Stuart Cornfeld plays the fast-food boss in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "Hamilton, you're going over there as a representative of Captain Hook's Fish and Chips," he tells Judge Reinhold, who's about to change out of his pirate costume. "Part of our image, part of our appeal, is that uniform . . . Show a little pride."
"He produced my student film at the AFI," the movie's director, Amy Heckerling, tells the 11/14/02 LA Weekly. "As far as working with him, he's the most fun guy in the world. He just looks like the world's worst boss -- especially in a pirate outfit."
Stuart grew up in Hollywood. His father was an efficiency expert at Mattel toy manufacturers. Stuart's "first conscious memory is of appearing on the Art Linkletter TV series Kids Say the Darnedest Things -- which he did twice, both times managing to broach the subject of death. His mother's cousins played Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, and at 12, he himself appeared in the religious short subject The Day the Temple Disappeared, which, he says, instilled in him to this day an aversion to moral absolutism." (LA Weekly, 11/14/02 article by Paul Cullum)
Cornfeld got his psychology degree from Berkeley. He then managed the Ash Grove rock club in Santa Monica before it mysteriously burned down, opened mail for Joni Mitchell, and took the U.S. Census along Hollywood Boulevard.
Cornfeld studied at the American Film Institute in the late '70s. At age 23, he was reportedly the youngest producer of a studio film up to that time (Fatso, starring Dom DeLuise). Fatso's director -- Anne Bancroft -- was married to Mel Brooks, who became Cornfeld's employer for most of the '80s. After that, Stuart began sharing an apartment with Mason Hoffenberg (Terry Southern's collaborator on Candy), who was in the latter stages of heroin addiction.
At Brooksfilms, Cornfeld and fellow assistant Jonathan Sanger decided to set up a script by Sanger's baby sitter's boyfriend -- The Elephant Man -- and dragged Mel Brooks to the Nuart to see David Lynch's Eraserhead. Lynch later directed highly regarded Elephant Man.
Next Cornfeld produced David Cronenberg's The Fly, which was the highest-grossing film in America for three weeks running.
Cronenberg told LA Weekly: "Stuart is the only producer that I've ever thrown off my set. It was kind of a friendly throw, but a throw nonetheless."
Stuart went to work at Barry Levinson's Baltimore Pictures with veteran producers Gail Mutrux and Mark Johnson. Stuart produced Kafka for Steven Soderbergh and Glenn Gordon Caron's little-seen Wider Napalm.
Cornfeld was offered the job of head of production at New Line in 1990 by Bob Shaye -- the job Mike De Luca eventually took. Stuart refused, and dropped out of his career as a producer to write and regroup. With Bryan Higgins, he wrote the screenplay I Have Smelled the Future.
Stuart returned to AFI to teach part time for several semesters. Among his students was future Pi director Darren Aronofsky.
After the success of There's Something About Mary, Ben Stiller wanted someone to run his production company Red Hour. He chose Cornfeld.
"I do outsider stories," says Cornfeld. "That's my fundamental paradigm. I don't know if it's because I was a fat kid or what, but you look at the times that the movies were really good, it was in the '30s, when the European émigrés came over who had a view of America that was both cynical and optimistic. They had an outsider's perspective, where they felt detached enough to comment on what was going on. The '70s was the same thing, because of the them-and-us countercultural fault line that was in place. Once again, these were outsiders saying, 'This is not what I'm a part of.'" (LA Weekly)
Cornfeld is famous for his aphorisms: "If you want to see how well someone can write, take a look at their arbitration letter." "The blank page is God's way of letting you know how difficult it is to be God." "I've got plenty of irons in the freezer."