The way we live now is largely influenced by people of whom we know little and of whom we hear less. The entertainment —and particularly the comedy— of the last third of the last century was, in no small way, the creation of Bernie Brillstein. He died last night in Los Angeles; he was 77.
He actually started out in that show business cliché —the mail room at William Morris— and ended up as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. As Robert Jablon noted in the AP obituary:
In his 1999 memoir, Where Did I Go Right?—You’re No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead, he recalled that early on at William Morris Agency in New York, he helped negotiate a Broadway musical deal for an actress—only to find out that she had been dead for four years.
“Now that’s classic agenting,” he recalled. “We got a dead person a $250-a-week raise. I knew I was in the right business.”
He understood comics and comedy writers and genuinely enjoyed their company. Equally important, he knew how to cultivate, care for and coddle —in addition to merely representing— them.
Because of his friendships with Jim Henson and Lorne Michaels, he was present at the creation of the various incarnations of the Muppets and of Saturday Night Live. And, although it ended less than happily, he was part of one of TV comedy’s highest points: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
In his partnership with his former protégé Brad Grey in Brillstein-Grey Productions, he was involved in a lot of the most creative (and, inevitably, some of the more lamentable) developments during the 1980s and ‘90s.