The longtime Hollywood manager and producer and former agent Hillard “Hilly” Elkins died of a heart attack on Wednesday evening. He was 81. “Hilly was a larger-than-life character, a legendary stage and film producer and a manager of many great talents,” emails his close pal Jay Weston. “He started at 18 in the William Morris mailroom and there is a story that he delivered its mail personally to theatre magnet Lee Shubert each day wearing a homberg. One day, Lee Shubert called William Morris and asked for that fellow in the homberg. And he was immediately promoted to agent. At the time of his death, he was working on DiCaprio starring in Kurt Vonnnegut’s Cat’s Cradle because Hilly owned its screen rights. Beloved, humorous, charming, fun. He was an amazing man.”
According to his official bio, Elkins began in the Morris mailroom and moved up the ranks to head of the theatrical department. After serving in the Korean War by making training films in Manhattan, he left the agency biz to open his own management company, where he represented James Coburn, Robert Culp, Steve McQueen, Mel Brooks, Herbert Ross, Charles Strouse, and Lee Adams.
Elkins turned to Broadway theatre producing in 1962 with the Garson Kanin play Come on Strong. The following year, he saw former client Sammy Davis, Jr. performing in London and asked him to star in a musical version of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy. When Davis expressed interest, Elkins lured Odets out of semi-retirement to write the book (revised by William Gibson when Odets died) and hired Strouse and Adams to compose the score. The 1964 Broadway production, directed by Arthur Penn, earned him Tony Award nominations for Best Musical and Best Producer of a Musical. His additional Broadway credits include Oh! Calcutta!, The Rothschilds, as well as Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House which both starred his then wife Claire Bloom.
Elkin reunited with director Penn on Alice’s Restaurant (1969) and also produced A New Leaf (1971), screen adaptations of Oh! Calcutta! (1972) and A Doll’s House (1973), and Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979). For television, Elkins produced the documentaries Pippin: His Life and Times (1981), Sex, Censorship and the Silver Screen (1996), An Evening with Quentin Crisp (1999), and Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool (2005).