OBITUARY : Peter Cranwell
Thursday 24 July 1997
Born of a theatrical family in 1925, he was "on stage" in one disguise or another for most of his life. A stint in provincial repertory was followed by minor roles in Hollywood, including the television series The Untouchables. He was well liked by writers and actors, and his contacts led him into theatrical production in Los Angeles. La Ronde, Genet's The Blacks and Witness for the Prosecution established his name among the cognoscenti in Hollywood.
Moving back to Europe in the Sixties, he became executive producer in American co-production deals. He raised $20m for a series of feature films for MGM/US using US tax-efficient partnerships which became a model for many American producers working in England.
In the early Seventies he travelled, making a fortune in Italian pipelines and oil leases. Going back into show business, he produced a series of musical disasters. Financially insolvent, he returned to business, making low-grade deals from his unofficial office, the Picasso on the King's Road, Chelsea, a restaurant popular with show-business refugees, whose capacity for cappuccino and bullshitting was legendary.
When he came up with the idea of making a musical out of The Great Gatsby, his pitch and CV were irresistible. He had even formed a financial committee to raise the money. It was headed by an octogenarian official from the Board of British Film Distributors, an ex-producer of nature films, a defrocked merchant banker and several punters from the Picasso: the producer suspected he had gone too far.
After frantic phone calls back and forth from London to Hollywood to New York, his solicitor suggested that there would be trouble getting the rights. Cranwell showed up at Groucho's to explain to the producer, who was enjoying a very dry Martini with his initial cut out in the lemon peel. Anticipating a long explanation, he asked Cranwell if he should order another Martini. "I'd make it a double if I were you," said he.
The musical didn't get off the ground, but my admiration for his ability to pitch a deal developed into a friendship I was proud of. His last year was spent in writing a memoir, in the style of Damon Runyon, of his association with the con men of the white collar world and the not so glittering prizes of show business.
Peter Cranwell had over 43 years of psychoanalysis. He never married, one suspects, because he couldn't make the right deal.
Peter Cranwell, theatrical producer: born London 21 July 1925; died London c12 July 1997.
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