UPDATE: Michael Bregman, son of Martin Bregman, confirmed his father’s passing. Below is a rewrite, my attempt at a proper obit of a storied New York producer.
Martin Bregman, the New York-based producer of such films as Sea of Love, Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Carlito’s Way, died Saturday at age 92. His passing was first reported by local New York TV news station WNBC. His passing was attributed to cerebral hemorrhage, his widow, Cornelia, told News 4’s Chuck Scarborough.
Michael Bregman, a producer with his father on The Bone Collector, Carlito’s Way and several other films, told Deadline his father died after being rushed to Weill Cornell Presbyterian Hospital on East 68th Street early Saturday morning. “It was surprising and surreal; my sister reached me at 1 AM and said come quickly, there’s not much time,” Michael Bregman told Deadline. “We were by his side when he passed at 5:45 PM Saturday. You don’t expect it when it hits, but he had suffered a couple of strokes and hadn’t been doing great before this massive cerebral hemorrhage. It was quick and peaceful.”
Bregman thrived at a time when the main way that film productions endured union premiums to shoot in New York came when a Gotham-based filmmaker or producer held the clout to push for it and impose their will. Along with Sidney Lumet, Alan Pakula, Woody Allen and a few others, Bregman was one of those guys. He always walked with a cane, the result of a bout of polio at age 4 that robbed him of the use of one of his legs.
Despite that, Michael Bregman said his father was one who didn’t back down to anybody. He grew up on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx — “the only Jew on an all-Italian block,” said Bregman — and found an unusual way into the nightclub circuit that led to carving out an early career as a talent manager.
“He grew up in the street and started by selling liquor by the gallon to night clubs that was made by local guys,” Michael Bregman said. “Back then, the club entertainment was singers, and he helped them get more money by playing over here, playing over there. He started signing them, not knowing what he was doing, but the singers were getting more money than they had before. That was his start.”
Bregman’s management business began to flourish and at its peak he repped clients that included Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and stage actress Sandy Dennis. The latter brought Bregman to see a young talent she was most impressed by, and so began Bregman’s long association with Al Pacino.
“Sandy brought him to an off off off Broadway play, I think it was The Indian Wants the Bronx, one of the early plays by Israel Horovitz in the late ’60s,” Bregman said. “It was Al, and my dad went back stage and signed him.” Pacino and Bregman did Scarface, Sea of Love, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Carlito’s Way together.
The younger Bregman learned the business working with his father. His lessons?
“The biggest was how to tell a story and tell it well,” he said. “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage, and that’s Carlito’s Way. He was the real deal, just as friendly to Al Pacino as he was to the driver captain, and he could be just as unfriendly to a studio exec or a PA if it was warranted. He was not one to back down to anybody.”
When the younger Bregman heard about John Leguizamo because he was an acting classmate of an ex-girlfriend, Bregman went to see a small one-man show Leguizamo performed in the basement of the class, on weekends. “I told my dad, who said, ‘sign him.’ I said I didn’t know what I was doing as a manager, and he said, ‘Nobody else does either.’ Leguizamo played the villain, Benny Blanco, in 1993’s Carlito’s Way.
Martin Bregman’s movie wheelhouse was the quintessential New York mid-budget crime thriller. His other credits include The Bone Collector, One Tough Cop, Nothing To Lose, and the Alan Alda-directed Betsy’s Wedding and Sweet Liberty, and The Seduction of Joe Tynan.
Along with Dylan Clark, Bregman is listed as producer on a third version of Scarface that Antoine Fuqua is developing to direct for Universal, with Diego Luna attached to play the title role made famous by Pacino.
Bregman is survived by his widow, his ex-wife, and his children Michael, Chris and Marissa. Burial will be private, Michael Bregman said.