British producer, agent Leslie Linder dies

Anti-apartheid activist produced telefilm 'Mandela'

Leslie Linder, a noted film producer, agent and restaurateur during the boom years of British films in the 1960s and '70s, died Jan. 16 in London. He was 85.

Linder gave up his acting career in 1961 to join the talent agency John Redway and Associates, where he nursed the careers of young actors including Sean Connery.

When Peter Sellers, who had just won rave reviews for his work in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film "Lolita," received an enticing Hollywood offer, he asked Linder to break the contract for his next film, "Waltz of the Toreadors," a minor British comedy.

Although Sellers was one of his agency's biggest clients, Linder refused to do it, according to Michael Baumohl, a friend of Linder's who headed Warner Bros. advertising and publicity in the '60s in London. Ten days before "Toreadors" was due to begin shooting, Seller's withdrawal would have killed the project and put hundreds of people out of work.

Sellers threatened to move his representation to William Morris in the U.S., and Linder responded by giving the actor directions to the Morris office. Sellers backed down.

In 1964, Linder opened a Redway office in Rome, where he continued to attract talent for the productions that Hollywood was setting up in Italy to take advantage of the lira-dollar exchange rate.

After 10 years in the agency business, he joined Martin Ransohoff's Filmways, and his first film as a producer was 1971's "10 Rillington Place." Based on Ludovic Kennedy's best-seller, it was the story of the serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough) and the execution of the innocent Timothy Evans (John Hurt) for the murder of one of Christie's victims.

As a committed anti-apartheid activist, Linder had met Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo before the former's imprisonment in the early '60s, and Linder produced the telefilm "Mandela," starring Danny Glover, for the BBC in 1987.

In the '60s, Linder, Stella Richmond and Wolf Mankowitz bought the Ward Room, a moribund restaurant on Curzon Street in London, and transformed it into the White Elephant Club, which would become a dining hot spot for Hollywood stars for 30 years.

In the '70s, with Lord Lichfield and celebrity tailor Douglas Hayward, he opened Burke's restaurant in Mayfair, which would become another showbiz landmark. He continued the Elephant theme with the jazz club, the Cool Elephant, and had Dudley Moore as his resident pianist.

Linder got his start in the industry after World War II as an actor. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and went on to appear in films and on live TV shows.

A big man of extraordinary energy and charm, Linder was diagnosed with leukemia at age 80 but played tennis most days even while undergoing chemotherapy.

Survivors include his partner, former fashion marketing expert Norma Quine. His first wife, actress Dorothy Alison, died in 1992.