A legendary Hollywood figure who was behind a string of major comedy stars has died. The New York Times reports that Jack Rollins, who was Woody Allen’s longtime manager and a producer on most of Allen’s films, died Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.
In his career as a manager, Rollins helped build Allen into something more than the insecure young gag writer Allen was when he was starting out.
“Mr. Rollins did not just boost fragile young egos,” The Times reports. “To his clients — who also included Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Lenny Bruce and the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, an American pantheon of hilarity — he was a father-confessor, real estate agent, psychiatrist, marriage counselor and financial guru.”
Rollins also reportedly had a hand in the careers of Dick Cavett and Robert Klein. He was the longtime partner of Charles H. Joffe and a producer, executive producer or co-executive producer on virtually the entire Woody Allen film catalog. He also executive produced many of Letterman’s “Late Night” shows at NBC.
“Mr. Rollins was the model, loosely, for the manager of bizarre variety acts played by Mr. Allen in ‘Broadway Danny Rose’ (1984),” The Times notes. “Like Danny Rose, he was a sympathetic listener, a friend and adviser who catered to the idiosyncrasies and professional needs of performers, although unlike Danny he never handled a blind xylophone player, a one-legged tap dancer or a performing penguin dressed as a rabbi. (Mr. Rollins appeared briefly in the film, playing himself.)”
Rollins founded a one-man talent agency in Midtown Manhattan in 1951, working first with singers and dramatic actors before partnering with Joffe and focusing almost exclusively on comedians. An early client was Harry Belafonte, who was advised by Rollins to move from pop music to the calypso and folk music that represented his Caribbean heritage, The Times notes.
“Many managers favored established performers, but he preferred to find and develop young comics, then focused on only a few for a closer working relationship,” The Times reports. “He was a regular at Greenwich Village clubs, where he scouted the talent. He helped clients pick clothes and find apartments, stood up as best man at their weddings and later mediated their marriage spats and consulted on life insurance.”
Rollins and jazz pianist Bill Evans, who were close friends, reportedly co-owned a racehorse named Annie Hall — after the Academy Award-winning 1977 Woody Allen movie on which Rollins and Joffe had one of their many joint producing credits.