A Time and a Place: Steve Reuther, R.I.P.

Steve’s death reminds me of is of a time in Hollywood that wasn’t all about Ari Gold racing down the halls screaming “L-l-l-l-oyd”

Wow! As if it wasn’t tough enough dealing with the passings of people like Dan Melnick or Dennis Hopper (each chronicled here), who were, of course, of another generation.

Now we’ve got to start dealing with our own.
I can never forget Steve Reuther for several reasons, not the least of which was that we were supposed to be best friends. I don’t say that lightly — when people like myself and Steve came of age in Hollywood in the ‘70s, there was one road to the top. And that was (following in the footsteps of Barry Diller and David Geffen before us) through the talent agency mailroom.
You know the drill — spend six months or so in the mailroom, not only delivering the mail but (by osmosis, if nothing else) getting to know not only the players at the agency, but their clients and the TV and studio execs they dealt with.
As any number of novels and TV shows about Hollywood (think: “Entourage”) have pointed out, that also often meant spending your evenings delivering scripts to top stars, producers and directors, who often became your mentors or friends. And as you progressed up the ladder of success, you brought your friends — the other kids from the mailroom — with you.
And in the late ‘70s, before CAA, UTA, Endeavor, etc., there was really only one place for that sort of education — what was then called “the Morris office.”
It was a rather polite world. I know — in 1978 I was invited to be one of those chosen few. And when I say few, I mean that literally. Having graduated college in New York that spring, two friends of mine and I pooled our resources and headed for “the coast” to learn to surf. We never did, naturally, but we had a great time hanging around Santa Monica and Westwood (in those days, no one ever went “over the hill” to the Valley — that was for bikers and hookers!)
As the summer wound down, my friends began plotting their returns back east to Daddy’s real estate office or brokerage house. Without a real estate office or brokerage house to call my own, I thought I might stay.
So I called some friends from college and set up a few interviews — one was at Disney (where, a decade later, I would become a vice-president of production); another was at the Morris office. Now, of course, in those days not only was the Morris office where careers were made — but they knew it. And took advantage of it — in those days, there was a very stern, school-marmish woman who ran the mailroom. I left my resume there, with her telling me there was no hope — like CAA today, they only took people into the mailroom who had advanced degrees such as law or MBAs, since they knew full well they’d be running the business one day!
For whatever reason, she took a liking to me though and while I had no advanced degree, ended up sending me around to meet a few of the senior agents (after the mailroom — if you made it — your next stop was on “the desk” of one of the top agents; hence, if the top agents didn’t like you, there was no point in giving you a job in the mailroom.) Irony of ironies, not only did I get called back, but I was offered a job, complete with a whole lecture on how, by taking it, I was being invited into the inner sanctum of Hollywood—do not pass go; don’t even collect $100. Just go straight to the bank with millions.
Stupido that I was (and probably still am), I turned it down to return to New York as a correspondent for Newsweek. Somehow covering wars, Olympics, plane crashes and natural catastrophes seemed more entertaining that delivering mail for Joan Hyler. But when Newsweek sent me back to L.A. in ’83 to cover Hollywood, I ended up getting to know many Morris and ex-Morris folk. In fact, my first friend in Tinsel Town — and certainly my oldest — was young CAA agent David Schiff.
David has gone on to fame as probably the only partner at virtually every agency you’ve ever heard of from Morris to CAA to UTA to ICM to I-can’t-remember however many more, before recently setting up his own management company. (This is, of course, in addition to having one of the prettiest wives and nicest families in Hollywood — the anti-Ari Gold, if you get my drift.) One day, back when we were both callow youth, we were wondering how we got here — turns out, of the four people invited to join the Morris mailroom class of ’78, it was David, famed director Stanley Donen’s son Josh Donen … and Steve Reuther. I would have been #4, if I hadn’t passed. And a better friend to him than I ever became.
The reason this all comes flooding back to me is with Steve’s passing.
Forget that, if I’d taken the job at Morris instead of Newsweek I’d be a lot richer (if not happier!) Despite it all, Steve Reuther ended up a fiend and boon companion. It just took longer. When I arrived back in California in ’83, Reuther was already moving up the food chain as an agent; his future ex-wife (funny how she never gets mentioned in the obits?), Natalie Zimmerman, was living below me at 1040 North Doheny and she and my then-wife became good friends.
Later, when Natalie was large with their child, Danielle, I’d run into them at various functions. My new girlfriend, Cyndy Chvatal (later a producer of the “CSI” franchise) was a friend of Steve’s and one day during the 1988 writers’ strike, when the mantra from the union was that “no one who works during the strike will ever work again,” Cyndy suggested I have lunch with Steve, then the head of the hot indieprod house Vestron. I loved his take on the situation: “Anyone who doesn’t work for me during the strike will never work again.”
Guess what? He won and the strike soon collapsed. Later, after I’d left Michael Douglas’ Stonebridge Entertainment following “Radio Flyer” (on which my other erstwhile boon companion from the Morris mailroom, Josh Donen, served as second-unit director), Michael and Steve hooked up on another company, based at Paramount, called Douglas/Reuther. While I was off busy making my own Sundance and Toronto-style movies, they managed a hit with John Woo’s “Face/Off,” though I later heard through the grapevine that they lost whatever money they made on that on the silly African lion-hunting movie starring Val Kilmer, “The Ghost and the Darkness,” they produced next.
After that, I lost touch with Steve — but never with that era. Forget that Steve, David, Josh and I all ended up working together one way or another later. What Steve’s death reminds me of is of a time in Hollywood that wasn’t all about — well, Ari Gold racing down the halls screaming “L-l-l-l-oyd” at the top of his lungs. Certainly Steve, among us all, had his demons (that’s a story for someone else to tell!) — but at least it wasn’t rudeness.
As the winner-take-all kids of today might say, unlike them, he wouldn’t stab you in the back. In the chest, maybe, but at least you’d know it was coming.