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Production Companies

May, 2011

(revised 12/2/14)

Production Companies - Profiles:
* (Sept, 2011) The MTM Story
* (July, 2011) The Desilu Story





SIDNEY POITIER, BARBRA STREISAND,
PAUL NEWMAN & STEVE MCQUEEN:
   

THE "FIRST ARTISTS" STORY
by CEJ


 

   Poitier and Newman in PARIS BLUES (1961)


      Those who grew up watching movies in the 1970s and 80s noticed the nifty animated logo of a production company affixed to the beginning of a number of Warner Bros. films - among them the original THE GETAWAY, UP THE SANDBOX, UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT, STRAIGHT TIME, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, THE MAIN EVENT, THE GUMBALL RALLY and more.  Well, actually there were two different logos.  The one used in later years featured a cursive typeface (yes, we're showing our age here using that word; so, for the under 30 crowd, we'll call it "font" - closest to "aquifina script" or "aka Dora", cool, huh?).  And the earlier one consisted of four parallel multi-colored lines which separated then morphed into individual line drawings which for all the world looked a helluva lot like PAUL NEWMAN, SIDNEY POITIER, BARBRA STREISAND and STEVE MCQUEEN.  Well, that was probably because ... they were.
       

     In 1969 one of Hollywood’s biggest power players, super agent FREDDIE FIELDS, convinced Newman, Poitier and Streisand to pool their considerable box office clout in the formation of FIRST ARTISTS - a production company with which the stars could launch more personal projects as well as exert creative control over them.  While not the first such company run by the talent (JAMES GARNER had earlier formed CHEROKEE and CLINT EASTWOOD, MALPASO) it was the most prestigious joint venture of it’s kind since CHARLIE CHAPLIN, DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS, MARY PICKFORD and director D.W. GRIFFITH formed the original UNITED ARTISTS company in 1919 - an event which (if one believes legend) is said to have prompted METRO PICTURES studio chief RICHARD ROWLAND into stating that  “the Lunatics have taken charge of the asylum”.   This however was a new era, and by the time FIRST ARTISTS hit the ground running, the lunatic surely would have been any fool scoffing at such an assemblage of cinematic talent and power - especially when Mr. Bad Boy boffo box office himself,  STEVE MCQUEEN,  joined the creative cadre in 1971, then DUSTIN HOFFMAN later in 1976.


        

     

     With each of the participating principals agreeing to produce three films, and those films distributed primarily through WARNER BROS. between 1972 - 1980,  the financial agreement under which the venture would operate was actually reprinted / published by New Times Magazine




     "First Artists is a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, a company controlled by the "artists" Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen and Barbra Streisand. In return for making three pictures without the million-dollar "front money" that any other studio would have to pay them, the stars can make whatever movies they want, so long as the budget is under $3 million for a dramatic film, $5 million for a musical. Warners gets the distribution rights, reimbursing First Artists for two-thirds of the film's negative cost upon delivery of a finished film. And the artists get 25 percent of the gross - a quarter for every dollar the theater owners return to Warners - right off the top." - ("New Times" Jan. 24, 1975)





   Newman and McQueen on the set of THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)


      During it’s relatively short 8 year life span (at the height of what many still consider the film industry’s most fertile era  - the 1970s) First Artists would produce an astounding 24 projects; with 15 of them starring one of the principal partners.  They'd admit to producing a clunker or two (“The Paul Williams Show” TV pilot) as well as a few “pay the rent” films geared to box office tastes of the day (the enjoyable THE GUMBALL RALLY for instance).  But they’d mostly leave behind a slew of critically acclaimed gems (A WARM DECEMBER, A STAR IS BORN) and even a handful of bonafied cinema classics including THE GETAWAY,  UP THE SANDBOX and UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT. 


     With the beginning of the next decade however, the ascension of the "lines-around-the-block"  mega-movie had begun to replace the smaller scale studio film.  So in 1980 the FIRST ARTISTS partners, having fulfilled their agreed upon contracts, sold the company and went their separate creative ways, remaining close friends and occasional business cohorts over the years.


    

     As for the brainchild behind the venture,  in 1975 Freddie Fields' Creative Management Associates merged with the International Famous Agency to form ICM (International Creative Management), one of the most prestigious talent representation firms in the world.  At  ICM he’d continue to rep Newman, Streisand and McQueen as well as Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Woody Allen and Liza Minnelli, and directors such as Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks and George Lucas.  He’d independently produce the films LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, CRIMES OF THE HEART and GLORY, and make stars out of young up and comers like Richard Gere,  Mel Gibson and TV host Montel Williams.  Upon his death in December 2007, Streisand, in regards to their days at FIRST ARTISTS, reflected ...


      “We lived through a very exciting time together.  He was a very creative thinker.  I always enjoyed his company.  It’s the end of an era”.











Site Search Index:






 The STEVE MCQUEEN films:



 THE GETAWAY (1972)

    Professional bank robber “Doc” McCoy (McQueen) and his wife (Ali MacGraw) take it on the lam when a heist goes horribly wrong.  One of the best chase films ever (scripted by Walter Hill from a novel by Jim Thompson), this was one of McQueen and director Sam Peckinpah’s (THE WILD BUNCH) most financially successful films.  It was remade in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.



 

 AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1978)

    McQueen is a scientist at odds with community town fathers attempting to suppress evidence of dangerous river contamination.  A labor of love for McQueen, this adaptation of Ibsen’s play (scripted by playwright Arthur Miller) was unavailable for years until released in 2009 as part of the Warner Archives DVD collection.




  
  TOM HORN (1980)

    McQueen’s second to last film is a fact-based western of an aging Wyoming bounty hunter caught up in a controversial shooting (“was it an accident or intentional?”) of a child.  The same story was told in a 1979 TV movie “MR. HORN” scripted by William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN) and starring David Carradine.


THE GETAWAY (1972) Theatrical Trailer
 


 






The SIDNEY POITIER films:



  A WARM DECEMBER (1973)

    One year after making his directorial debut with the western BUCK AND THE PREACHER, Poitier again directed himself in this touching tearjerker of a widower doctor arrived in London who finds himself falling in love with a woman dying of sickle cell anemia.




  UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT (1974)

    Dismayed at the image of African-Americans in blaxploitation films of the day, Poitier directed this anti-ploitation comedy which became a cross-over hit.  In the Damon Runyon-esque plot he and Bill Cosby portray two blue-collar friends who, on a dare, visit an illegal after-hours nightclub which is then robbed.  When Poitier discovers the next morning his wallet which was stolen contains a winning lottery ticket, he and Cosby venture into the criminal underworld to find it with hilarious results.  With a supporting cast including Harry Belefonte, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor and Roscoe Lee Brown, this was so popular Poitier and Cosby went on to star together in two subsequent comedies.  


 

 
  LET’S DO IT AGAIN (1975)


    Second in what came to be known as the “Uptown Trilogy”.  Poitier and Cosby (as different characters than the first film) attempt to stave foreclosure of their fraternal lodge by becoming involved in a Vegas scam turning scrawny boxer, GOOD TIMES' star Jimmy “J.J.” Walker,  into a heavyweight champ.  While the plot's reminiscent of an episode of THE THREE STOOGES (and even a BUGS BUNNY cartoon for that matter), the energy and conviction of a game cast (also including GOOD TIMES' John Amos, Calvin Lockhart, Ossie Davis, Denise Nicholas and legendary musician Billy Eckstein) throwing themselves headlong into their characterizations makes this one of the most enjoyable comedies of the 1970s.  Look quick for an opening scene cameo with boxer George Foreman as a factory worker who humorously attempts to pic a fight with Bill Cosby.
 

  A PIECE OF THE ACTION (1977)

    Third pairing of Poitier and the “Cos” (and Poitier’s last acting role for the next ten years) finds the duo as high-class cat burglar / con artists nailed by detective James Earl Jones and offered clemency if they’ll  help a neighborhood juvenile center.  In 2002 Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment production company secured the rights to the three "Uptown Trilogy" films.  And the actor / producer has hopes to remake them with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence respectively in the Poitier and Cosby roles.   





UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT (1974) Theatrical Trailer 









The BARBRA STREISAND films:



  UP THE SANDBOX (1972)

    Irvin Kershner (THE FLIM FLAM MAN, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) directs one of the most intriguing curios of the 70s with Streisand (in an acclaimed performance) as a neglected housewife and mother who starts to slip in toand out of a Walter Mitty-esque fantasy world.  One of Streisand’s biggest box office disappointments at the time of it’s release, the film has since gone on to acclaim.  Finally given a DVD release in 2004.



  A STAR IS BORN (1976)

    Streisand bounced back with one of her all-time biggest box office hits in this update of the twice told story of a singer/songwriter on her way up (Streisand) in love with a self destructive singer/songwriter on his way down (Kris Kristofferson).  The first version (1937) starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March; the second (1954) featured Judy Garland and James Mason.


  THE MAIN EVENT (1979)

    In a plot device years later (kinda/sorta) lifted by the TV series MOONLIGHTING, Streisand plays a perfume magnate who’s accountant absconds with her wealth, leaving her nothing but a broken down “tax-write-off”of a boxer (Ryan O’Neal).  She decides to prime him for the ring, but O‘Neal has a terrible fear of being hit.  This romantic comedy was panned by critics but a huge hit with the public.





Excerpt from BARBRA STREISAND - AFI TRIBUTE (2001):
Barbra Streisand and Dir. Irvin Kershner talk UP THE SANDBOX (1972)










The PAUL NEWMAN films:


  POCKET MONEY (1972)

    Meandering but very enjoyable contemporary western (scripted by BADLANDS’ Terence Malick) about two none-to-intelligent, debt-ridden loser / hustlers (Newman and Lee Marvin) becoming mixed up in a "get rich quick" scam involving crooked cattlemen in U.S. / Mexico border country. 




  THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1972)

    One of the best but little seen films from both Paul Newman and director John Huston (THE MALTESE FALCON, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING).  Newman has fun playing tall-tale folk hero (but true-life inspired) “Judge” Roy Bean, self appointed “law west of the Pecos” who, FORREST GUMP-like, over his lifetime crosses paths with a train of colorful characters from American history.  Huge cast includes Ned Beatty, Roddy McDowell, Victoria Principle, Ava Gardner, Jacqueline Bisset, Stacey Keach, Michael Sarrazin, director John Huston (having a grand 'ol time as Grizzly Adams), and Anthony Perkins.  "For Texas, and Miss Lilly!" 





  THE DROWNING POOL (1975)

    Newman’s 1966 humorous detective film HARPER (based on the best selling Ross MacDonald "Lew Archer" novel THE MOVING TARGET) was such a hit - garnering numerous imitations (among them Gregory MacDonald’s FLETCH series), this follow up entry (also based on a Ross MacDonald thriller) took everyone's favorite contemporary Sam Spade from California to Louisiana, where he helps the family of an old flame (portrayed by Newman's real life wife Joanne Woodward) caught in a financial power struggle. 


THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1972) Theatrical Trailer








The DUSTIN HOFFMAN films:



 


  STRAIGHT TIME (1978)


    Dustin Hoffman’s tour de force performance powers this film adaptation of ex convict Edward Bunker’s novel of a released thief (Hoffman) attempting to go straight, but who’s constantly thwarted by his sleazy parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh).  Hoffman started directing the film himself, then after a few days turned the project over to Ulu Grosbard (THE SUBJECT WAS ROSES, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN).



  AGATHA (1979)

    Speculative fiction surrounding the mysterious true-life 12 day disappearance in 1926 of crime novelist Agatha Christie (TEN LITTLE INDIANS, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) - here portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave.  Hoffman plays an American journalist who tracks the writer down then begins to fall in love with her.  Generally well reviewed film (featuring gorgeous cinematography by THE LAST EMPEROR's Vittorio Storaro, and a young future James Bond Timothy Dalton as Redgrave’s unfaithful husband) remained largely unseen at the time of it's release.







STRAIGHT TIME (1978) Theatrical Trailer









THE FIRST ARTISTS TV PROJECTS:




  MINSTREL MAN
  (1977 TV movie)

 
    William A. Graham (GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES) directs Glynn Turman and Stanley Clay as two brothers in the early 1900s attempting to break free of the world and stereotypes associated with black minstrel performers. 



  FLIGHT TO HOLOCAUST 
  (1977 TV movie)


    70s genre director Bernard L. Kowalski (KRAKATOA: EAST OF JAVA, SSSSSS) helmed this undistinguished if spiffy and cleverly cast Irwin Allen-style disaster adventure.  Patrick Wayne and Christopher Mitchum (yup! the sons of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum) are troubleshooters called in when a plane strikes the 20th floor of a skyscraper.  Think of it as sort of a TV "mash-up" of AIRPORT and THE TOWERING INFERNO.  





  GETTING IN SHAPE FOR THE MAIN EVENT (1979)
 
    Editor Andrew J. Kuehn  (the “father of the modern film trailer”) directed this “Behind the Scenes” broadcast TV special about the making of Streisand’s film THE MAIN EVENT. 

  THE PAUL WILLIAMS SHOW (1979)
 
    This proposed apparent children’s anthology series (featuring singer/songwriter Paul Williams as a Martian introducing stories) was actually a “wrap-a-round” concept attempting to bundle numerous un-picked up tv pilot episodes into one package.  This show itself was never picked up.






OTHER FILMS:





  GUMBALL RALLY (1976)


    This enjoyable cross country road race comedy, written by Leon Capetanos (DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, MOON OVER PARADOR), starred Michael Sarrazin (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD), Gary Busey (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) and a young Raul Julia (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, THE BURNING SEASON). Based on the same true-life race which also inspired David Carradine’s 1976 film CANNONBALL and the 1981 Burt Reynolds comedy THE CANNONBALL RUN, this rendition is far and away the best. 



  BOBBY DEERFIELD (1977)
 
    Sydney Pollack’s (THE WAY WE WERE, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR) box office disappointment tear-jerker set within the Grand Prix world starred Al Pacino as an emotionally self destructive driver falling in love with terminally ill Florentine aristocrat Marthe Keller.





 



Julia and Sarrazin: THE GUMBALL RALLY (1976)



  THE ONE AND ONLY (1978)

    Cocky college kid Henry Winkler determines to make it in show biz, but ends up a “Gorgeous George”- type professional wrestling sensation.  Directed by Carl Reiner (THE JERK, OH GOD!) and written by Steve Gordon (ARTHUR), this modest little movie not only did decent box office but was surprisingly lauded by professional wrestlers for it’s realistic depiction of their sport.  





  ZERO TO SIXTY (1978)
 
    Comedic car crash fest (cashing in on the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT fervor of the previous year) never got a theatrical release, but did eventually score decent reviews for Darren McGavin (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER)’s portrayal of a down on his luck divorcee who falls in with a league of renegade repo men.   


  STEVIE (1978)
 
    Both Glenda Jackson and Mona Washbourne were multiple award nominees around the world for this Robert Enders (NASTY HABITS) directed biography about the life and times (and years long battle with depression) of British poet / author Stevie Smith.  Based on the 1977 play by Hugh Whitemore - who's legendary film work would go on to include NIXON: THE FINAL DAYS, ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL and 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD.  











                                                                 CEJ - May, 2011 (Revised 12/2/14)             



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