Julie Kirkham, a producer, teacher and former studio executive who went on to become one of Hollywood’s great muses, has died. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma only a month ago, she died June 10 at her home in Santa Monica. She was 61.
A graduate of Princeton University, Kirkham got her start in show business in the 1980s as a script reader and climbed the studio ranks to become VP Production at Orion Pictures. She later served as SVP at Lawrence Bender Productions. She was an executive producer of Ridley Scott’s 1989 thriller Black Rain starring Michael Douglas and co-producer of Anna And The King (1999), Knockaround Guys (2001) and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004). Kirkham also had her own production company, Kirkham-Lewitt Productions, which she formed with her husband, producer Elliot Lewitt. Her latest film, Burn Your Maps, was greenlighted by Mark Canton Productions just days before her death.
But her real calling was as a script consultant and muse to many of the young writers whose careers she helped launch, including Jordan Roberts, Craig Bolotin, Steve Zaillian and Ron Shelton.
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“She had a great eye for new writers,” said Roberts, whose credits include Big Hero 6 and March Of The Penguins. “She gave me my first job 20 years ago, and we worked together for 18 years. She was an angel. Julie was the best reader in the history of show business. She helped me the way she helped dozens of other writers. She was the best reader and the most original reader I’ve ever known. She didn’t just read in the old Hollywood paradigm. She could find where the story wanted to go, and she did that better than anybody. She was purely instinctual, and she was never wrong. She was a midwife of great stories. She got the best work out of me and everyone I know.
“She always made you go deeper and better,” Roberts added, “and she was always honest, always supportive and never mealy mouthed. No matter how much pressure there was to turn something in, whether it was from financial pressure or because of time constraints, she would never allow me to turn something in until it was right. If I have a good rep as being diligent and hard working, Julie played a big part in making that so.”
Now that she’s gone, he said, “I am going to have to channel my inner Julie, like a lot of other writers will be doing.”
Said Bolotin, whose credits include Black Rain and The Longest Ride: “She was a muse in the sense that she was never out of ideas, and if you were stuck or at a dead end, she had an amazing ability to see how to make it work. She had a great sense of story and structure. She knew what a good idea was, and she knew if you were wasting your time on a not-so-good idea. She was an inspiration. She read my first script, No Small Affair, which she took to producer Ray Stark at Columbia, and throughout my career, she was my first reader. She helped me with all my scripts, and she was the executive producer of Black Rain. She helped develop it with me, and was enormously helpful, from the conception to the final shooting.”
Kirkham continued working with young writers right up until the time of her death, teaching screenwriting at Chapman University and at the University of Carolina’s School of the Arts. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Isabelle Kirkham-Lewitt; her son, Theo Kirkham-Lewitt; and her stepson, Sam Lewitt.
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