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MOVIES : Imagine That : Riddle: How can a person be in the spotlight and still be in the shadows? Answer: Check out producer Brian Grazer's career

February 16, 1992|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Judith Michaelson is a Times staff writer. and

"Hey dude! What's happening, dude . . . groovy, groovy ."

This is the sound of producer Brian Grazer at work.

At the moment, he's schmoozing on the phone, part of the game of cultivating agents, directors, studio executives and some of the biggest actors in the business for movies made by his company, Imagine Films Entertainment.

Grazer is perhaps the state-of-the-art Hollywood producer of the '90s. He knew "Kindergarten Cop" wasn't a thriller, as originally conceived, it was a comedy, and what made it funny was the counterpoint of kindergartners and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He insisted that Steve Martin's tormented dad in "Parenthood" needed, as Grazer happily recalls, "some memorable scenes where he scored ," which led to Martin's comic turn as the cowboy at his son's birthday party, "shooting those six-guns, doing that whole giant set-piece--which (was) of course in our trailer and TV spots." Grazer carefully nurtures his friendships with such actors as Martin, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton and Tom Cruise, and he uses his Hollywood clout in, well, unconventional ways.

For example, he takes meetings with the 1987 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry--Donald Cram of UCLA. A Nobel winner? "I'm like a guy who's totally driven by curiosity," Grazer says. "Culture, language, social, music, fashion. Whatever it is, I want to know what it is." A few months ago he hired (though later fired) a Harvard MBA to systematize the process. "His sole job (was) to think about me 20 hours a day," Grazer notes. "His job description (was) 'Make Brian Grazer smarter.' "

This skinny, almost hyperkinetic, Evian-sipping producer is, at 40, co-chairman and co-CEO of Imagine, a public company he founded six years ago with director Ron Howard. Yet in a world of image, his own is still a blur. Surrounded by celebrity names, his is not quite there yet--certainly not on a par with his partner, the 37-year-old former child star who was Opie Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" while Grazer was in grade school in Sherman Oaks. And that pains Grazer, particularly when his credits are projected onto Howard. Nevertheless, Thursday night in Las Vegas, the National Assn. of Theater Owners/ShoWest will honor Grazer as Producer of the Year; past recipients include Warren Beatty, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.

With Howard mostly on movie sets and in editing rooms, it is Grazer who essentially runs the company, tracking Imagine movies from first concept, through development and production, to TV ad and theater trailer. The partners, who met on the Paramount lot in 1980, consult daily and see each other about twice a month.

Starting with "Night Shift" (1982) and "Splash" (1984), Grazer's first pre-Imagine movies whose story ideas or concept s he conceived and then produced with Howard as director, Grazer also has had a hand in launching the movie careers of Hanks, Keaton, Meg Ryan, Daryl Hannah, John Candy, Johnny Depp, William Baldwin and of 11-year-old Anna Chlumsky of "My Girl."

So far Imagine has made a dozen movies, and Grazer has produced or co-produced most of them, including its most profitable movie, "Parenthood" ($99 million domestic box-office gross); "Kindergarten Cop" ($91.5 million); "The Doors" ($32.7 million), and "Backdraft" ($77.6 million). "Parenthood" and "Backdraft" were directed by Howard.

In his wraparound windowed aerie in Century City with a view that encompasses the ocean, Mt. Wilson and the Hollywood sign, Grazer dictates the day's order of business to his elegantly dressed assistant, Linda Magee, reeling off a cornucopia of names. "I got to call Eddie Murphy without fail, say 4 o'clock my time. Oh, that's the meeting with Jodie Foster . . . I want to send a letter to Macaulay Culkin and Kit Culkin (Macaulay's father). Just say it was great meeting you in New York, my kids loved meeting Macaulay on Saturday, and once again thanks for doing the ('My Girl') video. . . .

"Did you call (Brandon) Tartikoff's (Paramount) office? I want to set up lunches with Tartikoff, with Mark Canton (Columbia). . . . Had lunch planned with (Jeffrey) Katzenberg (Disney) but we both have to reschedule."

Grazer was to be in New York the next week, where production on "Housesitter," a romantic comedy with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, was just ending, and production was beginning on "Boomerang," a romantic comedy starring Eddie Murphy as a veteran playboy who meets his match when he falls for his boss.

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