James Toback

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James Toback
Toback on April 28, 2009
Born (1944-11-23) November 23, 1944 (age 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Screenwriter, film director
Spouse(s) Consuelo Sarah Churchill Vanderbilt Russell (1968-?; divorced)
Stephanie Kempf (?-present; 1 son)

James Lee Toback (born November 23, 1944) is an American screenwriter and film director, as well as author, and essayist. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1991 for Bugsy.

Early life[edit]

Toback was born in New York City. His mother, Selma Judith (née Levy), was a president of The League of Women Voters and a moderator of political debates on NBC.[1] His father, Irwin Lionel Toback, was a stockbroker and former vice president of Dreyfus & Company.[2]

He graduated from The Fieldston School in 1963 and from Harvard College, magna cum laude, in 1966. While attending Harvard College, Toback took, what he claims to be half-seriously, the largest single dose of LSD of all time. He remained under the influence of the drug for eight days before being administered an antidote by neuropsychiatrist Max Rinkel. According to Toback, he lost all fear of death due to this experience.[3]


After graduating from Harvard, Toback worked as a journalist. An assignment from Esquire on football player Jim Brown led to him living in Brown's house for a period of a couple years, where both Toback and Brown claim to have engaged in orgies with several women.[4] It was after Toback grew tired of his hedonistic lifestyle in Brown's house that he came to the decision to make movies for a living.[5] Toback wrote a book about his experiences with Brown entitled Jim: The Author's Self-Centered Memoir of the Great Jim Brown. In the early 1970s Toback taught creative writing at the City College of New York. He drew on this experience when he wrote the screenplay for The Gambler.[6]

In 1974, Toback's screenplay The Gambler was produced. Much of the film was shot at City College. His directorial début was the 1978 film Fingers, remade 28 years later by Jacques Audiard as The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Toback followed Fingers with Love and Money in 1982. Toback wrote and directed Exposed in 1983; The Pick-up Artist in 1987; and the documentary The Big Bang in 1989. Toback wrote the original screenplay for Bugsy, which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay. Toback won the Los Angeles Film Critics' Award for Best Original Screenplay and a similar award from the readers of Premiere Magazine.[citation needed]

In 1997, Toback wrote and directed the comedy Two Girls and a Guy, and in 1999, he wrote and directed Black and White in collaboration with members of Wu-Tang Clan. He then wrote and directed Harvard Man starring Adrian Grenier in 2001. In 2004, Toback wrote and directed When Will I Be Loved and in 2008, Toback directed Tyson, a documentary about boxer Mike Tyson.

In an August 2011 interview, Toback gave the story of the autobiographical background and development of The Gambler, and criticized the idea of the film being remade (as it was in 2014).[7]

Toback teamed with Alec Baldwin in 2013 to create and release a full-length movie called Seduced and Abandoned, which features a look into how movies are financed. Toback refers to the documentary style film as a cinematic romp. The HBO film shows Toback and Baldwin at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival searching for funding for a movie.[citation needed]

Toback's next film will be entitled The Private Life of a Modern Woman, and will star Sienna Miller.

Personal life[edit]

Toback was married to Consuelo Sarah Churchill Vanderbilt Russell,[8] the granddaughter of John Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough, from 1968 until their divorce.[when?] He is currently married to Stephanie Kempf, with whom he has one son.[citation needed]

Toback has developed a reputation as a "pick-up artist." An exposé in a 1989 issue of Spy Magazine, "The Pickup Artist's Guide to Picking Up Women," detailed how Toback would "hang out on the streets of the Upper West Side in New York City, and approach women. According to the story, he would in rapid-fire fashion tell them that he was a Hollywood director and offer to show them his Directors Guild of America card. The pitch invariably ended up with an invite to meet privately—sometimes at an outlandishly late hour—to talk about appearing in one of his films."[9] Articles describing Toback as a pick-up artist have also appeared on Gawker.[10][11][12]


Acting Credits[edit]


  1. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths TOBACK, SELMA". The New York Times. October 8, 2006. 
  2. ^ James Toback profile, filmreference.com; accessed June 18, 2015.
  3. ^ Profile, wnyc.org; accessed June 18, 2015.
  4. ^ "HuffPost Live". Huffington Post. 
  5. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vRxw_wLy24
  6. ^ http://www.charlierose.com/guest/view/3096
  7. ^ Nikki Finke (2011-08-28). "James Toback On ‘The Gambler’ Remake: "Not Possible… Rudeness And Disrespect"". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  8. ^ Marin, Rick (January 16, 2000). "SPRING FILMS/OUTSIDERS; His Life Is a Movie, and He's the Star". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wyman, Bill (April 1, 2011). "'The Pickup Artist' Comes Back to Life in Spy Magazine Archives". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 
  10. ^ Tate, Ryan (August 22, 2008). "Is Director James Toback STILL A Wannabe Pick-Up Artist?". Gawker. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on January 19, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 
  11. ^ Chen, Adrian (March 31, 2010). "http://gawker.com/5506842/sleazy-film-director-james-tobacks-underage-pick-up-attempt". Gawker. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015.  External link in |title= (help)
  12. ^ Juzwiak, Rich (August 31, 2012). "James Toback Strikes Again: I Have to Cum at Least Seven Times a Day". Gawker. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on April 29, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 

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