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Sidney Glazier, 86; Produced Cult Comedy That Became Hit Musical

December 18, 2002|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Sidney Glazier, who produced Mel Brooks' "The Producers," the 1968 cult comedy film that later gave birth to the hit Broadway musical, has died. He was 86.

Glazier, who also was executive producer of Brooks' 1970 comedy, "The Twelve Chairs," and Woody Allen's 1969 comedy, "Take the Money and Run," died of natural causes Saturday at a nursing home in Bennington, Vt.

The former executive director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer Foundation in New York City, Glazier was an Academy Award winner as the producer of the 1965 documentary feature "The Eleanor Roosevelt Story" when Brooks met with him to pitch his "Producers" story.

Brooks, who was best known at the time for his "2000-Year-Old Man" comedy routines with Carl Reiner, had already approached numerous movie producers.

But no one was interested in his show business satire about a manic, unscrupulous Broadway producer who, joined by his mousy accountant, comes up with a scheme to defraud their wealthy investors and make a fortune by over-financing a Broadway show that is guaranteed to be a flop: a tasteless musical called "Springtime for Hitler," complete with a chorus line of jackbooted SS girls and lyrics such as "Don't be stupid, be a smarty! Come and join the Nazi Party!"

Glazier was eating lunch in his office when Brooks began acting out the story. Just as Glazier took a bite of his tuna on rye and washed it down with coffee, Brooks began singing "Springtime for Hitler."

"He spit out his coffee and tuna sandwich and couldn't stop laughing," Brooks told The Times this week. "He said, 'I vow to get this movie made. The world must see this picture.' " Glazier "was responsible for the film seeing the light of day. It was his stick-to-itiveness and perseverance. He took it to all the studios, and he used to take me along to kind of explain it, even though the script was finished."

After a number of studio rejections -- "It was too bizarre for the industry," Brooks said -- Glazier "finally got it to Joseph E. Levine at Avco Embassy, and he browbeat Joe into letting me direct the movie. He said I was a genius director. Nobody knew that, because I hadn't directed anything."

Levine put up $500,000, and Glazier raised the other half for the film, which came in under budget at $941,000.

In a 1997 interview with Billboard, Glazier said Brooks "had a remarkable sense of how to create humor in the moment, which is why I loved it when he acted out the script for me, improvising the unfinished parts from a three-page synopsis, doing all the German accents ....I never laughed so hard in my life."

In 1997, "The Producers," which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, was entered into the National Film Registry as a "culturally, historically, and aesthetically" significant film.

Born in Philadelphia on May 29, 1916, Glazier was the second of three sons of a Russian-Polish couple from Minsk (in what is now Belarus) who had immigrated about 1912.

After Glazier's father died during the influenza epidemic of 1918, his mother fell in love with a man who already had three children and was not interested in raising three more. His mother put her sons -- ages 7, 5 and 4 -- in the Hebrew Orphan Home in Philadelphia.

"Her reasoning and the pain it brought us remain incomprehensible, unfathomable," Glazier told Billboard.

Molested by a volunteer at the orphanage, he ran away once, but returned because he had nowhere else to go. At 15, he left for good.

Glazier joined the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and, as a newly married second lieutenant, spent the war in Australia and New Guinea.

After his discharge in 1945, he moved to Manhattan, where he managed a bar and later became an apprentice jeweler. He then found a job selling bonds for the new state of Israel. His success at that led to his being hired as executive director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Cancer Foundation.

Glazier got to know the former first lady and was so impressed by her that, after she died in 1962, he raised $90,000 to fund a documentary on her.

Encouraged to go into feature film production after winning the Oscar for best documentary feature, Glazier formed Universal Marion Corp. Pictures, a distribution company. He was executive producer for a number of films, including "Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx," a 1970 romantic comedy starring Gene Wilder and Margot Kidder.

Turning to television, he was executive producer of "Catholics," a 1973 drama that won a Peabody Award.

Brooks remembers Glazier as "very bright, warm and a bit of a bon vivant. Sidney was the first one to say, 'The dailies look good; let's have a party.' He'd have a party about anything -- have a few drinks, canapes and pretty girls. He really knew how to live. He was right out of a black-and-white Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. He was that kind of guy -- a big, tall, good-looking man."

The well-known addendum to "The Producers" is that it became a Broadway phenomenon when it opened in April 2001, and earned an unprecedented 12 Tony Awards, including for best musical.

"Sidney never got to see the show," Brooks said. "He became ill the year that show was born and couldn't leave his rest home."

But at the Tony ceremony, Brooks said, "I made a speech thanking Sidney Glazier for making it all happen. I knew he'd be listening to the Tonys.

"None of it -- all of this wonderful, magical stuff -- would be if it wasn't for the faith and courage of this terrific guy."

Glazier is survived by a daughter, Karen Shepard of Williamstown, Mass.; and three grandchildren. Also surviving is a brother, Tom Glazer of Philadelphia, who wrote the score for Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" and is a children's folk singer who recorded the hit "On Top of Spaghetti."

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