Stein was an extraordinary and gifted artist; yes, misdirected at times, who deserves to be remembered
I had just arrived in Beverly Hills when director Gil Cates handed me "Three Picassos Before Breakfast," George Carpozi's collaborative biography of art forger David Stein.
Carpozi was an old-world tabloid writer and the book, unauthorized by the still incarcerated Stein, was the work of his "ex-wife" or as he called her, "the mother of my children."
Still, the facts were all there, and it was a mesmerizing story, with incredible color and glamour.
Stein, who had used many names and was born in Egypt as Henri Haddad, would set himself up (in Paris or Palm Beach) as a representative from Sotheby's, performing sales presentations with art dealers or collectors from a portfolio depicting major works by the moderns that were "coming up for sale.
And that these special people could have first dibs at a reduced price.
So instead of $2 million to 4 million for a Chagall, Modigliani, Klee, Miro, Cocteau or an Utrillo, you could "steal it" for $800,000 if you moved quickly. And many did.
Once he got the order, the movie-star-handsome art forger would change his clothes from the expensive high style fashion he favored, to his painting scrubs and knock out the painting — not a copy, but a Stein impression of how Picasso, Utrillo or Braque might have painted it.
And then he would also design and print a gallery certificate of authenticity. He had even managed one day to have a forged Picasso oil painting authenticated by the master himself, but was arrested after Marc Chagall saw a forged water color exhibited in a New York Gallery.
When his U.S. sentence was up, he returned to France to experience their justice system. Then he headed back to Manhattan to belatedly begin a career as an artist. He had made the name David Stein "collectable."
Early in my agency career, I was friends with the incredible Carol at Celebrity Service in New York. When trying to find Stein, I left a message for her and precisely one year later, visiting Manhattan for WMA, I received back a message: "I found David Stein, he lives in the West Village and he's awaiting your call."
I arranged to meet Stein at the French restaurant that existed in the Parker Meridian Hotel. He arrived wearing a silk jacket over jeans. Very American casual and yet, without ever saying a word, the French staff spoke to him in French. How did they know?
David lent me an astonishing and massive book, three feet high and more than a thousand pages, that demonstrated that artists have for centuries copied other artists.
Another book included a glowing bio of Stein. The jewel of his mementos was personal — two massive albums of clippings collected by family members from world newspapers about David's misadventures.
I lent these precious volumes to producer Stockton Briggle, whose staff sliced up the albums to make poster boards to bring to a pitch meeting. I was astounded by this butchering of the artist's personal property and do not know how I had the courage to return the destroyed albums when I once again visited Stein in New York.
But I also brought with the criminally created posters he requested so his disappointment wasn't as severe.
I submitted a proposal and elaborate materials to a second producer, Thom Mount, who also envisioned the movie in Stein's life and career.
We somehow got the material to Pierce Brosnan, who committed to star as Stein with ABC interested in developing a two-hour.
CAA, Brosnan's agents, were horrified that we were planning to use their client in a Morris package and killed the deal. This was still early in their existence with a vengeance and rivalry encompassing a true hatred of WMA. Before the recent takeover, that rivalry had mellowed over the years.
Actor Keith Carradine visited my office following a miniseries I put together with him at CBS.
He noticed the Edward Hopper on my wall and asked what I collected.
I mentioned that I would be getting another Hopper, "The New York Usherette," in oil for my birthday, but not by Hopper, by David Stein. He exploded with excitement. "You know David Stein? How do we get to him?"
He was involved with director Alan Rudolph in a movie to be called "The Moderns" about American expatriates in Paris in the '20's. They needed extensive art work and wanted to hire Stein immediately.
To entice him, they would offer him acting roles in the film. Stein played an art critic who demanded that what he viewed were forgeries and must be destroyed.
No one wanted to burn the Stein copies as all cast and crew had put in their bids for their favorites. My assistant at the time suggested reproducing large format xerox copies that could be burned instead of the real "fake" Steins.
Because Stein was listed by Interpol as an "international art forger," he was stopped and held en route to the Montreal shoot by Canadian authorities as he was bringing into Canada dozens of his oils based on iconic art commissioned by the producers. He had to be rescued by those same producers.
David and I exchanged letters and photos over the years until we lost touch. I discovered recently that he had died in 1999. It was yet another in a long list of friends, many very close, that I tragically discovered in cyberspace had not survived and left us way too young.
Stein was an extraordinary and gifted artist; yes, misdirected at times, who deserves to be remembered.
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