This week, the gang at How Did This Get Made? covered The Boyfriend School, a 1990 romantic comedy starring Steve Guttenberg, Shelley Long and Jami Gertz.
To better understand how (and why) this film got made, I spoke with the film’s editor, Marshall Harvey, and its producer, George Braunstein.
Given that George Braunstein hasn’t produced a film in several years, and that he’s best known in Hollywood as an entertainment attorney (he’s a partner at Braunstein & Braunstein), I was particularly curious to hear how he had gotten into producing films.
And the answer to that question begins in the late 1940’s…
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Part 1: “You Don’t Learn from Success, Brother”
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Initially, my father (who’s unfortunately not alive now) was an attorney and a CPA in New York. And he had been approached by some people that—right after the war—wanted to do a movie with Polly Bergen, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis called At War with the Army. The film was going to be black and white and relatively inexpensive. So my dad put up the money for the movie. And, you know, because no one can second guess show business, right? It was a hit.
At War with the Army—a musical comedy with the tagline “America’s Funniest Guys are GI’s!”—was released by Paramount in December 1950. The film was a success—becoming the eighth highest-grossing film in the US (and finishing as Paramount’s most successful film in 1950).
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: I was a little boy then, I was just five years old. But I remember meeting with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and going on set. And just early on in my life—because of my dad—I kind of got interested. And then my father had… so growing up, a very good personal friend of my dad was an agent (whose unfortunately not with us) by the name of Irving Lazar— [who went by the nickname] “Swifty” Lazar. And so my dad told Swifty that he had optioned this book, The Young Lions.
The Young Lions is a novel by Irwin Shaw—set during World War II—that was published by Random House in 1948.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And the way it was done back then… [restarting] Swifty was on a flight—either to New York or from New York—with some executive at Fox. He said, “Hey, how about The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw?” And on that transatlantic flight he set it up.
The Young Lions—starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin—was released by 20th Century Fox in April 1958. The film was a success—finishing the year as the ninth highest-grossing film in the US.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And then Swifty [Lazar] introduced my dad to a screenwriter named Ben Hecht. And Ben Hecht was kind of at the end of his life, more or less. But he still was a powerful writer…and there was a book out—this was prior to The Godfather—called Brotherhood of Evil that was a bestseller. It was a “tell all” book about organized crime in America. So my dad optioned that, took it to Ben Hecht. And then Ben Hecht wrote a screenplay.
That film, however, was never made.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Unfortunately Ben Hecht died, then my dad died. I still have the script. It’s one of those projects that you say you’re gonna do one day…
Braunstein isn’t being flippant here—he’s been passionate about getting it made for several decades now. Per a Los Angeles Times article from 1987: “[a] script about the drug world from legendary screenscribe Ben Hecht—willed to an 11-year-old—may find the light of the silver screen as a contemporary drama. ‘Brotherhood of Evil,’ perhaps the last unproduced Hecht screenplay, was willed to producer George Braunstein by his late lawyer dad, who got it as payment for packaging the 1952 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy ‘At War With the Army.’
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Meanwhile, I went to high school; went to college; and when I went to UCLA, I thought about taking film, or theatre arts courses, but I got a degree in biology and biochemistry. I don’t want to date myself, but I have no choice. I graduated UCLA in 1969, so it’s the height of the opposition to the war in Vietnam; the music revolution; it’s hard to even describe what a different time it was. So here I was…I was a nerd walking around with a slide-rule in my pocket—a math and science major.
BJH: So on your graduation day…what did you think you were going to [do as a career]?
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Well that’s just it. So graduation day, a friend of mine says: hey, George, why don’t we go down to this night club [in South Central]? I grew up in West LA. I’d never hung out in South Central LA in my entire life. Never. I hate to sound like an asshole but…I lived a block away from UCLA. And that was my orbit, more or less. I said, “Hey, why not? Let’s do something crazy.” So I went down to this night club called “The Apartment” on Crenshaw. And I was the only white person in the club. And there was a band that had just come in from Kansas City.
The band was a doo-wop group called The Sinceres.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: You’re not gonna believe this story…so they were singing, you know, Temptation songs; Smoky Robinson songs. But what I noticed was they were self-contained. In other words: they didn’t need a band. They had a lead guitar, a bass guitar, a drum, an organ and percussion. So they were like a rock n’ roll…they were like a rock n’ roll band, but that sang rhythm and blues. And [after they finished their set] my friend took me backstage to meet the band. You guys are great! I wanna buy your album! And whatever we were saying back in the 60s: far out!
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And they said, “We’re here from Kansas City, we’re trying to get a label.” Now, at that time, I knew nothing about music. Nothing about anything. But I thought to myself: wow, wouldn’t it be cool to be in the music business and, like, “join the circus” for a year and then go to medical school. So I say [to the band], “Hey, that sounds great! I’ll help you do it!” I mean, it was just like the influence of having a beer (because I didn’t really drink) and then this romantic idea of getting involved with this rhythm and blues band.
BJH: How did your family feel about this bold move?
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Yeah. So I go home. By this point, my dad had died. I tell my mom: hey mom, I’m gonna take a year off [to help out this band]. She tells me, “you can’t do that, you’re nuts.” Verboten.
BJH: Ha! So what did you do next?
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: [At that time] English rock was so popular. With The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. And I had spent two summers in England. UCLA had a student travel program [in conjunction with] an airline called “Dan Air.” [laughing at the memory of “Dan Air.”] So Dan Air was, like, they would get recycled jets with everything falling off…
BJH: [laughs] Did you know anyone in England? Anyone who could help with this new career?
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: We had a family friend who happened to represent The Beatles…this friend was a lawyer—his name was Bruce Grakal—and Bruce says: don’t do it! Go to medical school. It’s too difficult! 10 records come out a week, you’ll never get airplay! He told me all the reasons why it was impossible. But the more the people told me “impossible,” the more I thought: I can do that!
BJH: I like that.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So we buy the Dan Air tickets…I tell [UCLA] that the band is studying “ethnomusicology” and we get the cheap ass tickets to London.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And these guys, you know, believed in me. I don’t know why. They were all grown adults. They should have looked at me and said, “Who’s this freak?!” But I had a lot of enthusiasm. And the band was good. They were a good band…
BJH: You said they were called “The Sinceres,” right?
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Yeah. But [after becoming their manager] I said, “You can’t be the Sinceres!” So we came up with the new name: Bloodstone.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So we go to London. I start scrounging around. I find an agent who doesn’t care that we’re illegal aliens there [in the UK without the proper work permits needed at that time] and he gets us on the Curtis Mayfield. And at that time in England, The New Musical Express was a big deal. And they had a stringer [at the Curtis Mayfield concert] to cover the show. We open the act. We had 10 minutes…singing songs like “I’m so Happy I’m Black” and the next day we’re on the front page of The New Musical Express.
BJH: That’s wonderful!
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And then the agent who booked us…he said, “Hey, man, the record companies are calling.” Now remember: I don’t know anything. I’ve got Bruce Gakell here in LA giving me advice over the phone. So I go to Decca; to EMI; to Island, to Polydor—all the big record companies…and I just went ‘til the bidding stops. Decca gives us a big recording contract and then we stayed in London and made records.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: The first two records were flops, but the third one we released was a #1 international hit. Worldwide hit. Called Natural High…
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: [Nevertheless] it was so difficult. We had been on tour with Al Green. We had been on tour with Elton John. We had been on tour in Europe. And to go on tour as a rhythm and blues band is very, very difficult. I mean it’s really hard work. Every day’s a different gig; you’re flying, you’re traveling.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So I went to see [the head of Decca Records] Sir Edward [Lewis], who liked me. I think I went in with a Gold LeMay Suit with, like, 6-inch platforms.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: And because I was making a lot of money for him. I said, “The Beatles are doing movies. The Monkeys are doing movies…give me the money to do a movie. And he writes me a check. And I come back here to LA and I have a budget for a movie for this group Bloodstone.
BJH: That’s wild.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Now at that time, there was a screenwriter who was my dear friend. He was dating my niece. And we graduated UCLA together. His name was “Dan Gordon.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with his credits but he [later went on to write] The Hurricane, Murder in the First, Wyatt Earp.
BJH: Oh, I definitely know Dan. I did a long interview with him a couple years ago.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So then I tell Dan the story I just told you…and he says, “Hey man, I’m your guy! I’ll write the movie for you!” So, yeah, Dan writes me a script. He calls it Night Train. We ultimately called it Train Ride to Hollywood. And then Dan goes to Israel and gets drafted.
BJH: I remember!
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Now, [at this point] I know less about the movie business than the music business. Because in the music business I’d had some disappointments. Which I learned from. And you don’t learn from success, brother, you just learn from when you screw up!
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So I knew more about the record business. And now I’m interviewing directors and I’m going to studios and I’m thinking about my dad who’s not alive.
Braunstein ended up hiring the director Charles Rondeau.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: Charlie had done [episodes of] F-Troop and Love, American Style. And Charlie says the script is shit. We need to bring in a new writer. So I call Dan in Israel and he’s on active duty in the Golan Heights.
BJH: [laughs] Wow.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: He’s a Corporal in the Golan Heights and they’re fucking shooting at him! I said, “What do I do, man?” He says, “Bring me back there.” I said, “Okay, well how do we do that.” I forget exactly what I did, but eventually I found someone who knew someone who knew someone and…Dan Gordon’s Commanding Officer pulls him out of combat and says, “You’re needed in Los Angeles to go work on the movie on Night Train.”
BJH: Ha! That’s amazing.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So Dan comes back. He gets off the plane in his fatigues. A car backfires at the airport and Dan, like, hits the ground. Like someone was shooting at him. He was still in a total state of alarm. So Dan comes and rewrites the script. We reach a happy medium with Charlie Rondeau’s writer. We get the movie done and [famous] people were looking at and liking the movie. Groucho Marx asked for a screening. Mel Brooks. But I didn’t know how to capitalize on it. I didn’t know anything at that point.
BJH: Still, that’s really impressive.
GEORGE BRAUNSTEIN: So that was how I first got into making movies. Then I had the bug and I just wanted to make more movies.
After Train Ride to Hollywood, Braunstein would next produce Fade to Black (1980) and Surf II (1984); then five years after that would end up producing a film called The Boyfriend School.
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