Anywhere else but Hollywood he would be dismissed as too bizarre, and even in Hollywood he looks as if he just wandered off the set of a Fellini film: an elephantine man of 42, who conceals his bulk in gaudy caftans and kimonos, gets his hair waved into chestnut ringlets at Sassoon’s and makes and breaks friendships with the speed of light. He is a one-man talkathon who pauses only long enough to slake his thirst with Perrier, who revels in his camaraderie with the stars and who gives parties so extravagant they would impoverish small nations. (For him, they are tax write-offs.) Gross is the word—to almost coin a lyric—that occurs to some. But in Hollywood gross means bottom line, and three years ago Allan Carr co-produced Grease, which has earned $150 million to date. As a result, he is acknowledged as a serious and successful filmmaker who can, he insists, walk into any studio in town and find the management on bended knee, urging him to accept its production millions. Carr juggles scores of movie ideas simultaneously and an amazing number actually get made. Two that blessedly did not were Candide, starring Elton John, and The Student Prince, with Ann-Margret and Englebert Humperdinck. Carr also is in demand by studios to create promotion campaigns for their movies. His latest venture: The Deer Hunter.
“I have my finger on the pulse of the ordinary man,” Carr boasts. God knows where Allan finds him. Certainly not among his neighbors in Beverly Hills and Malibu. Maybe when he goes to McDonald’s “to pig out,” as he delicately puts it. No matter where he encounters Everyman (or woman), he does not linger long. He has his own lavish life to live. “I am very rich,” he acknowledges. Indeed, his first royalty check from Grease came to $8 million. “I am also very happy. I’m the Bianca Jagger of producers, always in the columns. People think I’m half Mork and half Mindy.”
Carr bought a $1.8 million Tudor mansion in chic Benedict Canyon seven years ago. The 15-room house had been the pad of a succession of luminaries, a history which thrills Allan. “Do you know who lived here? Ingrid Bergman! Imagine!” Later director Richard Quine bought the house to entertain Kim Novak, planted lavender flowers, installed a mirror over the bed and built secret closets where Carr now keeps his collection of five dozen caftans, Japanese kimonos and velvet and satin suits. The living room is three stories high, large enough to play basketball in, which is what James Caan, the tenant before Carr, did. The massive fireplace has “Hilhaven Lodge” carved into the mantel. The bedroom once occupied by Bergman’s daughter, the TV newscaster Pia Lindstrom, is now a guest room and remains much the way she had it as a child, all chintz and ruffles. The young men who live or work at Hilhaven occupy the other bedrooms.
Carr schedules people in and out of his living room at half-hour intervals during workdays while three assistants screen phone calls in an office behind an Olympic-size pool. The cabana is reminiscent of the palatial ones at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A screening room and a $100,000, copper-walled disco chamber provide the final touches of luxury for the movie mogul. Yet, four years after buying the canyon house, Carr plunked down another $1 million for a Malibu hideaway with a stunning view of strand and ocean. Allan Carr proclaims, “This is my fantasy, all of it. The houses, my parties, so many stars. I’m dreaming all this, and I’ll kill the son of a bitch who tries to wake me up.”
Until he made it big as a producer, Carr was known in Hollywood principally as the man who turned Ann-Margret’s career around. He first arrived in the film capital from Chicago in the early ’60s to chaperone a young would-be actress. “She was going out to do The Honeymoon Machine with Steve McQueen,” Carr explains. “I told her mother, who was a friend of mine, that I would look out for her. When she finished the movie she packed up, went home, married a nice man and settled down in Highland Park. I didn’t ever want to leave.”
Carr already had credentials as a theatrical producer and manager of promising talent in Chicago. He had discovered and promoted a onetime hamburger waitress named Judy Collins and a wryly funny accountant, Bob Newhart. In California, with the help of agent Marty Baum, he signed other clients, both rising and falling stars, and hyped their careers and his own. His clientele has included Keir Dullea, Roz Russell, Tony Curtis, Mama Cass Elliott, Marvin Hamlisch, Nancy Walker and Won Ton Ton, the German shepherd. Carr has not always been successful. He steered Walker into two disastrous series at ABC-TV, while Fabian (remember him?) has been reduced to working second-rate lounges. Both Paul Anka and Dyan Cannon decided they could do without Carr’s managerial services.
Some of his client relationships have been long-lived and lucrative for all concerned; others turned out to be brief and bitchy. Despite his lavish hospitality as a host, he is a tightfisted businessman who, perhaps because of the short actuarial odds, has never signed formal contracts with his clients. Among recent defectors (and ex-chums) are Marisa Berenson (who for a while was married to Carr’s best friend, Jim Randall) and the leading ladies of Grease, Stockard Channing and Olivia Newton-John, both of whom show little inclination to work for Carr again. Newton-John is mum about the rift, but Channing says it “uh, has something to do with money. Bookkeeping.” Snarls Allan: “I made these people stars. Made them financially independent, and they turn their backs on me. No breeding.” His reputation for feuding, he says, is “just my style. I get things in the open. I don’t like festering discontent.” A fellow producer sees it otherwise: “Allan starts projects with great verve and enthusiasm, gathering people as he goes. They all become his instant friends. Then because of some perverse, self-destructive streak he starts to humiliate these people in public. He has an empty brillance.”
His current coterie includes Bruce Jenner, who seems out to prove he can be as nimble at disco as he was with the discus, the volatile Valerie Perrine and the Village People. All will appear in Carr’s $12 million Discoland…Where the Music Never Stops, which has just gone into production.
Carr’s eye for the right property showed itself first in 1975 when during an Acapulco vacation he saw queues of people waiting to see Supervivientes de los Andes. It was a Mexican potboiler about the true-life ordeal of 16 Uruguayan soccer players who survived a plane crash in the snowbound Andes for 10 weeks by eating the bodies of their dead companions. The film had been made from Survive, a paperback dashed off by journalist Clay Blair right after the crash. Even though United Artists had announced plans to film Alive, the soccer players’ authorized version of their grim story, Carr snapped up non-Spanish rights to the Mexican film for a borrowed $500,000. He dubbed in some dreary English dialogue, added a few scenes and exploited the film with his considerable talent and the backing of Paramount. Many in Hollywood deplored Survive as a vulgar rip-off, but it made a $13 million profit. “It was not a good movie,” Carr admits, “but I think the eating scenes were tasteful.”
The subject of food is vitally important to him. “I am an emotional eater,” Carr once said. “I eat to fill the void inside of me.” By the time Survive made him a millionaire, he had blimped to 310 pounds (on a 5’7″ frame). Drastic action was called for, so Carr had 18 feet of his intestines tied off in a bypass operation. The results were dramatic: In 12 months he shed 130 pounds, including 50 during the filming of Grease. But complications arose, and the doctors had to reverse the bypass. Carr then had his jaws wired shut for a week. Now he relies on dieting and exercise machines, but his body is inexorably ballooning again to more than 200 pounds.
Carr cannot resist party-giving any more than food. He has earned the sobriquet “the Elsa Maxwell of Beverly Hills.” There was a bash for his friend Truman Capote in an abandoned Los Angles jail: Guests were subpoenaed rather than invited, and fingerprinted at the door. Another do honored Rudi Nureyev, who posed for the six-foot golden replica of Oscar that stands beside Carr’s Beverly Hills front door. This one had a Russian Easter motif (lots of Soviet vodka and caviar) and guests were advised to wear black tie or “glitterclutz,” a word the host made up. The most flamboyant of Allan’s social events was his coming out at the beach house after his bypass operation, a two-day fiesta that has come to be known as the “Rolodex party.” It was called that because the guests were invited alphabetically in two herds, A to L on the first night, the rest of the alphabet on the second. One meanie suggested that Allan had invited the Beverly Hills telephone book, but actually there were only 750 guests. Roman Polanski, the star of the second evening, received a standing ovation when he arrived. At the time, he had been charged with child seduction.
“For my Rolodex party I wore a La Vetta scarf caftan one evening and a Japanese obi jacket and harem pants the next,” Carr recalls. “For the 1978 Academy Awards I wore a satin three-piece suit and some tasteful diamonds.” He no longer appears in his floor-length mink, though: too tacky. His new favorite is a Levi’s coat with a chinchilla lining.
It is a long way from Highland Park, Ill., the Chicago suburb where Alan Solomon, an only child, was born in 1937. He insists it was 1942, but his birthday, like his name, has been changed. His father was a well-heeled furniture dealer. The senior Solomons were on the brink of divorce, Allan says, as far back as he can remember. “We always kept saving for a rainy day, putting off our happiness. I don’t make that mistake anymore,” he says. He remembers his childhood as “traumatic. I guess I went to school and had friends and all that,” he adds, “but mostly I remember the movies. My life didn’t start until I was a child of 13 or 14 and invested in my first Broadway show.” Actually he was 18, and the show, a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies starring Tallulah Bankhead, closed before it got to Broadway. Carr put up $750 after introducing himself to Walter Winchell on a Florida beach. As a teen, Allan ushered at the Chicago Symphony, worked as a skip tracer for a finance company and helped out in his father’s store to finance his passion for becoming a Broadway angel. Also, “I could always put the arm on my father and mother,” he says. “They divorced when I was 17 and they felt guilty. I used that.”
In his senior year at Lake Forest College Allan dropped out to become a full-time entrepreneur. “I thought I knew something about the theater so I went and rented one for myself.” His first production, Tennessee Williams’ Garden District, starred Diana Barrymore and dealt, prophetically, with cannibalism; it was a moderate success. Over the next two and a half years Carr made a name for himself locally as a boy impresario. “People like Phyllis Diller and Bob Newhart kept asking me to manage their careers,” he says. “I was a star.” But Cook County, Ill. was not where he wanted to twinkle.
The rest is acetate and U.S. Treasury notes. “I’m the Mike Todd of the 70s,” Carr exults. “People think I can, and will, do anything. They think I can get reservations at Mauna Kea [the posh Hawaiian resort], for God’s sake. I guess it’s a form of flattery. People want nostalgia and good times and pretty people. Ugly and poor are disgusting. I try to provide a fantasy trip. I want upbeat. I want fun. I want to enjoy.”