Robert Lantz, Agent to Show Business Greats, Dies at 93

Obituaries   Robert Lantz, Agent to Show Business Greats, Dies at 93
 
Robert Lantz, the Berlin-born, New York-based talent agent whose clients included such theatre and film greats as Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman, Al Hirschfeld, Alfred Drake and Mike Nichols, and who retained his status as an independent until the end, died on Oct. 18 in Manhattan. He was 93.

Mr. Lantz's office and home were in Manhattan. He professed a strong dislike for Los Angeles, even though many of his clients lived and worked there. "I never learned how to drive a car, because I want to make sure I can't live in Hollywood," he said. "I've never entered Hollywood without my return ticket. Everything is phony."

In that, and other things, he was a man of the old school. He resisted joining a large agency, wishing to remain a solo operator. He believed in giving his word, and making deals on a handshake. Clients stayed with him for not years, but decades, treasuring his mix of business sense, candor and loyalty.

Mr. Lantz — a short, gnomish figure with large glasses who spoke with a thick German accent, and was universally know as "Robbie" — handled very few artists who were not major names in their fields. In his staple, at one time or another, were directors Jose Quintero, Michael Blakemore and Milos Foreman; actors Montgomery Clift, Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Yul Brynner and Richard Burton; playwright Peter Shaffer; novelist Carson McCullers; and lyricist-librettist Alan Jay Lerner. When clients died — as was often the case in Mr. Lantz's long-lived career — the agent went on to represent their estates. His role as the Bernstein estate's representative kept him particularly busy.

He did well by his clients, often fetching them unheard of sums for their work. When Yul Brynner decided to return to The King and I, Lantz persuaded the star to accent union scale salary in exchange for 50 percent of the weekly profit. The deal made Brynner rich.

Robert Lantz was born in Berlin and raised in Hungary, the son of Adolf Lantz, a screenwriter who had worked with Pirandello. As a young man, he attended the opening night of Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera, and was joined at the Berlin opening of O'Neill's Strange Interlude by Pirandello. Young Lantz took up his father's profession and began writing plays. The rise of Hitler, however, forced the family to flee to London. There, Mr. Lantz got a job rounding up literary properties for Columbia and Universal studios. In 1948, while at a party in New York, he met Bert Allenberg of the talent agency Berg-Allenberg. He asked Mr. Lantz to open up a New York branch of the firm. Though he knew next to nothing about America, Mr. Lantz agreed, and Allenberg set him up with a visa and work permit. (The agent operated on a green card, and remained a British citizen, until his final days.) When Berg-Allenberg closed their New York office, Mr. Lantz moved to the Gale Agency. A few months later, he opened his own office.

Around this time, he pursued and married Sherlee Weingarten, then the casting director of the important Theatre Guild. For some time, he couldn't get a business appointment with her. When the two finally met at Sardi's Mr. Lantz was so struck by her that, after shaking hands with her husband, he told him, "I'm going to marry your wife." Explaining his actions years later, he said, "I'd made my mind up clearly." They were married within a year. Mrs. Lantz survives him.

In the '50s, Mr. Lantz flirted with movie producing, forming a company with Joseph L. Mankiewicz called Figaro Productions. The partnership resulted in only two films, "The Quiet American" and "I Want to Live!" From there, he tried the life of a Broadway producer, bringing to the stage the short-lived musicals The Nervous Set and Kean. Neither venture pleased him and he reverted to his former career as agent. "I went back to something I knew better," he said.

Mr. Lantz tried retiring a few times, but it never stuck. He said he kept on "probably mainly out of devotion. I have real friendships with the people left. The handling that they are used to from a small office — they can't get used to the style of those big places. I don't have any great qualities except that I am devoted to talent. I admire talent enormously. You forgive everything in clients. They can be difficult, they can be unreasonable — but if they are good at eight o'clock, you know..."

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