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Obituaries

Frank Rosenberg, 88; Producer Gave Brando His Only Outing as Director

November 02, 2002|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Frank P. Rosenberg, whose many projects during a six-decade Hollywood career included producing the only film directed by Marlon Brando, died Oct. 18 in Thousand Oaks after a short illness. He was 88.

Rosenberg produced "One-Eyed Jacks," a 1961 psychological western in which Brando was the director and star. Rosenberg also was the producer of "Madigan," the gritty, 1968 New York police drama that starred Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda.

Known for his ability to recognize screenwriting talent, Rosenberg hired Sam Peckinpah to write the first draft of the "One-Eyed Jacks" screenplay. It was the first effort at feature film writing by Peckinpah, who became a director.

Rosenberg also gave Jayne Mansfield her first movie role -- in the 1955 film "Illegal," which starred Edward G. Robinson.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rosenberg began a lifelong fascination with show business when his mother, an avid theatergoer, took him to his first Broadway play.

At the age of 16, a few years after the first "talkies" were released, he had a job in the shipping department at Columbia Pictures in New York. He worked his way up and eventually ran national publicity and advertising for the studio and its fabled chief, Harry Cohn.

In 1946 Cohn transferred him to Hollywood to run the publicity office. By 1951, Rosenberg had struck out on his own as an independent producer and began to make pictures for Cohn, Darryl F. Zanuck, Jack L. Warner and Lew Wasserman. He worked with stars such as Tab Hunter and Tyrone Power as producer of "The Secret of Convict Lake," "King of the Khyber Rifles" and "The Girl He Left Behind."

In 1957, Rosenberg bought the rights to Charles Neider's western novel "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones." The producer worked briefly with writer Rod Serling on an adaptation before turning the material over to Peckinpah, a dialogue director who was eager for his first feature writing credit.

When Peckinpah finished his draft of the movie that would become "One-Eyed Jacks," Rosenberg sent it to Brando, who, to Rosenberg's shock, agreed to star in it.

Rosenberg often told stories of the frustration and hilarity of working with Brando during the making of the film.

Brando played an outlaw seeking revenge on a former friend-turned-sheriff, played by Karl Malden.

The director was Stanley Kubrick, who was already being hailed as a genius for his World War I drama "Paths of Glory."

But Brando, who identified strongly with the film's main characters, involved himself in nearly every aspect of its production.

"Over the summer of 1958, script meetings shifted to Marlon's Mulholland Drive house, where, because of the teakwood floors, no one was allowed to wear shoes," Peter Manso wrote in his 1994 biography, "Brando." "Kubrick, for some reason, routinely took off his pants as well and worked in only his underwear and dress shirt."

"Brando," Rosenberg told Manso, "sat cross-legged on the floor within easy reach of a Chinese gong, and when the discussions became too emotional, he would hit it."

Brando, whose special arrangement with Paramount gave him enormous clout, wound up firing Peckinpah, and later Kubrick. Rosenberg, according to Manso, reluctantly agreed to let Brando take over the directing.

Filming on the Monterey coast, the actor fell months behind schedule as he grappled with the basics. By the time he wrapped up principal photography, he had shot more than 1 million feet of film -- six times the average -- and had exceeded the $1.6-million budget by more than $4 million, according to Manso.

"Time and tide are costly in Hollywood, and Brando used both unstintingly in his efforts to get just what he wanted on the screen," Rosenberg told the New York Times in 1961.

When Brando turned in a 4 1/2-hour director's cut, Rosenberg said, according to Manso, "That's not a picture. That's just an assemblage of footage."

The studio obtained control of the film and ultimately released a 141-minute version that earned some rave reviews, particularly for its visual beauty and rich characterizations.

Rosenberg produced several more films over the next few decades.

Among them, "Madigan" was memorable for Widmark's classic portrayal of a tough, urban detective.

"The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" was a 1975 movie in which Michael Sarrazin played a man possessed by the soul of a murder victim.

Rosenberg is survived by his wife of 49 years, Maryanne; two sons, James, a forensic psychiatrist, and John, a film editor; and five grandchildren. A third son, Daniel, an actor and entertainment lawyer, died last year.

Services were held last Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City.

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