Outtakes and Vagabonds: The Negative Genius of Paramount Pictures w/photo

When I worked at Paramount Pictures in the early 1970’s, I had a marvelous patchwork-quilt job of my choosing. I had my own office and two titles, both of which I made up and both of which I’ve forgotten.

The office at Gulf + Western Plaza (now a Trump hotel) was small and the titles were modest, though, because I was modest, a personal characteristic that made it unlikely I’d ever rise to heights in the film biz hierarchy where aggressive charm was prized. I believe I had some charm, but am certain I was missing aggression.

Two “to wits”:

One. I was in the ladies’ room with a woman visiting from our L.A. office. As we were washing our hands, she revealed to me, “There’s a rumor going around that you’re the secret head of production of Paramount.” I panicked and denied it, several times.

Immediately I ran into the office of my boss, Frank Yablans, Paramount’s president, and told him about the incident. Frank laughed and said, “The next time anyone tells you there’s a rumor you’re the secret head of production, tell ’em, ‘What do you mean, secret?‘”

That was the way I was supposed to behave.

How I did behave:

Two. In 1972, I was in Los Angeles for our big convention during which our major films would be screened for the industry exhibitors. Peter Bart, our actual VP of production, and I had become friends and were office hobnobbing. Peter asked me if I’d seen any of our new films. Which I hadn’t. (Among our key films was The Godfather.)

“Gee, I bet everybody’s eagerly awaiting your opinion of them,” he said to me. What? “Why would anybody care what I think?” I responded.

“Because,” he said, “If you hate ’em, we’ve got big hits on our hands.”

I burst out laughing.

Had I been appropriate film exec material, I wouldn’t have laughed. I’d have gone instantly into a paranoid funk.

The thing was, I had developed a deserved reputation as a negative genius. The films I loved may have become critical successes, but “critical” doesn’t pay the bills. (I feel impelled to say I thought Godfather was a masterpiece.)

Note: One of my all-time favorite Paramount releases was Bo Widerberg’s Ådalen ’31. Every day, I’d receive and check Paramount’s daily gross sheets. Ådalen had grossed around $80,000 in total and each day had accumulated maybe an additional $10. It is a great, great film.

Down below is the 1972 photo from that Paramount convention, with PPC executives from around the world. In the front row you’ll see Frank Yablans, Robert Evans and director Gene Saks. I’m standing slightly behind producer Howard Koch, a lovely man. I squinted through everyone and can’t find Peter Bart. He didn’t come to the shoot?

I am the only woman there.


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2 Responses to Outtakes and Vagabonds: The Negative Genius of Paramount Pictures w/photo

  1. Susan Thaler says:

    Negative, shmegative–in my opinion you’re still a genius: 1) For holding your own amid all those “aggressive” types and, 2) for being the only woman in the picture.

    By the way, “critical” may not pay the bills, but I’ll take it over “schlock” any day. Good for you, Naomi!

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