Phyllis Carlyle - Producer of Se7en, Accidental Tourist
I interviewed manager - producer Phyllis Carlyle at her home June 26, 2002.
Carlyle produced such films as The Accidental Tourist and Se7en, and guided the careers of such actors as Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Pierce Brosnan, David Caruso, Geena Davis, Salma Hayek, Joseph Fiennes, Andy Garcia, Melanie Griffith, Jude Law, Ewan MacGregor, Jon Stewart, and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Phyllis lives alone with half a dozen cocker spaniels. Married twice, she has no children.
Phyllis: "I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up traveling. My father Russ Carlyle had a big band orchestra and he traveled the country. I have a brother Jeffrey, seven years younger than myself. When he was born, my family settled down outside Cleveland.
"I didn't belong to any particular cliche in high school. I was the different one. We lived in the country and the families were predominantly farmers. I had been to New York. For college, I went to the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts. I got married to a radio disc jockey and I went back to Cleveland for a year. Then we moved to Chicago. I divorced after a year. I stayed in Chicago. I worked at a talent agency and then I started my own.
"My goal has always been to make movies. I moved to Los Angeles [around 1973]. My cousin had written a book, Will There Really be a Morning? It was the autobiography of [actress] Frances Farmer. She'd had a dramatic life and had lived with my cousin for 15 years before her death. The story that was eventually made into the film Frances  starring Jessica Lange was not the truth.
"My cousin (Jeanira Ratcliffe) was a rebel. She lived in Indianapolis. She was terrified by Hollywood and screwed the whole thing up. She couldn't trust anybody. But I came here with that book. There was a substantial level of interest from people in doing it as a movie but the project didn't happen as it should've."
Jack Randall Earles, who as a kid watched Frances Farmer on TV, writes on this web site: I had never heard of Jeanira Ratcliffe or her family. I had done a little research on Frances since she had left television and knew at least one husband was missing. The sequences in the asylum seemed false. Frances’ voice was coming through, but something was wrong.
Jean returned my script saying she was planning to write one herself (the later teleplay did not mention her although Farmcliffe Enterprises was credited). I said that I had enjoyed the book but that I was disturbed by it.
Jean asked me how she could help me. She told me that she planned to write the screenplay for Morning herself. She told me she would be glad to read another screenplay and give me some tips if I wanted her to. Jean had brought along some scripts of films that I might want to see to understand how a screenplay was written. At the end of the evening, I started to take them with me. To my embarrassment, Jean had intended for me to study them there and asked that I not take them. She wrote out an address and gave it to me. She said I could send my material there.
I later found out that it was the address of her father’s barbershop. I sent another letter and a script a few weeks later. I never got a reply.
That was my last brush with Jeanira Ratcliffe. My personal impression of her is that she was an interesting looking woman. She resembled photos of the young Sophie Rosenstein. She was a woman of ambition and charm. She was very bright and personable. I am still uncertain as to her sexual orientation.
I know she was very important to Frances in the last years of her life. I am not so certain that most of the relationship described in Morning is accurate. Time frames and locations and residences just do not add up.
We also owe her a great debt. Without Jean first taking on the challenge of writing Frances’ story, we would not have a beginning from which to explore her life. All of us owe this debt not only to Jean but also to Lee Mikesell who found Frances on the streets of Eureka, California, and put her back in the public eye. They were a couple of people that might have seen in Frances some of the things they lacked in their own lives.
That they profited from their relationships with her (Jean more so than Lee), was just another link in the chain of Frances’ life. There is a lot of evidence to say they hated each other and that Frances was caught in the middle. Thanks, Jean, for the dinner, for being a friend to Frances Farmer, and for pointing us in the right direction. You were not completely honest. But you did all of us a great favor.
Luke: "How did you like the Jessica Lange film?"
Phyllis: "When you know a lot about somebody's life... For example, Frances never had a frontal lobotomy. It's not true. The film was well done, dramatic and interesting. But it was not an accurate portrayal of her life."
Luke: "Did your parents encourage or discourage you from getting into showbiz?"
Phyllis: "I don't think we ever talked about it. My first word, as a two-year old, was 'movie.' I don't think anybody thought it was up for discussion. I was headstrong. I don't know why any of this has to do with how to get movies made, but... They were happy that I was focused on something I loved because I was floundering.
"I came to Los Angeles believing that I could use some of my financial relationships I had in Chicago to make movies. It's funny because I am still doing the same thing. I was way ahead of everything. I look back and I am surprised I saw the future.
"I met Barbara Boyle [who now runs Gail Ann Hurd's operation]. She's an attorney. She liked me. She agreed to be my lawyer. Shortly after that, she went to work for Roger Corman. We thought that an investment group I knew might match up to a slate of Corman films. The investment of $750,000 would've been spread over four films but the group decided not to invest. Two of the Corman movies [Big Bad Momma and Deathrace 2000] turned out to be the top moneymakers he ever had.
"Burt Kantor, the mother of the tax structure deal [to finance films] was a mentor to me.
"My friend Kathy Bishop, a commercials producer from Chicago who moved to Los Angeles before me, got me work as a commercial casting director. I probably became the top commercials casting director.
"Naivete can be a great quality because you think everything is possible. While if I had listened to the advice I was receiving, I would've done nothing. Everybody cautions you against everything. I didn't know any better. I decided to start a management business. From my work as a casting director, I saw a lot of young talent. And I started picking people out of that pool to discuss management. I figured that I would build their careers. They would become stars. And I would learn the film business.
"I took this master plan to a producer. He looked at me and said, 'Why don't you just produce?'
"One of the people I managed was John Malkovich. There was a tremendous amount of interest in him [around 1986]. Mark Rosenberg, who ran Warner Brothers at the time, offered John a production deal. This was my master-plan come true. I went to John. He said, 'Oh honey, I don't want to do that. Why, do you want to do it?' I said, 'Oh yes.' John said, 'Ok. As long as you don't bug me with it, go ahead and do it.'
"So we put together a two-year deal at Warner Brothers. I think John showed up twice in two years. That was the beginning of my relationship to a studio.
"Mark Rosenberg (formerly married to Paula Weinstein) was fired about four months later. Mark was a truly wonderful man - intelligent, creative, kind. That's of course why they fired him. He wasn't fitting the mold. He was succeeded by Mark Canton who was in bed with Jon Peters. I was among the first women with a production deal.
"A William Morris assistant in New York tipped me off to the book, The Accidental Tourist by Ann Tyler, while it was still in galleys. I bought the rights. The exec I worked with at Warners was Bonnie Lee. We got Frank Galati, a professor at Northwestern, to do the screenplay. Nobody knew who the hell he was. Mark Rosenberg thought Frank was a great creative choice. The new regime didn't agree.
"I got a call from Bonnie. She said, 'I've got good news for you. A wonderful director wants to do the project.' I said, 'Well, we haven't even talked about directors. Just do me a favor. Promise me it isn't George Roy Hill.' There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. Finally she said, 'How do you know?'
"I said, 'Bonnie, he's wrong for the project.' She said, 'Phyllis, he's a world class director. He's making a few notes now on the script and then he wants to meet with you. At least give him a chance.' The notes dragged on for two months and it turned out that he was writing his own script. I read it and it was truly horrible. Even the studio had to agree. He took this sad and wonderful story and turned it into something that Walt Disney would do with dogs.
"It turned out that Warners had a huge deal with George. They paid him an enormous amount of money every year and he didn't make anything. This was the first thing he liked and this was how they were going to pay themselves back. Warners was sure he was right for the project.
"I caused enough trouble that Mark [Canton] wanted to see me. He told me, 'This is my studio. If you don't like it, get the f--- out. If you want to do everything your own way, go get your own money and your own studio and do your own movies. But if you're going to stay here and make this movie with my money, you're going to do it my way. And George Roy Hill is going to direct this movie and Bill Murray is going to star in it.
"My head of development was with me. We were walking back to my office. He said, 'I've never heard you that quiet.' I said, 'I've never been that close to killing anyone.'
"I racked my brain trying to think how to save my project. I got a call an agent at UTA (United Talent Agency) who said that Larry [Kasdan] would love to talk to me about directing the project. We sent him the script on a Thursday and by Monday morning I got a call back saying Larry would love to do the movie. I called Bonnie. 'I have such wonderful news for you. A world-class director wants to make this movie. Larry Kasdan.' There's dead silence. Larry Kasdan was very hot at this time.
"Warners had this Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm. They called George and asked him to direct it. 'Chevy loves you. Accidental Tourist isn't ready yet. This movie is ready to go. Do this movie while we're getting Tourist ready and we promise you we will then bring you on to Tourist.' Once they had George signed, sealed and delivered, they dumped him from the Tourist project."
Funny Farm  was the last movie George Roy Hill would ever direct.
Phyllis: "After we saw the first cut of Tourist, it was strong. Larry wanted to test it. He didn't get the test scores he wanted. They were only in the seventies and he thought they should be in the eighties. And Larry had the right to final cut. He was that strong then as a director. So he rewrote and re-shot half of Kathleen Turner's scenes. Because in the test results, people didn't like her. She was reduced to this character on the phone. One of the strongest scenes I've ever seen was cut out of the movie because it tied too strongly into the essence of her original character.
"In the original version, she was a deeply conflicted woman over the death of the child. Warners exec Lucy Fisher oversaw the project. She sums up completely what I felt about the movie. After Larry re-cut, re-shot and reedited the movie, I wrote a five-page letter to him pleading for a return to the original version. Lucy tried to talk to him as well. Larry told us, 'History will show that I was right.' I said to Lucy, 'Isn't there anything we can do?' She said to me, 'Phyllis, we had brilliance. Now we will have to settle for very good.'"
Luke: "How did you feel about the casting?"
Phyllis: "It beats Bill Murray, doesn't it? Bill is talented but he would've been the funny version of the character. He wouldn't have been the true version. I'd developed Accidental Tourist for my clients Melanie Griffith and John Malkovich. Melanie turned it down to do Working Girl."
Luke: "You were quoted in a 1999 Vanity Fair piece about Melanie. Was it accurate?"
Phyllis: "They quoted me accurately. Is it accurate that Melanie had grown up in Hollywood and gotten lost at an early age? Absolutely."
Luke: "Did you know at the time that in the studio process, once a director signs on, he becomes the king of the project?"
Phyllis: "I learned that. I didn't know that going in. I didn't know anything. I learned some hard lessons, particularly if you are somebody who has an independent spirit. I was slapped around right and left by everybody. And nobody cared. I was really hurt. I'd just gotten married to my second husband. And I'd just be sitting there at 4AM staring at the wall. I'd loved movies since two years old. I'd come to Hollywood to make wonderful movies and I'd run into the boys club, the politics, and things you don't have a reference for. It was horrible. It was done in such a brutal way. I was robbed of much of the credit I should've had for that film.
"I had brought Larry to the picture. Then Larry was finalizing his contract with Warner Brothers. I got a call from Peter, Larry's agent at UTA. He said, 'We're almost done with Larry's contract. We just have a couple of deal points left but they pertain to you. I want to run them by you. The first one is, we want to remove you as the producer. The second one is that we want to be attached to your turnaround in case we don't make the movie at Warners. I said, 'Peter, you want to remove me as the producer, but in case anything happens, you want to be attached to the project so that you can fuck me at another studio? Is that what you're saying?' He said, 'Yeah, pretty much.'
"Larry wanted me off the project because I'd never produced a movie. He had his own producing team. I didn't know enough at the time to preserve my producing credit. But I had this powerful attorney (Jake Bloom) who'd worked hard to convince me that he was going to take care of me. I told him the situation. He calls me back in 20 minutes and says, 'Phyllis, I don't want you to get emotional about this. This is your first movie. You're going to get it made. You're going to get a credit. I think we should take the executive producing credit and give them their turnaround clause.'
"I said, 'Jake, why would I want to do that?' He said, 'Ach, I knew you were going to get emotional.' There was just nowhere to turn. That ended my relationship with my attorney. So I agreed to everything because they were going to throw me off the picture completely if I hadn't. When the picture was nominated, I had to fight to get a ticket to the Golden Globes.
"I got to Se7en because Jim, a partner at UTA, sent me the script for a client. I read the script and I liked it. The studios were turning it down.
"After Tourist, I wanted to leave Warner Brothers and go to Columbia Pictures. I called David Putnam and asked for a producing deal. He said I'd have to earn a deal by bringing in two pieces of material that they believed enough in to develop. So I did and moved over to Columbia. I was happy there with Putnam and David Picker. I went from feeling like a stepchild to a favorite kid. I believe if that regime had stayed in tact, we would've done a lot of terrific films together.
"Gary Lucchesi was the agent at William Morris who I'd given John Malkovich to. He became the president of production at Paramount.
"After Putnam had gone, Columbia brought Dawn Steel in to pump up the place so they could sell it. Dawn was kind to me. She had the right to cancel all deals on the spot. She gave me six months to find another home. So I moved to Paramount. I went through several regime changes. I had an executive who wanted Gary's job. Because Gary had brought me in, he didn't want anything that Gary had touched to work. Everything I was bringing to this executive he was turning down. I brought him Stan Lee and Marvel Comics, Zoro... I pitched the idea of a major meteor hitting earth [which turned into two big movies in the summer of 1998].
"By the time my deal at Paramount had ended, I'd decided that studio life was not for me. Then Harvey Weinstein wooed me. We made a one-year deal that failed for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to go into that because this is the one group that's still playing the same game as when I came into the picture. David Putnam, Mark Canton et al are not doing the same things they were.
"The agencies were much aware of my attempts to get this movie made with various talent. [Director] David Fincher had not done a film since Alien 3, which he got a great deal of slack for. I was initially against hiring him. I thought he was a music video guy who'd had his shot. I heard all these stories about how difficult he'd been. I was very wrong. He was brilliant."
Luke: "Were you on set?"
Phyllis: "Not much. There wasn't any need."
Director David Fincher said in an interview: "Michael De Luca [former President and Chief Operating Officer of New Line Productions] went to the mat for Se7en. When we needed 18 more days to reshoot on Se7en and Phyllis Carlyle [producer of Se7en] was saying, "We need to fire this guy. He's a music video guy. He doesn't know what he's doing. We need to redo the ending. The head can't be in the box." When all that shit was going on, Mike De Luca was watching my back."
Phyllis: "That is not true. I did not try to fire David Fincher. I think almost all of us thought that the head in the box was too much. Arnold Kopelson wanted to change the ending. He walked around saying, 'I'm not making a f---ing picture with a woman's head in a box.'
"Brad [Pitt] did change the ending. The shooting draft had Morgan [Freeman] pulling the trigger. And Brad argued strenuously with David that his character should do it.
"When a movie does what Se7en did, you keep quiet. Everyone was right and we did it perfectly.
"I had so many arguments over the years with people on how to do Se7en. Paramount had this list of changes. I said, 'Why don't you do those things with the ten movies you've already got?' I went outside of the system completely to revive this project. New Line eventually financed the film. They called Arnold Kopelson in to help produce. Arnold is a complex guy. One part of him is a big teddy bear that will take care of the world. And then there's this other side of that is ego and has a hard time sharing any credit."
Mike Peck writes 3/18/99: Several big stars have already become caught in the crossfire of the battle between Hollywood managers and agents, but how in the hell did Melanie Griffith's old bathing habits become part of the discussion? Well, Griffith can thank her former manager, Hollywood veteran Phyllis Carlyle, who lays claim to "the entire masterminding" of Griffith's career in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. Carlyle weighs in on the current debate between agents and managers (ignited by the reincarnated Mike Ovitz) that's already engulfed such A-list names as Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Robin Williams and Martin Scorsese. While making the point that managers pay attention to the day-to-day concerns of stars and do more hand-holding than agents, Carlyle recalls relaunching Griffith's career after the actress's "spurt of being nymphet of the year" while still a teen.
"When I met her, she was 19 or 20 years old and 25, 30 pounds overweight," Carlyle says. "She was this vulgar, sexy, funny girl who truly had never had much of a family in her life. And I loved her."
Carlyle says she demonstrated that love before an audition, when Griffith looked less-than-stellar. "I literally made her strip. and threw her in the bathtub," she says. "I put makeup on and did the hair and got nylons on her... No one had ever shown her anything. I became the mommy figure that she needed."
Carlyle also takes credit for Griffith being cast in Brian De Palma's Body Double, Jonathan Demme's Something Wild and Mike Nichols' Working Girl, for which the actress received an Oscar nomination.
Griffith doesn't paint quite the same picture. "It was Jonathan Demme, Brian De Palma and Mike Nichols who put me in those movies," she tells the magazine. "[Carlyle] made a few phone calls and was paid handsomely."