A couple of nights ago, I lost a wonderful old friend. I met him in the late 1960s. He and his partner, Irwin Winkler, were making their way as two very prolific producers in Hollywood who could get things done. For an agent, it was always a good idea to find somebody who had close contact with a studio. The late ’60s were a very exciting and interesting time because everything around everybody was changing. The war in Vietnam brought a new generation of people into the business, and Winkler and Chartoff were clearly the top of their class. They were hardworking and obviously liked the business. While I never represented them, I ended up encountering them on films I was involved in such as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
They got on when my then client, James Poe (Academy Award-winning writer, wanting this to be his first picture) unfortunately ran into a problem with Warner Bros over casting. Warners decided to re-assemble it with a different package, and to produce it the studio brought in Irwin and Bob. Then I put together a movie called The Gambler, with my then-client Karel Reisz and writer James Toback. In 1974, when I joined United Artists, Arthur Krim wanted a steady supply of movies, and what better way to do it than find two guys who could actually put pictures together and get them made. Bob and Irwin were made for that job. We made an exclusive deal with them, and hence started New York, New York and Rocky, among others over the years. I never lost sight of Bob, and we became good friends. Even when we moved on, having green-lit Raging Bull as our last act at United Artists.
Years later, I visited both San Tropez, where he had a house, and Paris, where he had a tiny pied-a-terre. At that time, I discovered the real Robert Chartoff. My best description of him is from a story he told me one day, sitting in a café.
“You know I spent some time in India,” he said. “I was in a small village, sitting on a bench when a 12-year-old boy came to see me. He didn’t speak a word of English, had a wonderful smile and shook my hand. I said to my guide, ‘He doesn’t speak English. What is he trying to do?’ The guide said, ‘Nothing. He’s curious about you and wants to be your friend.’ I gave the guide some money and said to him, ‘Why don’t you teach him some English, and I’ll be back next year.’ “
He did come back the following year, and the child spoke perfect English, and they were able to talk about what the child had done that year. That led Bob to start building schools in India.
I discovered that he was giving, compassionate, a real and good human being. He felt that we were all lucky — lucky to be in this business, lucky to make a living doing what we loved. We could all make a difference. In his mind, everybody had a Rocky in them.
He came to my wedding, we went to his daughter’s wedding in France. We saw the day his daughter Miranda came home. I’ll miss him. The world will miss him. There will never be another Bob Chartoff, but everyone should aspire to have his spirit and kindness – that which makes us human.