In the often maligned world of theatrical agents who avidly seek work for their clients in return for a percentage, Dennis Selinger was unusual for the respect and warmth with which he was regarded. He rose from a humble start to become a super-agent with one of the most powerful show- business agencies, and many of his clients (who included Michael Caine, Peter Sellers and David Niven) became close friends.
Born in Black Rock, Brighton, in 1921, Selinger was the youngest of four children, and since his parents were elderly his older sister became a surrogate mother to him. When she married the theatrical agent Monty Lyon, Selinger became attracted to the idea of pursuing a similar career and at the age of 16 found work for his first client, a fan dancer in the East End who, according to Selinger, never paid him his one-shilling- and-sixpence commission.
Selinger became friendly with the three Winogradsky brothers (later better known as Lew Grade, Leslie Grade and Bernard Delfont) and Joe Collins (father of Joan), all of whom were beginning to make their name as theatrical agents. The camaraderie between the men - they would recommend each others clients if appropriate - led to lifelong friendships.
Selinger's career was interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served as a gunner in Burma, but at one of the troop shows he spotted a new young comic named Peter Sellers, whom he encouraged and took on as a client when he opened his first tiny office in Soho. When Sellers, after three struggling years, received his first press notice in 1948 for an appearance on the radio variety programme Show Time, Selinger had it reproduced as a three-column advertisement in the trade paper the Stage, and sentimentally kept the fading original for the rest of his life.
Sellers was to remain a lifelong friend, as were Caine, Niven and Roger Moore. Selinger promoted Sean Connery for the role of James Bond in the first Bond film, Dr No (1962), and also handled his successors Roger Moore and George Lazenby. (Though he did not represent Pierce Brosnan, he championed him to step into the role when Moore departed.)
When Faye Dunaway's career was in the doldrums and she was parting from her husband Terry O'Neill she turned to Selinger for guidance and within two years her career had revived. The legendary comics Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy were all managed by Selinger when they were in England.
When the large agency CMA metamorphosed into ICM (International Creative Management), Selinger took charge of their film-star roster. Among the leading Americans he represented in this country were Marlon Brando, Barbra Streisand and Bette Davis.
He would recount that when he first met Davis she was holding forth in the studio canteen, and when interrupted to be introduced to him, she opened her eyes wide, looked him up and down and said, "Yes fine, he'll be great for the part."
A bachelor for most of his life, Selinger in 1988 married the businesswoman Debra Winchester, who lived in the same street and had known him for many years. "I was literally the girl next door," she said. Though they divorced 10 months ago, they remained close. Selinger continued working on behalf of clients from his hospital bed until a few days before his death.
- Tom VallanceReuse content