March 14, 1947 |
Raised in Winnetka, Illinois, on the North Shore of Chicago, Byrum attended New Trier High School, and later studied at New York University in the late 1960s. His instructors included Haig P. Manoogian and graduate student Martin Scorsese, and classmates Oliver Stone and Eric Jenkins. At NYU he co-wrote "Item 72-D, The Adventures of Spa and Fon" with director Edward Summer.
As a student, Byrum interned with Jim Henson on early appearances of The Muppets and was later hired by Henson as one of the original writers of Sesame Street. Henson took a special interest in Byrum's talent, and hired him to write freelance projects. Byrum left New York for Hollywood after Byrum's original script Inserts received positive reaction and he was tapped to write the script Harry and Walter Go to New York by producers and mentors Don Devlin, Tony Bill, and Harry Gittes. After that script was sold for a then-record-breaking amount, Byrum was hired to write the Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany. He passed on the chance to write the script for "Jaws" in order to work on "Mahogany" with one of his idols, director Tony Richardson, only to have Richardson leave the film mid-production after clashing with producer Berry Gordy of Motown fame. Berry took over directing chores and it is said that the true drama of Mahogany was the behind-the-camera relationship between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross.
Byrum directed his first feature film Inserts with stars Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Veronica Cartwright, Stephen Davies, and Bob Hoskins. Byrum followed soon after as writer/director of Heart Beat starring Nick Nolte, John Heard, and Sissy Spacek, as Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, and Carolyn Cassady. It was on this film that Byrum started his long collaborative relationship and friendship with composer Jack Nitzsche. Byrum teamed with "Mahogany" producer Rob Cohen which resulted "Scandalous" and "The Razor's Edge", the 1984 film directed by Byrum based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel starring Bill Murray in his first dramatic role as "Larry Darrell", co-starring Catherine Hicks, Theresa Russell, Denholm Elliott, and James Keach. Byrum and Murray co-wrote the screenplay. The film faltered with critics and audiences, as most were not ready to accept Murray in a non-comedic role. In later years the film achieved cult status and many fans have traveled to its international locations, to replicate Larry's spiritual journey.
Following the box office failure of The Razor's Edge, a financially strapped Byrum directed the goofy comedy The Whoopee Boys starring Michael O'Keefe and Paul Rodriguez, as well as a cameo part by Byrum's former wife Linda Fiorentino.
Byrum created, wrote and produced several television series including Middle Ages starring Peter Riegert, Michael O'Keefe, Amy Brenneman, and William Russ, about a group of friends attempting to deal with the onset of their 40's on the North Shore of Chicago; South of Sunset starring Glenn Frey of The Eagles fame, as an unconventional Los Angeles detective; and Winnetka Road starring Josh Brolin, Meg Tilly, Paige Turco and Ed Begley, Jr., again, dealing with life on Chicago's North Shore. Byrum's television movie Murder in High Places starred Ted Levine as a Hunter Thompson-like character who is elected mayor of a Colorado ski resort, which showcased a young Lisa Kudrow in one of her first acting roles.
Byrum was scheduled to direct his original script of karaoke road trip dramedy "Duets" when he was felled by a serious case of Lyme Disease that had gone long undiagnosed. Byrum's friend Bruce Paltrow wanted to direct "Duets" with his daughter Gwyneth Paltrow as one of the six ensemble characters. Brad Pitt was attached to co-star with Paltrow, his fiancee at the time, but when their engagement ended, the film's financing faltered once again. "Duets" was filmed several years later with Scott Speedman in the role originally chosen by Pitt, along with Paul Giamatti, Maria Bello, Andre Braugher, and Huey Lewis.