I am on a plane to Seattle and minutes ago fired up the in-flight Internet to write some observations about Dinesh D’Souza’s America, which I saw last night, when I received word via email that one of my closest friends and mentor — the great writer/director Paul Mazursky — had died, probably when I was driving to the Burbank airport. Dinesh will have to wait.
There are tears in my eyes as I write this because no man had as great a professional effect on me — a professional effect that was deeply personal as well, because collaborating with Paul, as I did on several screenplays, was always an adventure of the most intimate sort, sharing endless stories and emotions that would go into our scripts.
I had seen Paul only yesterday in his hospital bed at Cedars Sinai. (I am grateful to our mutual friend David Freeman for informing me he was there.) He did not look good and I wondered if he would ever get out. I tried to engage him in conversation. It was difficult. Paul, normally the most garrulous of men, could barely talk. But we chatted a bit about Enemies, A Love Story — the most successful movie we co-wrote and he directed — and he reminded me that Isaac Singer, the author of the novel, had liked the film. We also talked of the trip we took together with some friends, trekking in the Himalayas to get as far as we could from the premiere of Scenes from a Mall, a less successful effort.
Paul, of course, made over a dozen fine movies, including Next Stop Greenwich Village, Harry and Tonto, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. We all have our favorites. But at a time like this I choose to remember Paul the man, not the auteur who has been called, reductively I think, the “West Coast Woody Allen.”
I remember especially the many breakfasts we all had together — writers, directors, what we used to call “visiting firemen” — at L.A.’s Farmers Market. “The table,” as it was also called, became something of minor legend, even making it into a BBC documentary on Hollywood in the 1990s. But it would have been nothing without Paul. He was the star attraction, the major domo. This was because of Paul’s fame but also because he was an all-time great storyteller, regaling us with tales of the comedy writers’ room in the early days of television, of great artists he had worked with like Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers.
Often he would repeat his stories — as the best storytellers often do — and we would roll our eyes. But the truth is we wanted to hear them again. They became something of a ritual. I want to hear them again now, more than ever.
Now here’s something I really want to say about Paul. He was an extraordinarily generous person, a true liberal in the best sense, as we used to know that word. He never let my migration toward the political right affect our friendship as some others in Hollywood did. I am grateful to him for that and, I think, I failed in my part of the bargain. After we formed Pajamas Media, I drifted away from “The table” because I didn’t want to be in conflict with people. But it was never with Paul.
He was the kind of person who was so large it is hard to accept that he is dead — and not just because it is only hours since it happened as I write this. I imagine it will always be that way. I don’t think I will ever be able to view the movies we wrote each other again – or for that matter any of the movies he made, including the wildly fun ones like Moscow on the Hudson (remember Robin Williams in Bloomingdale’s?) — without bursting into tears.
My deepest condolences to his wife Betsy and his daughter Jill.
Update: Paul Mazursky with Roger and Lionel Chetwynd on PJTV’s Poliwood, from 2009:
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