‘I Will Always Love You’ — Whitney Houston’s Real Academy Award

Kevin Costner takes credit for getting Whitney Houston’s music into “The Bodyguard,” but Columbia music exec Maureen Crowe had plenty to do with it, too

I couldn’t feel worse for Whitney Houston and her family — particularly her minor daughter who she was apparently taking to clubs where alcohol was served (and who- knows-what was available in the bathroom!) — over the last several years.

As great as her tragedy was, it was more for a kid. God bless, and help, her!

On the other hand, as an artist, it was hard to have any but the best feeling for Whitney. I know a little about it, from both a professional and personal level. And the telling thereof may say something about both the music business and the journalists who follow it.

To wit, at one point in my life, me.

I’ve already written about my experiences with the Rolling Stones during the recording of their classic album “Exile on Main Street,” not to mention the early days of the Ramones. But I knew them long before I became Newsweek’s entertainment correspondent in Los Angeles the ‘80s. In fact, I probably only got the job because of my association with the pre-punk New York Dolls, whom Newsweek (as well as Time) had touted back in the ’70s as “the next Rolling Stones.”

Turns out the Dolls proved to be nothing of the sort. But I hear “Personality Crisis” and “Looking for a Kiss,” or hear them on movie soundtracks, and I still love their music … maybe more than then!

The Dolls got me to L.A. in the mid ’80s, where I was considered hip. That may have been simply because a magazine like Newsweek wouldn’t have known “hip” if it was hit by a semi of “LPs,” as they were called in those days.

For some reason, they assigned me my first L.A. cover story, “Women in Rock.”

The idea was to feature Madonna, which would have been her first major cover. But Madonna was too stupid to understand the opportunity; following the furor over her “writhing bride” performance of “Like a Virgin” at that year’s MTV awards, she’d decided men hated her. So, thanks to her manager (today even she hates him), I was taken off the story, because I was a male!

Little did Freddie DeMann know that I’d actually voted for her in the awards (in those days, I had a vote). Instead, she got a female writer who hated her. Freddie didn’t understand that it was males who loved Madonna and females who found her a threat to their liberation.

In the end, Freddie’s maneuvering cost Madonna the cover—though I got a nice credit with such subjects as the then-hot Bangles. But that’s not the story I want to tell you. No, half a decade later, I found myself at the Cannes Film Festival with my first independent film, “Born to Run,” repped by foreign sales maestro Jeff Schechtman, one of the ‘90s independent film gurus and a former exec at New Line Cinema.

Over the years, Jeff taught me of many things, but one of the most memorable was “Le Petite Carlton,” or the Little Carleton, a cheesy bar located behind the famous Carlton Hotel. Along with the Majestic, the Noga Hilton and the Martinez, the Carlton was the nexus of the Cannes festival. That was where the stars in town to promote their movies stayed. For the hangers-on, who couldn’t afford the multi-thousand dollars per night rates, there was “Le Petite Carlton,” where the lesser studio folks could meet and party.

In those days “party” really meant party. Crowds in the thousands overwhelmed the Petite Carlton, spilling into the streets and the adjacent neighborhoods till dawn. And it was there in the early ‘90s that I first met Maureen Crowe.

Till that time, I’d never paid attention to “music supervisors,” supposing that the music in movies just happened. Or, in the case of Disney movies like “Cocktail,” the studio had rediscovered the Beach Boys for their last hit, “Kokomo.” On “Flatliners,” it was director Joel Schumacher who had featured Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics in one of his last notable songs. But none of these people were as hip as the Stones and Ramones that I’d grown up with.

It was to my surprise then when my partner Bruce Binkow (editor of The Hollywood Reporter and husband of Phil Silver’s daughter Nancy) and I approached the three American girls leaning against the car outside the Petite Carlton, we discovered that they were studio execs—but not the sort we thought of.

Rather, they were the reigning troika at Columbia Records, in town to scout soundtrack material. My eye immediately went to the middle one, Maureen Crowe, honcho of movie music for Columbia. I don’t know if it was our shared Irish heritage or simple animal magnetism, but we soon saw eye to eye.

Before the fortnight was over, her roommates at the Noga explained to me that in the world of music supervisors, she was famous. Forget her work on such pictures as Quentin Tarantino’s “True Romance,” they said. She was the woman who convinced Whitney Houston to sing an old, 1971 Dolly Parton melody, “I Will Always Love You,” on the soundtrack of her hit, “The Bodyguard.”

I’m reminded of this because since Whitney’s death, I’ve watched Kevin Costner, Whitney’s costar in the movie, trying to take credit for this, Whitney’s most memorable hit.

Now, Costner may have championed it with the studio (his claim) but the idea was clearly Maureen’s. How do I know? Just go to the videotape, as they say in sports.

Shortly after we broke up, I watched Whitney personally thank Maureen on air as she swept the awards that year at the Golden Globes, the Grammys and the Oscars. Costner can’t claim that—and neither can anyone else. In history.

It was a three-“thank you” sweep — for a music supervisor!

(CORRECTION: Thanks so very much to a commentor for pointing out my error. Whitney won so many awards that season that she seemed to be on TV more than “Leave It to Beaver” reruns! Though the song — but not Whitney herself — was nominated, but unfortunately it didn’t win the Academy Award — an obvious oversight by an Academy never known for hipness. I think in the end, though, her unusual — for Tinsel Town, anyway — willingness to share credit at the events she did sweep was her real award. And that’s the one I was trying to award her: Best person!)

So this year, while celebrating Whitney at the Oscars, let’s not forget the person she herself celebrated: her music supervisor Maureen Crowe. And every time we hear that soaring high note that only Whitney could hit in “Love You,” remember who first told her she could.