"I evaluated myself very carefully. It sounds vain and egotistical to say, but I knew I was good-looking."
That was the late Greg Bautzer, Hollywood lawyer and romancer deluxe.
• Bautzer is the subject of a fascinating new biography, The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer by B. James Gladstone and published by The Chicago Review Press. Youngsters don't get it, but the middle-class Greg was a genuine symbol of his times and also of genuine all-American ambition and know-how-to-get-what-you-want!
When he arrived in Los Angeles, he spent nearly all his cash on an impressive wardrobe. He charmed waiters and maitre d's into seating him at the very best tables at the very best Hollywood cafes and nightclubs. ("Presto! I was a celebrity!" he would recall of those early years as a lusted-after ornament.) As a teenager he had already shown a remarkable ability for the oratory and a flair for distinct and succinct writing structure. He was smart. He knew he wanted in on the big-time of show-biz. But what got him in was his charm, good-looks and oozing sex-appeal. He became, early on, a hot commodity, dating stars such as Lana Turner, Dorothy Lamour, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and most spectacularly, Joan Crawford.
Bautzer gradually became more than arm-candy. He morphed into one of Hollywood's most powerful lawyers -- a mover, a shaker, a deal maker. He advised studios, moguls and the lunatic that was Howard Hughes. (And he and he alone could get Hughes on the phone.) He represented Ingrid Bergman in the truly messy custody trial that followed Bergman's scandalous affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. (One of Bautzer's few failures -- his cross-examination of young Pia Lindstrom, Bergman's daughter, backfired spectacularly.) He was the man who arranged for Robert Evans to head Paramount. He masterminded Kirk Kerkorian's takeover of MGM. His deals were eventually responsible for many classic films.
But, let's face it. He romanced the great goddesses of the screen, none of whom, in the end, had a really unkind word to say about him. (Yes, he was that charming.) He had his demons -- drink and an unexpectedly bad temper. But it never lasted, and even those subjected to the worst of him, always forgave, because he didn't hold a grudge. He was always there for a friend or an ex-lover. For instance, when Merle Oberon needed TWA airplane tickets, she called Bautzer. She got her tickets.
And he was sexily persistent. When he met, and was infatuated by the actress Dana Wynter, she rebuffed him: "You're terribly nice, but you're the last man I'd ever marry." Bautzer asked, "Why?" Dana replied: "We have nothing in common. And you have an appalling reputation." (She was unimpressed by his romantic conquests.)
They married, dear reader. It didn't last, but he was an excellent ex. For all the power he wielded, he appears not to have held a grudge, had few enemies, and till the end, exerted his fabled charm on women and men alike. Robert Wagner says, "Greg created an air of success around me." (Before Wagner was a success.) "When Natalie Wood and I married he began to represent her too. When her career took off, he handled everything for us."
• And though he "put Frank Sinatra through the wringer" in his divorce negotiations with wife Nancy, even the terrible-tempered Frank became friendly with Bautzer. Years after all the mess, Sinatra suggested that he visit Greg and Dana Wynter and "cook some Italian food." Greg agreed. Wynter, however, was appalled by Sinatra's entourage, which included girls Wynter was sure were still in their early teens. Eventually, after a number of visits, Wynter confronted her husband "Sinatra is bringing hoodlums to our home. Somebody could be shot on our doorstep, and he (Sinatra) doesn't even have the courtesy to say who this man is. It's appalling!" Needless to say, Bautzer remained pals with the singer, but not in his home. After, Bautzer identified "this man" as mob boss Sam Giancana.
• But it is Bautzer's relationship with Joan Crawford, on and off for many years, that really juices up this book. The great star was notoriously promiscuous, but given to behaving like an empress in public. A close friend of Crawford's described her attitude: "A man must be a combination of butler and bullfighter. Crawford expected her escort to place her napkin in her lap, light her cigarette, open doors for her." Bautzer performed these duties with losing the upper hand.
Hollywood had a big laugh when Crawford later dissed Marilyn Monroe, saying, "The public likes colorful personalities, but they like to know that underneath it all, the actresses are ladies." Joan had convinced herself, despite sleeping with directors, producers and leading men, that she was a "lady." No doubt, in private, Bauzter disabused her of this notion. I kind of wished the entire book could have been about Greg and Joan! He admitted he was "stuck" on Crawford, but embarrassed by her absurdly royal demands and various hi-jinks. (Bautzer's long affair with Lana Turner, his first "big time" date, was passionate and romantic, but left no visible scars.)
Greg Bautzer for all his seemingly frivolous womanizing was a serious man who truly changed Hollywood history in many ways. As Robert Wagner writes in the Prologue: "He knew everyone and knew their secrets. He knew what made them tick. He knew what made Hollywood tick!"
And the tick, tick, tick of sex, glamour and big business is revealed amusingly and intelligently in The Man Who Seduced Hollywood.
• P.S., I almost forgot my favorite anecdote in the book. In the late 1940s, Howard Hughes had Bautzer approach Sara Taylor, mother of Hollywood's exquisite teen queen Elizabeth Taylor. Hughes offered Mrs. Taylor one million dollars to marry Elizabeth. Rather than be appalled, the ambitious Sara asked, "tax free?" Taylor was appalled, and shortly after, was engaged and then married to first hubby, Nicky Hilton. Elizabeth would say later, "I married to get away from my parents." Could you blame her?