Irving Paul Lazar
Early life and education
Born Samuel Lazar to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1931. While practicing bankruptcy law during the early 1930s, he negotiated a business deal for a vaudeville performer Ted Lewis, and realized the income potential for acting as an agent.
Lazar moved to Hollywood in 1936 but maintained a presence in New York until after World War II when he moved to Los Angeles permanently. After putting together three major deals for Humphrey Bogart in a single day, he was dubbed "Swifty" by Bogart, a nickname he disliked.
In addition to Bogart, Lazar became the agent representing other celebrities, including Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote, Cher, Joan Collins, Noël Coward, Ira Gershwin, Cary Grant, Moss Hart, Ernest Hemingway, Gene Kelly, Madonna, Walter Matthau, Larry McMurtry, Vladimir Nabokov, Clifford Odets, Cole Porter, William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw, President Richard Nixon and Tennessee Williams. Lazar's power became such that he could negotiate a deal for someone who was not even his client and then collect a fee from that person's agent.
During World War II, Lazar, with Benjamin Landis, suggested to the U.S. Army Air Forces that it produce a play to encourage enlistment and to raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. The Air Forces commanding general, Henry H. Arnold, agreed and the play Winged Victory was written by Moss Hart and produced by Hart and Lazar. It was a huge success, playing on Broadway and on tour around the U.S. for over a million people. A film version was produced during the same period.
During the 1950s Lazar expanded from Hollywood deal-making to doing book publishing deals.
Lazar was an executive producer (with Bernie Brillstein) of John G. Avildsen's Neighbors (1981), starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and he was an associate producer on two television miniseries, The Thorn Birds (1983) and Robert Kennedy & His Times (1985).
Simon & Scuster editor-in-chief Michael Korda wrote a 1993 New Yorker profile of Lazar, later incorporated into Korda's book, Another Life: A Memoir of Other People (Random House, 1999). Korda gave this description of his first view of Lazar, "The person in question was standing on the other side of the pool, an incongruous, diminutive figure among all the half-naked, oiled, and bronzed bodies. He was totally bald, and his face--what could be seen of it below huge, glittering gold-rimmed Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses--was tanned, like his pate, to the color of a well-cared-for crocodile handbag. He was wearing tiny white shoes, a blue blazer with gold buttons, and white trousers pressed so perfectly, despite the heat, that he looked like a shiny, expensive beach toy that had just been unpacked by some lucky child. He was shouting into a telephone."
- Cary Grant
- Clifford Odets
- Cole Porter
- Dominque LaPierre
- Ernest Hemingway
- Garson Kanin
- Gene Kelly
- Humphrey Bogart
- Ira Gershwin
- Irwin Shaw
- Joan Collins
- Larry Collins
- Larry McMurtry
- Lauren Bacall
- Moss Hart
- Noël Coward
- Richard Nixon
- Tennessee Williams
- Truman Capote
- Vladimir Nabokov
- Walter Matthau
- William Saroyan
Lazar died in 1993, aged 86, from complications stemming from diabetes, which had cut off circulation to his feet. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Lazar, who was being treated at home via peritoneal dialysis, refused. This refusal hastened Lazar's death. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles next to his wife, Mary, who had died in January that same year from liver cancer.
Swifty Lazar appears as a character in Peter Morgan's stage play, Frost/Nixon, first staged at the Donmar Warehouse, London on August 10, 2006 and played by actor Kerry Shale. In the play, Lazar negotiates a deal with David Frost on behalf of President Richard Nixon for Frost to interview Nixon. The play is closely based on real-life events. He was also portrayed by Toby Jones in the 2008 film version of Frost/Nixon.
- Korda, Michael (1999). Another Life: A Memoir of Other People. United States: Random House. ISBN 0-679-45659-7.
- Brook, Vincent. From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood: Chapter 1: Still an Empire of Their Own: How Jews Remain Atop a Reinvented Hollywood. Purdue University Press. p. 10.
- The death certificate states "Imminent Cause: Chronic Renal Failure due to Glomerulo Sclerosis due to Hypertension. Other significant conditions contributing to death but not related to cause given in 21 [above]: lower extremities diabetes." Death Certificate, Los Angeles Department of Health Services
- Irving "Swifty" Lazar at Find a Grave
- ISBN 978-0684804187