Robert L. Lasky, attorney and cofounder of Agency of the Performing Arts whose clients once included Liberace, Johnny Cash and Harry Belafonte, died Sept. 16. He was 91. His death was announced by APA. A cause was not immediately available.
Lasky played an integral role in APA’s 1962 founding in New York, with David Baumgarten, Roger Vorce and Harvey Litwin. The agency subsequently launched offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Toronto and London, and today is a leading talent agency with a roster of clients including Gary Oldman, Mary J. Blige, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Famke Janssen, among others.
Lasky was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, of Russian and Hungarian descent, to a long line of attorneys. He attended Harvard University, where he was elected Phi Betta Kappa and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1951. He then went on to receive his LL.B. from Yale School of Law in 1955, and was one of four individuals awarded the coveted Henry Fellowship to Oxford University. In between his studies, Lasky was recruited by the War Department as an “analyst” during the Korean War.
After launching his legal career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind & Garrison, the 32-year-old Lasky opened his own Madison Avenue practice, where he worked with clients who would become cultural icons, including Brigitte Bardot, Josephine Baker, Tony Bennet, Italian writer-producer Franco Cristaldi (Cinema Paradiso, Amarcord), Marcello Mastroianni and Harry Belafonte.
Lasky’s roster of clients and friends would grow to include notable names of film, art and literature, including Sophia Loren, musician and guitar innovator Les Paul, French artist Philippe Petite (the subject of Man on Wire), and American novelist James Jones (From Here To Eternity). The latter once wrote a letter to Lasky recalling an evening in Paris: “I immensely enjoyed that night that you and I sat up somewhat stoned, talking about all those multitudinous things which people somehow seem to feel they will be penalized by God, or Someone, if they even mention them. I have not forgotten that night.”
Lasky also worked with Academy Award-winning Italian screenwriter and director Lina Wertmüller on such films as Seven Beauties, for which Wertmüller was the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director.. He advised Italian film producer Marcello Danon on La Cage Aux Folles and its American adaptation, The Birdcage; the producers of the Academy Award-winning documentary Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie; as well as the popular Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement.
Lasky was a longtime friend and legal advisor to Italian film executive Adriana Chiesa Di Palma, who headed up Medusa Distribuzione until the 1990s before launching her own company, and her husband, cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, with whom he worked on such films as Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway.
“He was elegant from the inside out,” said Di Palma. “He always had a solution and offered a straightforward answer.”
Lasky also contributed to the founding of the advertising agency Lois Holland Callaway, working on a range of innovations including the launch of its employment agency in 1968, Mantle Men & Namath Girls, featuring American sports heroes Mickey Mantle and Joe Namath. He also worked with The Paris Review founders Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton in an effort to ensure legal representation for emerging writers.
Lasky continued practicing law into his late 80s, collaborating with longtime clients, including facilitating the acquisition of the Les Paul music archives by the Library of Congress.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Astrid; and their two children, Alexander and Clarissa. A memorial will be held in spring 2021, pending COVID-19 restrictions.