Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

Robert Cort, at the age of fifty-six, is the beau ideal of a certain kind of nearly vanished Hollywood producer. At lunch recently, in his customary booth at Morton's, in West Hollywood, he wore white silk trousers, a green nailhead jacket, and a Franck Muller wristwatch the size of a hard-boiled egg. Beneath a jester's cap of curly brown hair, his face was tanned a color only George Hamilton's mother could love.

After serving as an executive at Columbia and Fox in the seventies and eighties, Cort produced dozens of popular movies, including "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Mr. Holland's Opus." When he turned fifty, he said, he found himself "trying to figure out what I'd accomplished and what I hadn't, what my career had been about and what this town was about." Rather than following the traditional three-act structure of a Hollywood midlife crisis (Humvee; Botox; A.A.), Cort went the other way. While continuing to produce films, such as "Save the Last Dance," he began writing a book called "The Second Act," a history of the film business from 1948 to the present.

"The thesis was that in order to survive the enormous assaults on the business the people in it wound up selling their souls," Cort said. With his keen sense of what an audience wants, he quickly realized that no one would read such a book. So he decided to turn it into a novel. The result, called "Action!," is about the outsized passions of dozens of real-life colleagues, including Robert Evans, Julia Phillips, and Sam Kinison. Random House will publish the novel next month, but it is already being anxiously read in the film community. (To insure market saturation, Cort had a thousand extra galley copies printed, at his own expense.)

The hero of "Action!" is a producer named A. J. Jastrow, a slightly older, bolder, and sexier version of the author. A.J. turns up wherever the historically revealing excitement is. There is, for instance, a hotel-room encounter with Romy Schneider, the Austrian star of "What's New, Pussycat?":

She massaged the carpet with her toes. "I ought to be . . . punished . . . for what I did.""Punished how?"

Romy spoke barely above a whisper. "The way all bad girls are punished."

"I had a thing for Romy Schneider," Cort explained. (Schneider died in 1982.) "I spoke to her publicist the other day, and she said, 'Romy was so promiscuous, but I didn't know she was into spanking.' I said, 'Well, I talked to some people who knew her and somebody specified that.' She said, 'It makes total sense to me. …

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