Allan Carr (May 27, 1937 – June 29, 1999) was an American producer and manager of stage for the screen. Carr was nominated for numerous awards, winning a Tony Award and two People's Choice Awards, and was named Producer of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Carr was born Allan Solomon to an American Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Lake Forest College and Northwestern University, but his interest was always in show business. While at Northwestern, he invested $750 in the Broadway musical Ziegfeld Follies, starring Tallulah Bankhead. Though the show was not a hit, he had also invested $1,250 in 1967's The Happiest Millionaire, which gave him the success he needed to leave school and embark upon a career in entertainment.
In Chicago in the 1960s, he opened the Civic Theater and financed The World of Carl Sandburg starring Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, as well as Eva Le Gallienne in Mary Stuart, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, and Tennessee Williams's "Garden District," featuring Cathleen Nesbitt and Diana Barrymore. Carr worked behind the scenes at Playboy with Hugh Hefner and was a co-creator of the Playboy Penthouse television series, which in turn launched the Playboy Clubs.
Through the years, he became known as a great planner of promotional events and parties. One such event, a black-tie affair for Truman Capote, took place in an abandoned Los Angeles jail.
In 1966, Carr founded the talent agency Allan Carr Enterprises, managing the actors Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Rosalind Russell, Dyan Cannon, Melina Mercouri, and Marlo Thomas. Some of the other entertainment figures whose careers he managed were Ann-Margret, a string of whose television specials he also produced, Nancy Walker, Marvin Hamlisch, Joan Rivers, Peggy Lee, "Mama" Cass Elliot, Paul Anka, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, George Maharis, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Carr is also credited for having discovered numerous celebrities, including some such, who also became his clients, as Olivia Newton-John, Mark Hamill, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Guttenberg, and Lisa Hartman.
Grease and Broadway success
Producer Robert Stigwood hired him in 1975 as marketing and promotion consultant, with his first project being for the film version of the rock opera Tommy. The film was a hit and he expanded his involvement for his next film, re-editing and overdubbing a low-budget foreign film about a real-life disaster. The result was Survive! (The disaster in question was also described in Piers Paul Read's book Alive.) The surprise box office success of Survive! in 1976 made Carr a wealthy man and gave him clout at Paramount Pictures.
In 1977, Stigwood asked him to produce the ad campaign for Saturday Night Fever, and he turned the film's premiere into a star-studded television special. It worked so well that Stigwood gave him Grease (1978). Carr not only helmed the ad campaign and produced the premiere party and television special for Grease, but also wrote the screen adaptation and co-produced the film for six million dollars, casting his then client Olivia Newton-John. It became the highest-grossing film of the year, and one of the highest-grossing films up until that time, at just under $100 million. The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and won two People's Choice Awards, for Best Picture and Best Musical Picture. That year he even appeared in a role on the final season of the Angie Dickinson television series Police Woman. Stigwood and Carr would work on several other films, including 1978 Oscar-winner The Deer Hunter.
The following year, 1979, he produced the Village People film musical Can't Stop The Music, a production which, while campy, steered clear of addressing the band members' presumed homosexuality from the script. Again he orchestrated a lavish series of premieres and a television special that co-starred his friends Hefner and Cher. But the film was released in 1980, after the crash of the disco craze, and as a result, it was a major flop. Because of this, Carr "won" the first annual Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Film, in 1981. Undaunted, he went on to produce Grease 2 (1982) which, while nowhere near the hit of its predecessor, was not the financial loss that Can't Stop The Music had been.
When Carr was in Paris for the premiere of Grease, a friend had dragged him to see a straight play about a gay couple, La Cage aux Folles. By this time in his career, Carr was ready to face the gay theme head on. Returning to Broadway he produced a musical version of the 1973 play, which had since been made into a French film, and would later be remade as an American film called The Birdcage. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, the show opened in 1983 and was a huge success, running for five years and 1,761 performances. Nominated in 1984 for eight Drama Desk Awards and eight Tony Awards, the show won three Drama Desks and an impressive six Tonys, including a "Best Musical" win for Carr.
Snow White and the Academy Awards
Carr's reputation for hosting expensive and lavish parties and creating spectacular production numbers led the producers of the 61st Annual Academy Awards (1989) to hire him to create the show based on his promise that he would turn it around from the dry, dull show it had been in previous years. Promising "the antithesis of tacky," it proved to be a disaster culminating in the infamous pairing of Snow White (played by Eileen Bowman) and Rob Lowe singing a parody of "Proud Mary."
The telecast also featured a production number featuring what was introduced as "the youth of Hollywood," with all the participants in their 20s or early 30s. The show became a laughing-stock and went down in history as one of the worst moments in awards show and television history. Adding to the misery, The Walt Disney Company sued for illegal use of Snow White's image.
Carr's reputation in Hollywood never fully recovered from this setback, although his decision to change the award announcement from "And the winner is..." to "And the Oscar goes to..." became the norm for awards shows in general, not just for the Oscars. Carr also first hired comedian Bruce Vilanch as head comedy writer of the show, a job Vilanch still held as of 2015.
That same year Carr helmed the project Goya...A Life in Song with Freddie Gershon and CBS Records, a concept album and, later, an off-Broadway musical theater production written by Maury Yeston (Nine) and featuring Plácido Domingo as artist Francisco Goya. Still in development for a full Broadway production, the music has been recorded by Domingo with Dionne Warwick in English and Gloria Estefan in Spanish, and a version of the duet "Till I Loved You" was a top 40 single for Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson.
Carr continued his work in theater, sponsoring the 1995 Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Cyrano de Bergerac and Much Ado About Nothing at Washington's Kennedy Center and Broadway's Gershwin Theatre, earning 10 Tony nominations between them including one more for Carr.
Carr had returned to Paramount Pictures to handle the re-release of Grease in 1998, which included producing a VH1 television special of the twentieth anniversary Hollywood "premiere" screening and party, and special edition re-releases of the video, DVD, and soundtrack album.
Allan was a film producer for numerous movies, including:
- The First Time (1969)
- C.C. and Company (1970)
- Grease (1978)
- Can't Stop the Music (1980)
- Grease 2 (1982)
- Where the Boys Are '84 (1984)
- Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Personal life and death
Carr died on June 29, 1999, in Beverly Hills, California from liver cancer. At the time of his death, he split his time between his homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, and was working on bringing Ken Ludwig's Tony-winning comedy Lend Me a Tenor to Australia and the UK, and was preparing a new Broadway show, The New Musical Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His ashes were scattered at sea by Ann-Margret, Roger Smith and Martin Menard in front of his former Diamond Head estate on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.