William Frye, Agent, Producer and Hollywood Raconteur, Dies at 96

William Frye - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

Cary Grant's former rep worked on 'GE Theater' and 'The Trouble With Angels' and palled around with Greta Garbo and Bette Davis.

William Frye, a man about town in Hollywood who produced General Electric Theater and Boris Karloff's Thriller for television as well as films including The Trouble With Angels and Airport 1975, has died. He was 96.

Frye died Nov. 3 of natural causes at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., according to an obituary placed in the Los Angeles Times.

Frye worked with and became dear friends with the likes of Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Ronald Reagan, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell, Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.

The producer also was close for more than a decade with the elusive Greta Garbo — she "was famous for canceling at the last minute, although she never did it to me," he wrote in an entertaining piece titled "The Garbo Next Door" for Vanity Fair in 2000.

Frye spent many months trying to convince the legendary actress to star in his 1966 film The Trouble With Angels, but not even he could get Garbo to end her long retirement. The role of the Mother Superior then went to Russell, who also appeared in Where Angels Go … Trouble Follows!, the 1968 sequel.

After years in television, those were the first two features produced by Frye.

In another essay for Vanity Fair, "The Devil in Miss Davis," Frye wrote about discovering Henry Farrell's 1960 book What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and approaching Davis to star in a film adaptation. She wound up with an Oscar nomination for best actress, and he accompanied her to the 1963 Academy Awards.

That night, not only did Davis not win, she saw her bitter rival and co-star Joan Crawford — who wasn't nominated for Baby Jane — come to the stage to accept the Oscar trophy on behalf of the winner, Anne Bancroft. (The scene was immortalized in Ryan Murphy's recent FX miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan.)

In Davis' kitchen hours later, Frye wrote, the temperamental actress put a knife to his chest after he "made the most inappropriate comment I've ever made in my life" — about how Crawford looked "like the movie star of all time."

A native of Salinas, California, Frye came to Hollywood and became Grant's agent when he was just 27. (The actor suggested that Frye tell everyone that he was 30 to be taken more seriously.) He went on to represent Russell, Colman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Dick Powell, Lucille Ball, Joel McCrea and others.

Grant and Colman helped Frye segue into producing for television, and he worked on CBS' Four Star Playhouse and then on the CBS adaptation of the radio hit The Halls of Ivy, starring Colman as a Midwestern college president.

Frye served as executive producer on the lamentably short-lived 1959-60 NBC series Johnny Staccato, starring John Cassavetes, and signed with Lew Wasserman's MCA/Universal. Around this time, he also produced episodes of GE Theater, hosted by Reagan.

Frye produced the 1963 documentary A Look at Monaco, which featured the retired actress Grace Kelly, now a princess, giving a tour of her principality.

In the 1970s, Frye produced several telefilms with big names like de Havilland in addition to the box-office hit Airport 1975, starring Charlton Heston, and its follow-up, Airport '77, starring Jack Lemmon.

Frye retired to Palm Desert in 1990 and lived at Ironwood Country Club. He wrote often about his days in Hollywood for Vanity Fair.