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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,548

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This is the future grave of Irwin Winkler.

Born in New York in 1931, Winkler grew up in a Jewish immigrant family there. His family lived near Coney Island and he spent a lot of time there as a kid. He went into the military after graduating from high school early and briefly attending NYU. He was really young at NYU and didn’t fit in and didn’t enjoy it. So the Korean War broke out and Winkler volunteered. He never saw Korea though. He spent two years at a base in Louisiana and then was discharged, returning to NYU where he gradated in 1955.

Winkler got a job after graduation with William Morris Agency, the big Hollywood talent agency. He was a pretty junior member of the staff there and wasn’t a particularly good agent, according to his own lights. But he was a good gladhandler, which is what a good agent really requires. He and Robert Chartoff, a more senior agent who represented Jackie Mason, soon decided to start their own talent agency. As part of his severance with WMA, he got to take clients the agency didn’t want anymore. One of them was Julie Christie. That worked out very well. They got her the screen test for Doctor Zhivago and she killed it. They also got the producer Joseph Levine to take a chance on John Schlesinger, as he was making the transition to Hollywood. This was for Darling, which got nominated for Best Picture.

All of a sudden Winkler and Chartoff were big deals in Hollywood. So they started producing films themselves. Their first was the Elvis vehicle Double Trouble, in 1967. OK, nothing much there. But they would shoot into the stratosphere of the finest movies of the late 60s and 70s pretty fast. That started with Point Blank, the great John Boorman film with Lee Marvin. Then came They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, which I happen to find unwatchable, but I recognize that a lot of people think it is a classic. Then there was Stuart Hagmann’s The Strawberry Statement, which a) I have never even heard of and b) won the Jury Prize at Cannes. I find it kind of remarkable that for all the attention I have paid to the films of this era that this could happen. Maybe I should find it. Then they produced Rocky and all the rest of the series through the fifth. So OK, yeah, they were doing just fine.

But it was Martin Scorsese that really made Winkler’s reputation. Or maybe it was Winkler who made Scorsese’s reputation. In any case, these guys worked together to make some of the greatest films in the American canon. This included Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, and Goodfellas. Oh, is that all. By the time of Goodfellas though, Winkler was on his own. He and Chartoff had broken their partnership after The Right Stuff, another incredibly successful film.

Now, Winkler also got the idea that he should be behind the director’s chair. Usually this is a terrible idea. I mean, is there a single person at this point who doesn’t want to tell George Clooney to stop directing his dogshit movies and get back to acting, where he is beloved? Clooney makes Ron Howard look like Scorsese. But I guess that’s what he wants to do these days. That’s what Winkler wanted to do too. Like Scorsese, he relied on Robert DeNiro early on, casting him in the lead for 1991’s Guilt by Suspicion and 1992’s remake of Night and the City. I seem to remember The Net the best, with Sandra Bullock, an early “the internet is scary” film. There were a few more utterly forgettable films as well, concluding with 2006’s Home of the Brave, a terrible film about Iraq War veterans.

But Winkler didn’t stop producing entirely while he played as a director. He didn’t produce much, no, but there was The Juror and The Shipping News, among other films in this period. After he gave up on the directing, he went back to producing pretty much full time and has continued to do so up to the present. That included the first two Creed movies. He also started working with Scorsese again, producing both Silence and The Irishman. He has at least one film in production as well, which is a new Barry Levinson film titled Alto Knights, in which DeNiro plays both Vito Genovese and Frank Costello in a dual role about the mob in the 50s. Hmmmm…..Interestingly, this film has been kicked around for a full fifty years, going all the way back to the early 70s but never quite got green lit until now. He also wrote a memoir in 2019, A Life In Movies: Stories from 50 years in Hollywood. Could be interesting I guess.

I always find is slightly weird when people put their own names on their gravestone before they die, but it’s actually pretty common these days. I don’t think Margo has passed yet either. Also you might know her, since Scorsese put her in tiny roles in a bunch of his films thanks to Winkler producing him. She was Belle Kessler in Goodfellas, the wife of the idiot Morrie. She was also the receptionist in The King of Comedy. In any case, some people like contemplating their own grave.

Irwin Winkler will someday be buried in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California.

Winkler was nominated for a number of Oscars, but we all know how hard it was for Scorsese to win an Oscar and that meant Winkler too. He was first nominated in 1981 for Raging Bull. It’s insane that it did not win Best Picture that year. I mean Ordinary People, get the fuck out of here.

In any case, if you would like this series to visit other people nominated for Oscars in 1981, you can donate to covered the required expenses here. Presumably those graves would be of people who are actually dead! Ronald Schwary, producer for Ordinary People, is in Los Angeles and Bernard Schwartz, nominated for producing Coal Miner’s Daughter, is in Culver City, California. I need more time in LA basically. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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