Harry Gittes, Jack Nicholson's Pal and Producer, Dies at 81

Jack Nicholson and Harry Gittes - 2002 55th Cannes Film Festival - Getty - H 2017
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

He did three films with the actor and was the namesake for his character in 'Chinatown.'

Harry Gittes, who produced the Jack Nicholson films Drive, He Said; Goin' South and About Schmidt and was the namesake for the actor's gumshoe character in Chinatown, has died. He was 81.

Gittes died Saturday of natural causes in Los Angeles, publicist Seth Horowitz reported.

Gittes also produced Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), starring James Caan, Elliott Gould, Michael Caine and Diane Keaton; Richard Benjamin's Little Nikita (1988), starring Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix; Breaking In (1989), written by John Sayles and starring Burt Reynolds; and The Girl Next Door (2004), starring Emile Hirsch.

Born on May 6, 1936, in Brookline, Mass., Gittes attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He started his career as an advertising copywriter and photographer in New York, shooting such up-and-comers as Nicholson, Gould and Liza Minnelli and acts that played The Bottom Line, including Woody Allen, Cass Elliot and Bill Cosby.

Gittes became friends with producer Roy Silver, who brought Gittes out to Hollywood, and they produced the 1969 pilot for the Cosby animated series Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert.

Gittes landed a job with BBS Productions, co-founded by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and co-produced Drive, He Said (1971), directed and co-written by Nicholson.

Gittes later got a hold of the Louis Begley novel that eventually became Alexander Payne's About Schmidt. Nicholson received his 12th (and most recent) Oscar nomination for his performance.

Nicholson's legendary character in Chinatown, L.A. private eye J.J. Gittes, is named for his friend and producer.

Gittes' survivors include his wife, lawyer Christine Cuddy, and children Michael and Julia.