'Call Me by Your Name' Producer Howard Rosenman: My Four Decades of Oscar Parties (Guest Column)
The producer has squired such legends as Audrey Hepburn and Diana Ross through awards season — from "stars by the yard" to soirees to intimate wee-hours dinners — and has the stories to prove it.
Oscar nights were sacrosanct for me as a yeshiva boy growing up on Long Island. Nothing could pry me away from the TV set, and my macho Israeli father figured out that his son was very different from the other little boys from Far Rockaway.
I had a stake in the game for the first time after I became Katharine Hepburn's assistant in 1968. She was about to star in Coco, a musical about Coco Chanel with lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady) and music by Andre Previn. Sir Michael Benthall, the director of Coco, his partner, Sir Robert Helpmann, the great dancer and choreographer Kay Thompson, and Cecil Beaton all watched the Oscars from New York and on April 14,1969, Ms. Hepburn and Barbra Streisand, my favorite performer of all time, tied for best actress! We were in heaven and trooped to the legendary Elaine's on Second Avenue to celebrate.
My first time at the show was seven years later: I escorted Daphna Krim. Her father, Arthur, head of United Artists — whose wife, Mathilde, founded amfAR — was being honored with the Jean Hersholt award. Naturally, we all sat in the first row. Howard Hawks received an honorary award that night. His daughter Kitty was my pal and agent. So afterward we all headed to Connie Wald's home on North Beverly Drive. Connie, the widow of Peyton Place producer Jerry Wald, discreetly asked if I was going to any other parties, and I told her I was going to John Schlesinger and Michael Childers'. "Would you mind very much to bring Audrey Hepburn?" Would I mind?!
Smelling of jasmine and roses, Hepburn kissed me on both cheeks, held me with both her arms and said, "My, oh my! So tall and so handsome, like Hubert. I must introduce the two of you.” I had no idea who she was talking about… of course it was the great couturier Hubert de Givenchy. Two years later she did indeed introduce me to Hubert! Eliza Doolittle and Gigi told me, little Zvi Howard Rosenman from Far Rockaway, that I was tall and handsome!
For a few years, I went to Allan Carr's party and Sandy Gallin's — stars by the yard at both. Then in 1982, Irving "Swifty" Lazar started throwing his annual Oscar party at the old Spago Hollywood on Horn Avenue, right above the old Tower Records store. All those limos chugging up the Hollywood Hills to deposit the A-listers and some not-so-A-listers.
If you weren’t on Swifty and Mary Lazar’s Oscar Party invitation list you were “nobody.” Everyone who was “somebody” got that magic invite. Mary, Swifty’s preternaturally beautiful wife, for some reason took a fancy to me and always made sure I made the cut. That first year I went with Dominick Dunne, Robert Stigwood, Ahmet and Mica Ertegun, Camilla Pecci-Blunt and Earl McGrath. It was so wildly dazzling and glitzy: Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, Mae West, Gore Vidal and Howard Austin — they were all there in that cramped horizontal room overlooking the Strip, along with Jack Nicholson, Cindy Crawford, Sharon Stone, Whoopi Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey, Michael J. Fox, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine, Kathleen Turner, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Carroll O'Connor, Aaron and Candy Spelling, and Donald Sutherland, to name just a few. Legends of yore also schlepped up the hill — the late Gene Kelly and George Burns, who also were regulars, turned up.
If you were extra special, Dani Janssen, widow of stunt driver Hal Needham, had an intime dinner at her Century City apartment after the other afterparties were over. She cooked spaghetti and served it in her living room for the likes of Clint Eastwood, Anjelica Huston and Warren Beatty — very cliquey but warm and with booze flowing as well as other stuff. One year I was Diana Ross' date and found myself, very late at night or early in the morning, among this stellar group, having a hilarious, delicious time of it. Uncensored.
Call Me by Your Name is the first best picture nominee I've produced. Since Sundance 2017, it's been a nonstop roundelay of lunches, dinners, cocktails and awards — for the film, Timothee Chalamet and James Ivory — that's fulfilling and brings my Oscar experience full circle.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.