Q: Early in your career at UA, you helped make the deal with producer Cubby Broccoli to distribute the James Bond films. And you championed a film — Tom Jones — that won Best Picture. Did you have any idea how successful those projects would be?
A: I don't think anybody can judge it when you're that close to it. Tom Jones was not a complicated situation. The script was terrific. It was the first film I fought for. All the major studios had passed on Bond at various points. It's a very tough business, and a lot of success or failure has to do with things you can't possibly foresee. Anybody who thinks they really have the answers is a fool.
Q: At UA, you signed Woody Allen to his first movie deal. Later you produced The Jerk, Steve Martin's first movie. It seems like you took pride in discovering new artists.
A: Both of them are so talented. They would have become stars without me. But I don't know what you can get more pleasure from than from giving someone the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, and then seeing them succeed.
Q: Of which films are you most proud?
A: There are movies I don't think would have been made had we not done them at United Artists: certainly Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris.
Q: Are there successes that you think were overlooked?
A: Up in Smoke was probably the most fun for me, on a personal level. I had tried to make a Cheech and Chong movie when I was at UA. It was too soon. Years later, when I was at Paramount, I asked again. I told [their agent] Lou Adler he should direct it. He had never done a movie! We gave him a cameraman. We gave him an editor. The boys trusted him. And of course it was a gigantic hit. We got lucky.
Q: Reading your book, I was struck by the idea that it could make a fun movie, whisking people through 50 years of Hollywood history.
A: [Laughs] I do not see a script in there! But it's sure fun to talk about.
Austin O'Connor writes about entertainment for AARP Media.