The first time Nikki Finke met Ray Stark, the producer-agent-publicist threatened her. She calls him the Most Vindictive Man in Hollywood, but still wept upon his death over the weekend. Her Deadline Hollywood column is in today's LA Weekly.
We won’t see another like him anytime soon. Forget power, forget money...What a pity that none of Stark’s pro forma obituaries captured the essence of the producer (Night of the Iguana, The Way We Were, The Goodbye Girl, Annie and Steel Magnolias) about whom it was said: “If you run him over, you’d better make sure he’s dead.”
To describe his unique position in Hollywood is to understand the role of Cardinal Richelieu in 17th-century France: a plotter lurking behind the throne whose whispers to kings guided decisions and crafted policies, all the while crushing, then punishing, and ultimately replacing disobedients.
In turn, he was admired by the Industry more for his guile than his considerable success, intelligence and philanthropy. A master of intrigue, he was wily and manipulative, always maneuvering for an inside edge and getting off a few bons mots while doing it. Like the time he was close to finalizing a deal for a movie with Warren Beatty starring, Robert Towne writing and Elaine May directing, when, in her trademark soft voice, May suddenly said: “It’s all fine with me, but I want creative control and final cut.”
Stark couldn’t believe what he was hearing that late in the game. “Darling,” Stark declared to May, “you’ll only get creative control and final cut at your own circumcision.”
At FilmStew, Richard Horgan takes a more benign view of Stark and remembers him in the context of two other longtime Hollywood figures, publicist Warren Cowan and Bob Thomas, the Associated Press correspondent whose first assistant, hired just after World War II, was Army Archerd.
Update 2:45 p.m.: Finke also won a skirmish this week in her unfair-firing lawsuit against Disney and the New York Post. The L.A. Daily Journal reports today that an appeals court ruled against the Post in a procedural matter, and in doing so said Finke is likely to succeed on a key part of her claim. The story is not online.