May 27, 1937– Allan Carr was a True American Original. Mostly forgotten now, he once was a top power player in that business we call show. Certainly, in Hollywood Carr was the only power broker who was out of the closet in the 1970s.
As a manager, Carr controlled the careers of Ann-Margret, Marvin Hamlisch, and Joan Rivers. He was responsible for taking a chance on unknowns: Mark Hamill, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steve Guttenberg.
I proudly indulge in camp whenever possible, and I’m not talking about sleeping outdoors. I get dizzy for a really good bad film: Valley Of The Dolls (1967), Roadhouse (1989), Terror In Tiny Town (1938) are all on my list of movies so ridiculous that they transcend crummy to become truly iconic cinema experiences. Showgirls (1995) is my number one Good Bad Movie, but Can’t Stop The Music is right behind it. The 1980 musical epic was the only time The Village People starred in a film, proving that it takes a village. Producer Allan Carr cast Can’t Stop The Music with a lot of ex-boyfriends, but on the set they got out of hand and Carr issued an edict:
“Anyone caught having sex on the set will be fired!”
Nothing says 1970s hedonism like an Allan Carr Production. But then there was nothing else like the very ostentatious, obese, ornate caftan-wearing Carr.
He built a fortune by betting on showbiz possibilities. While still in college, he invested $750 in a Broadway production of The Ziegfeld Follies, starring Tallulah Bankhead. The payoff was handsome and Carr continued to reinvest his winnings in hit after hit, making tons of dough. He also produced events and premiers, including an infamous formal-dress party hosted by Truman Capote at the LA County Jail in 1963.
Allan Carr Enterprises, formed in 1966, managed the careers of: Rosalind Russell, Dyan Cannon, Nancy Walker, Peggy Lee, Mama Cass Elliot, Paul Anka, Frankie Valli, George Maharis, and Herb Alpert. He personally looked after Ann-Margret, producing a string of television specials for the star in the 1960s and 1970s. He insisted on casting her in the film version of Tommy (1975), one of her best roles, bringing her an Academy Award nomination. Carr produced and promoted the films: Grease (1978), Grease 2 (1982) Where The Boys Are ’84, Tommy (1975), and the Broadway production of the gay dream team Jerry Herman’s and Harvey Fierstein’s musical La Cage Aux Folles. Grease remains the highest grossing musical film of all time.
The Broadway version of La Cage Aux Folles (based on a 1979 French film) was a critical and box-office sensation, sweeping the 1984 Tony Awards with six wins, including for Best Musical. The show, about an aging gay couple, ran at the Palace Theater on Broadway for five years and has been revived on Broadway in 2004 and 2010, each time collecting more Tonys and packed houses.
Carr also produced the 1995 presentations of the Royal ShakespeareCompany’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The productions earned a total of 10 Tony nominations, including two for Carr as producer.
Carr always kept busy hosting exclusive extravagant events with guest lists that included showbiz legends and those that loved them. The invitations to the gatherings at his opulent mansion, with nine bars, a disco, and plenty of private rooms where guests could indulge in cocaine and sex, were highly coveted even in the homophobic Hollywood of the 1970s.
He titled his parties as if they were films: Roman Polanski’s RolodexParty, The Rudolph Nureyev Mattress Party, The Mick Jagger Cycle Sluts Party, Truman Capote’s Jailhouse Party. He invited rock stars and Hollywood royalty to his affairs. At a Carr fete you might rub-up against Elton John, Groucho Marx, or the pool boy. To promote the opening of the film Tommy, Carr held the opening-night party in the NYC subway.
Carr’s fall was as dramatic as his rise. He was banned from the Academy Awards after producing what is fondly remembered as the Worst Oscar Broadcast of all time, with a tone deaf Rob Lowe and Snow White singing Proud Mary. Carr had hired Steve Silver to produce the opening number inspired by Silver’s long-running San Francisco musical revue Beach Blanket Babylon. Like BBB, the opening act featured dancers wearing giant, elaborate hats. In a setting designed to resemble the Coconut Grove nightclub, Golden Age Hollywood stars Doris Day and Cyd Charisse were featured, while a very gay Merv Griffin sang his 1949 hit I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts. Watching the broadcast, I felt certain someone at the Academy Awards watching party I attended had slipped me some angel-dust.
Gregory Peck, Julie Andrews and Paul Newman signed a petition forever dis-inviting Carr from all future Academy Awards. Disney Studios sued the Oscars for copyright infringement over the use of their Snow White character. A Breakout Superstars Of Tomorrow segment in the program’s last half featured 12 minutes of young actors like Christian Slater and Patrick Dempsey writhing at the foot of a giant Oscar statue as if it were the Golden Calf. It took a lot of guts and a lot of cocaine to come up with a show this demented… and Carr gets the credit.
Soon after, the showbiz establishment shunned the sizzling sex and the drug scandals, and the sordid lifestyle of the flamboyantly gay Carr. Grease may have been the word, but nothing opened-up Carr like pretty parties, pretty caftans, pretty drugs and pretty boys. After appearing in Carr’s Can’t StopThe Music, Bruce Jenner was left gender-confused. We know how that turned out.
In 1999, Carr left this party for good, taken by that damn cancer. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean by Ann-Margret in front of his former Diamond Head Estate on Oahu.