming pool – the dead screenwriter narrates the story.
The dead guy narration was daring for it’s time. This narration conceit was used years later in the oscar-winning, American Beauty.
While I didn’t know how it could all work, I was excited that such a towering talent like Andrew Lloyd Weber, of Phantom of The Opera and Evita fame, wanted to tackle Paramount’s gothic tale.
I actually ran down the stairs to tell our head of Business Affairs, Richard Fowkes, the intriguing news.
Richard was a brilliant lawyer with a kind demeanor – a unique mix in Hollywood. And Richard was a musical aficionado – he knew the difference between Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe – and everything in between. He had a vast knowledge of theatre and loved it. He and his wife, Flo, and their kids Sloan and Jillian always seemed to be flying back and forth to New York to get Richard’s dose of musical theatre.
Richard sat back in his chair and thought for a while. “Yes. I think that could work.”
“Could you personally see this through and keep Frank (Frank Mancuso) informed corporately.”
“Sure, of course.”
For several months, Richard worked tirelessly on the deal. Through his kind, shrewd and strong manner, he structured the deal not as a simple licensing arrangement, but as a partnership between Paramount and Andrew’s Really Useful Company.
When we closed the deal, Andrew flew to LA.
We found a piano on the studio lot, and in an empty rehearsal hall, Andrew played the songs he had written to a handful of executives, including Richard.
We loved what we heard. Andrew was a true artist and brought you into his creative thought process. As I remember, he had wanted Ann Margaret as his muse for this but Glenn Close ended up opening the show on Broadway.
Richard’s Innate sense of courtesy
When we got back to Richard’s office after the recital, Richard said, “Do you have a number for Billy Wilder?”
I actually did. Billy had worked as a consultant at Weintraub Entertainment where I had worked a few years ago.
“We should call him before the press release goes out.”
“Oh” I said, red-faced.
“Yes, as a courtesy,” Richard said. “Don’t you think it would be the right thing to do?”
That was Richard Fowkes . He was the most courteous, thoughtful man in a tough deal making business. Richard had a great sense for the careful and protective treatment of artists.
Richard and I got Billy on the phone.
Suddenly, we were both nervous. It was the great Billy Wilder, the director of not only Sunset Blvd, but The Apartment and Some Like It Hot.
While Billy was instrumental in the production of the movie, Sunset Blvd, he did not have approval rights on other productions. Nevertheless, we were anxious as to his reaction.
The Call To Billy Wilder
“This is such exciting news Billy,” I said, badly selling it. “Andrew Lloyd Weber is going to adapt your movie into a stage show.”
“A show on stage?” he asked quietly.
“Yes….it’s going to become an American musical.”
“You mean with flats and light and floor boards?”
“Hmmm.” He responded.
Then nothing from Billy. We waited. Richard knew that an artist needed to process.
Then finally, “Vat about the swimming pool?”
“What do you mean?”
“With the flats and floorboards, is he going to build a swimming pool on stage?”
We said we didn’t know and that we thought it best, if he was open to it, for Andrew and he to speak artist to artist. Billy was agreeable to that.
In fact, Billy and Andrew became friends and Billy quite enjoyed the musical.
But for Richard and I, “Vat about the swimming pool?” became a coda. It was such a great artistic and practical line.
We often used it to one another to make sure we hadn’t missed anything on deal terms
“Vat about the swimming pool” Richard would say and we would just laugh.
I have never met anyone so kind and courteous in the field of business affairs other than Steve Bersch, who for several years trained under him.
A few days ago, Richard Fowkes passed away from a tumor in the brain. He will be sorely missed by so many who had the privilege of knowing him and working with him.
He was a true prince, above we sometimes dog-like creatures.
But for Flo ,Sloane and Killian, there is some solace. Richard is surely in the place where he no longer has to worry about swimming pools…
Memorial Service for Richard
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, August 28th at Paramount Pictures (5555 Melrose Avenue, enter at the Main Gate-off Windsor). Please remember to bring photo ID for security check-in.
Arrivals will start at 6:30PM with the Memorial starting promptly at 7:00PM. This should run approximately 1 hour. Allow time for check-in and security. If you are intrested in attending, please contact Richard’s daughter Jillian here so that she can add you to the guest list.