The world may never have learned of the talents of Harry Belafonte, Woody Allen or Robin Williams without Jack Rollins, whose management agency made stars of many comedians, musicians and other performers for decades. A classic cigar-chomping showbiz character born of old-school Broadway, he all but created the job of talent manager. “When I went into this business in 1946,” he recalled, “there weren’t managers. There was Milton Berle’s mother.”
He became known early in his career for discovering Belafonte, transforming him from a short-order cook to a recording star and actor. He managed Mike Nichols and Elaine May when they were one of the leading comedy acts of the 1950s. One day, Rollins saw “a thin, bony little face” peering through his door. It was Allen, who wanted to write skits for Nichols and May.
Rollins said they wrote their own material, but he and his business partner, Charles Joffe, saw something compelling. “We just thought he had the potential to be a triple threat, like Orson Welles – writer, director, actor.” Allen’s 1984 film Broadway Danny Rose, about a small-time manager promoting such hopeless acts as a one-legged tap dancer, was based in part on Rollins, who made a cameo appearance.
Clients also included Tony Bennett, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Jim Carrey and David Letterman. And Rollins helped shape the career of a San Francisco street performer, Robin Williams, focusing his energy into a comedy routine, then acting career.
Jacob Rabinowitz (Jack Rollins), producer and talent manager: born New York 23 March 1915; married Jane Martin (died 2012; three daughters); died New York 18 June 2015.
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