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Roy Gerber, 82; talent agent was model for 'Odd Couple' character

August 25, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Roy Gerber, a former talent agent and longtime talent manager who was the inspiration for the character of Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's classic comedy "The Odd Couple," has died. He was 82.

Gerber died Tuesday of complications from a brain tumor at his home in Beverly Hills, said his son Bill.

As head of Roy Gerber and Associates from 1978 to 2002, Gerber managed a string of entertainers that included Diahann Carroll, Vic Damone, George Gobel, Shirley Jones, Jack Jones, Sid Caesar and Arsenio Hall, among others.

Gerber, who launched his career as a theatrical agent in Manhattan after World War II -- he later recalled driving snake charmers and exotic dancers to jobs around New York -- teamed up with Norman Weiss to form their own agency in the late 1940s.

After they achieved success booking acts in nightclubs, their agency was acquired by Music Corp. of America about 1953, and MCA hired Gerber and Weiss as agents.

From 1954 to 1960, Gerber and associate Jim Murray were in charge of MCA's Las Vegas office, where they booked the Rat Pack, Betty Grable and other major entertainers into the city's clubs -- as well as entertainers personally represented by Gerber, such as Jerry Lewis, Edie Adams and Victor Borge.

In the early 1960s, Gerber and Weiss joined General Artists Corp., where they represented the Beatles, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas and the Papas, Johnny Rivers, Richard Pryor, Tom Jones and others.

Gerber was newly separated from his first wife in the early 1960s when Simon's brother, comedy writer Danny Simon, who was also newly separated, moved into his West Hollywood home.

Bill Gerber said his father was just like Oscar in "The Odd Couple."

"He was sloppy, he was a womanizer, he was the life of the party," he said. And like Felix Unger, he said, "Danny was literally anal-retentive, he did the cooking, the cleaning."

One night the two men invited friends over for dinner, an occasion for which Simon cooked a pot roast.

"My dad was late, and it got dry, and Danny never forgave him," Bill Gerber said.

The next day, as the story goes, Gerber told Simon: "Sweetheart, that was a lovely dinner last night. What are we going to have tonight?"

To which Simon replied: "What do you mean, cook you dinner? You never take me out to dinner. You never bring me flowers."

Bill Gerber said Walter Matthau, who played Oscar on Broadway and in the 1968 movie version of "The Odd Couple," later told him that in playing the role, "I just did Roy, and it worked out great."

Although Danny Simon originally planned to write a stage comedy about two divorced men who move in together, he stalled after 14 pages.

He finally passed the idea to brother Neil, who thought it was a great idea for a play.

"The Odd Couple," which opened on Broadway in 1965, won four Tony Awards, including one for Neil Simon as best author.

In the front of the original published version of the play, Bill Gerber noted, "Neil said, 'Thank you Roy and Danny for the use of your lives.' "

Born in the Bronx on July 23, 1925, Gerber began his entertainment career playing trumpet in a band that he and Jimmy Komack formed. Assigned to special services during World War II, Gerber entertained troops with a record act in which he mimed current hits while dressed in drag.

While working as an agent for General Artists Corp. in the 1960s, he packaged and served as talent coordinator for "The Hollywood Palace" TV series. GAC subsequently became Creative Management Agency and ultimately International Creative Management, with Gerber serving as a senior talent agent at both companies.

In 1970, Gerber and Weiss partnered with Martin Bregman to form the management and production company Artists Entertainment Complex, which represented Al Pacino, Bette Midler and others. The partnership was also involved in production of the hit Pacino films "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico."

In 1976, Gerber joined Shelly Berger, and they ran Motown Records' management division.

In addition to his son Bill, Gerber is survived by his wife of 27 years, Terrie; children Bobby, Pam and Missy; his brother, Jay; and eight grandchildren.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to UCLA Brain Cancer Research, c/o Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, 710 Westwood Plaza, Suite 1-230, Los Angeles, CA 90095.


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