Harvey Fierstein was living in a basement studio apartment in Brooklyn when he first met Allan Carr in 1982. Carr was mounting a musical version of the popular French farce La Cage aux Folles on Broadway and wanted Fierstein, a little-known playwright, to write the adaptation. "I walked into this all-glass apartment on top of this Manhattan hotel, and he handed me two huge bouquets of flowers," Fierstein recalls. "He said, 'Dahling, we're going to do this fabulous show together.' He looked at my coat with all these burn holes on it, handed me a check and said, 'Go buy a decent coat.' "
The moment may have seemed surreal, but it was typical Allan Carr. The producer, 62, who died of liver cancer in his Beverly Hills home on June 29, was every bit as over-the-top as his glitzy productions. He was best known for turning the Broadway musical Grease into a smash 1978 movie and for producing La Cage—which won the Tony for 1984's best musical. But he was nearly as famous for the parties he threw at his Beverly Hills mansion (Ingrid Bergman's former home, updated with a disco) for friends like Elton John, Diana Ross and Truman Capote. (The Capote bash was held in an L.A. jail, presumably because the idea just appealed to Carr.) "He loved show business," says Grease's Stockard Channing. "He loved the baloney of it. He loved the crackle of it. He loved the dress-up."
The only child of a Highland Park, Ill., furniture store owner and an interior decorator, Carr fell in love with Chicago theater at an early age. After graduating from nearby Lake Forest College, he moved in 1966 to L.A., where he and Ann-Margret's husband, Roger Smith, opened a management company. Carr later represented Peter Sellers and Joan Rivers, among others. "He was always in my corner," says client Ann-Margret, who visited him three days before his death. "I made him smile, and I kissed him all over."
In 1969, Carr coproduced his first film, the Jacqueline Bisset comedy The First Time. After seeing Grease on Broadway in 1977, he bought the movie rights for $500,000, cowrote the screenplay, and cast John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as the leads. "I was a nerd in high school," Carr said last year. "Making Grease was like being the president of your class."
But 1982's Grease 2 flopped—though he got credit for discovering its lead, Michelle Pfeiffer—as did his 1989 Academy Awards show with its notorious Rob Lowe-Snow White duet. "People turned on him," says Channing. "He felt rejected by a world that he loved so much."
Even in his successful years, says friend Tony Curtis, "he always had a sense of sadness about him. He was always concerned about his weight." He had his stomach stapled and once attended a party with his teeth wired shut to prevent overeating. (According to producer Marty Richards, Carr still managed to suck caviar and champagne through a straw.) But in the end, Carr had few regrets. Before last year's 20th-anniver-sary rerelease of Grease, he was asked about his lean years. "To have a huge Broadway hit and to make this big musical, that's enough," he replied with a proud smile. "I've made my statement, thank you."
Karen Brailsford in Los Angeles and Julia Campbell in New York City
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