Iconic Jewish Theatre and Film Producer Julian Schlossberg Reveals All in New Memoir
by Julian Schlossberg
“Try Not to Hold It Against Me: A Producer’s Life” by Julian Schlossberg (Beaufort Books)
“Try Not to Hold It Against Me” is the new memoir from legendary stage and screen producer Julian Schlossberg. Schlossberg has partied with Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. He has experienced the paranormal with Shirley MacLaine and Betty Hill. He has produced for Bruce Springsteen, Elia Kazan, Woody Allen, Sid Caesar and Orson Welles. He negotiated deals with the likes of Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, and Lillian Hellman. He interviewed legends including Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Nicholson, Bob Hope, and George Burns. He once testified against The Beatles, yet Mike Nichols called him “the nicest man in show business.”
With a foreword by Academy and Tony Award winner Elaine May, Schlossberg’s memoir tells the story of a boy from the Bronx who makes it to Broadway and beyond. Written with engaging humor and self-deprecation, “Try Not to Hold It Against Me” gives readers a behind-the-scenes pass to Cannes and Las Vegas, the lives and homes of the stars, and the rarely seen but crucial work of the producer in the midst of it all. Below is an excerpt from the book in which Schlossberg recalls his beginnings as a radio host. (Reprinted with permission from Beaufort Books.)
THE RADIO SHOW
One day, not long after that, I received a call from Jon Doyle, who was in charge of the New York City theaters controlled by Walter Reade. I was sure he was calling to congratulate me on Show of Shows, and I welcomed the call. I liked Jon — everyone did. A schmoozer with a Texas drawl, he was the go-to guy for tennis-tournament tickets, Broadway shows, baseball games, and more. I waited to hear his compliments.
He surprised me with what he said instead.
“Julian, you should have your own radio talk show,” he told me. “Thanks,” I laughed. “Okay with me. What’s your plan?”
“My friend is the sales manager for WMCA talk radio,” he explained. “They want to do a show on movies. You’d have to speak to the public on the phone and do interviews, but I know you can do it.”
I was then thirty-two years old, and I had never been on the radio. But I was interested. We went over to WMCA and met with the general manager and Jon’s friend, the sales manager. When I told him I was interested, the general manager said, “Good. You’ll go on today as a guest on The Leon Lewis Show at three p.m.”
It was now two-thirty p.m. Not much time to prepare.
Fortunately, Leon was gracious and charming. I told stories, I talked about current films, I talked about classics, I laughed with Leon, and then we talked on the phone with the public. I was on fire, and I stayed a full hour.
At the end of my guest shot, the two men who ran the station were waiting for me in the hallway.
“Very good,” they both said. “We want you to do just one more show.”
“Fellas, this is it,” I said. “That’s the best I can do. If what you heard isn’t good enough, I can’t do any better.”
They said they’d get back to me.
“Don’t worry,” Jon whispered when they’d gone. “It’s in the bag.” “Why?” I asked.
“They’re dying on Sunday night, and I told them we’d get movie stars to come on with you.”
Well, I did know a few movie names, and so did Jon. And he was right — they did say okay. They had one stipulation: they insisted I change my last name. That didn’t work for me. I knew that Schlossberg was sometimes hard for people to pronounce, but this was New York City. A lot of Jewish folks live there. I refused, and they eventually gave in.
On a Tuesday, Jon told me we were on for Sunday.
“Wait a minute,” I stammered. “It’s Tuesday! We need a guest — we need some sort of outline!”
“Don’t worry, Julian,” Jon said again. “It’s in the bag.”
We were scheduled from eight to nine p.m. — prime time Sunday. My first guest was film producer Stephen J. Friedman, whose big hit was “The Last Picture Show.” We had known each other awhile, and I knew he could talk — plus, he had a new Sidney Lumet film opening called “Loving Molly”, starring Anthony Perkins, Blythe Danner, Beau Bridges, and a newcomer named Susan Sarandon. We had a lot to talk about. I thought it would be a piece of cake.
But being a host on the radio is not the same as being a guest. The guest doesn’t have to worry about the pace of the show. Or the commercials. Or the time left. As the guest, you almost always know more about the subject than the host — but the host has a lot of work to do.
At some point, I knew I had to open the phones to the public. I wondered whether anyone would actually call in. I had told my parents and girlfriend to phone in with questions if no one dialed the station, so it wouldn’t be too embarrassing. When all seven of our lines lit up at once, I was relieved.
I went to the first line. “You’re on WMCA,” I said. “Julian?” a male voice asked.
The caller let out a huge Bronx cheer. (This is done by sticking out your tongue and making a noise that sounds a lot like flatulence.)
“Thank you for calling,” I immediately answered.
Though there was a seven-second delay and I knew no listener had heard the call, I started to sweat. My hand was shaking as I pushed line number two.
“Hello, you’re on WMCA.”
“Mr. Schlossberg?” another voice whispered. “Yes.”
“Well, thank you, sir, very much.”
I was now a basket case. Fortunately, the rest of the callers were all polite. Though I would be on WMCA for seven years, and later WOR for two more, I never, ever had that kind of rudeness again. But what a baptism by fire!
When the hour was mercifully almost over, my producer told me, “You have one minute left.”
“Good night,” I said immediately, “and I’ll be back next week.” Pause.
To my horror, I realized that fifty-five seconds were still left in the show.
“You’re listening to WMCA,” I ad-libbed. “We are 570 on your dial.” Pause.
“My name is Julian Schlossberg” — this was probably the only time I’ve ever been glad my name was so long — “and the name of our show is Movie Talk.” Pause. “Stephen J. Friedman has been our guest.” Pause. “His new film, Loving Molly, opens this week.”
Finally, it was nine p.m. I was drenched in perspiration.
That was a nerve-wracking experience, but it did get better. Within six months, I was given another hour. Then another. Then another. Within a year, we were on from eight o’clock to midnight — four hours. Then I was offered one more hour. I had to refuse. Eight to midnight was enough.
The show turned out to be a good example of the power of word of mouth. I did what apparently few hosts did: I actually watched the movies, read the books, and went to the plays. And as a result, the guests told each other and their PR people, “This guy does his homework.”
Though I never quit my day job at Walter Reade, I loved doing that radio show, and I met a lot of people on it — some of whom became lifelong friends.
Julian Schlossberg is a veteran motion picture, theater, and television producer.