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Irving Paul Lazar

Also Known As: "Swifty", "Izie"
Birthplace: NY, United States
Death: December 30, 1993 (86)
Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, CA, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Lazar and Sarah Lazar
Husband of Mary Lazar
Brother of Murray Lazar; James Lazar and Henry Lazar

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Swifty Lazar

Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar (March 28, 1907 – December 30, 1993) was an American talent agent and dealmaker, representing both movie stars and authors.

Born Samuel Lazar in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1931. While practicing bankruptcy law during the early 1930s, he negotiated a business deal for a vaudeville performer and realized the income potential for acting as an agent.

He moved to Hollywood in 1936 but maintained a presence in New York until after World War II when he moved to Los Angeles permanently. After putting together three major deals for Humphrey Bogart in a single day, he was dubbed "Swifty" by Bogart.[1] The moniker stuck but was a name he actually disliked.

In addition to Bogart, Lazar became the agent representing the top tier of celebrities, including Lauren Bacall, Truman Capote, Cher, Joan Collins, Noël Coward, Ira Gershwin, Cary Grant, Moss Hart, Ernest Hemingway, Gene Kelly, Madonna, Walter Matthau, Larry McMurtry, Vladimir Nabokov, Clifford Odets, Cole Porter, William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw, President Richard Nixon and Tennessee Williams. Lazar's power became such that he could negotiate a deal for someone who was not even his client and then collect a fee from that person's agent.[1]

During World War II, Lazar, with Benjamin Landis, suggested to the U.S. Army Air Forces that it produce a play to encourage enlistment and to raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. The Air Forces commanding general, Henry H. Arnold, agreed and the play Winged Victory was written by Moss Hart and produced by Hart and Lazar. It was a huge success, playing on Broadway and on tour around the U.S. for over a million people. A film version was produced during the same period.

Lazar was an executive producer (with Bernie Brillstein) of John G. Avildsen's Neighbors (1981), starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and he was an associate producer on two television miniseries, The Thorn Birds (1983) and Robert Kennedy & His Times (1985). He was renowned for his annual post-Academy Award parties that started at the famous Romanoff's, then moved to the Bistro Garden and finally to Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, Spago. His event was widely regarded as the most important Oscar celebration, and those who received invitations were regarded as the inner circle.[citation needed]

Lazar died in 1993, aged 86, from complications stemming from diabetes which eventually cut off circulation to his feet. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Lazar, who was being treated at home via peritoneal dialysis, refused. This refusal hastened Lazar's death.[2][specify] The Death Certificate states "Imminent Cause: Chronic Renal Failure due to Glomerulo Sclerosis due to Hypertension. Other significant conditions contributing to death but not related to cause given in 21 [above]: lower extremities diabetes."[3] He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, Los Angeles[4] next to his wife, Mary, who had died in January that same year from liver cancer. Michael Korda wrote a 1993 New Yorker profile of Lazar, later incorporated into Korda's book, Another Life: A Memoir of Other People (Random House, 1999).[5] At the time of his death, Lazar was working on his autobiography, Swifty: My Life and Good Times, which was completed by Annette Tapert and published by Simon & Schuster in 1995.[6]

Swifty Lazar appears as a character in Peter Morgan's stage play, Frost/Nixon, first staged at the Donmar Warehouse, London on August 10, 2006 and played by actor Kerry Shale. In the play Lazar negotiates a deal with David Frost on behalf of President Richard Nixon for Frost to interview Nixon. The play is closely based on real-life events. He was also portrayed by Toby Jones in the 2008 film version of Frost/Nixon.

Irving (Swifty) Lazar, 86, Dies; Dynamic Agent and a Star Himself By PETER B. FLINT

Irving Paul Lazar, the agent for scores of literary and entertainment luminaries, who was variously described as a brilliant wheeler-dealer, a lone-wolf dynamo and a manic egotist, died early Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 86.

The cause was kidney failure, said Teresa Sohn, Mr. Lazar's social secretary.

The brash Mr. Lazar dubbed himself the "Prince of Pitch," but his more familiar nickname was Swifty. It was given to him by Humphrey Bogart in the early 1950's after Mr. Lazar bet that he could clinch five separate deals for the film star before supper one day, and did.

The diminutive (5-foot-2-inch) Mr. Lazar was known to have coaxed, blustered, coddled and even made threats in the course of winning record fees for his clients' books, plays, movie and television scripts and performances. Seemingly tireless, he was known for his elegant, custom-made wardrobe, his oversize eyeglasses and the fact that he repeatedly punctuated interviews with business phone calls.

His efforts enriched his many famous clients and brought him millions a year in commissions. One of many gifts given to him was a silver box from the writer and commentator Quentin Reynolds, inscribed, "Lazar is our shepherd, we shall not want."

Other clients included Noel Coward, Ira Gershwin, Moss Hart, Lillian Hellman, Ernest Hemingway, John Huston, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Richard M. Nixon, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Herman Wouk. Disclaimer From Irwin Shaw

Although Mr. Lazar's coups were impressive in themselves, he rarely resisted hyperbole. This prompted the writer Irwin Shaw to inform The New York Times that, despite his agent's claim, he had never been offered half a million dollars for a book. "Mr. Lazar," he wrote in a letter to the editor, "is a genial fabulist, who rolls huge sums in his mouth like giant lemon drops, and with the same kind of pleasure. I have tried to stop his exciting excursions from the facts in the past, but it is like trying to stop an avalanche."

Mr. Lazar acknowledged his methods. "Of course I'm a salesman," he said in an interview in 1980. "That's the whole point of it. I love it." Of the lavish style of life he and his wife, Mary, enjoyed, he concluded: "The whole point of having money, and working and making money, is to enjoy and spend it. We travel first class, we always have a suite, and I don't believe in restaurants that serve great food cheap. If you want great food and service, you pay for it."

Mr. Lazar described his approach to business in these terms: "I frequently sell people I don't represent. Every good writer has two agents, their own and Lazar. I accept only 1 percent of the people writing or calling me. I have no contracts with my clients; just a handshake is enough." He often represented both a buyer and a seller, and among his favorite expressions were "It's no contest" and "I'll take care of everything." 'Boredom Must Be Avoided'

He preferred to sell properties before they were published or produced. His reason? "Then it's my word against the producer's." Asked in 1975 to summarize his philosophy, he replied: "In a deal, you give and take. You compromise. Then you grab the cash and catch the next train out of town."

Mr. Lazar had an unabashed fancy for celebrities and stars, giving them unstinting attention and regaling them with anecdotes, jokes and sumptuous supper parties. He said his two criteria for the parties were that "boredom must be avoided at all costs" and that "our guests are either associated with me or will be associated with me, whether they know it or not."

Mr. Lazar's friends loved swapping stories about his idiosyncrasies, including his obsession with cleanliness, or what he termed a distaste for dirt. He denied an oft-told tale that he placed towels on floors of hotel suites to avoid contamination, but he admitted he often draped towels over the backs of hotel sofas. He was also known, when traveling by car, to stop at hospitals because their lavatories are cleaner than those at gasoline stations.

Mr. Lazar was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, to Samuel Mortimer Lazar, a German-Jewish immigrant who was a butter-and-egg merchant, and the former Stari DeLongpre. After attending Brooklyn public schools, he graduated from Fordham University and Brooklyn Law School. Agent's Commission Was Higher

Mr. Lazar was hired by a Manhattan law firm and began representing people in show business. Five years later, he joined the fledgling Music Corporation of America to get an agent's 10 percent commission rather than a lawyer's 1 percent. He booked such bands as Tommy Dorsey's and Gene Krupa's and acts for vaudeville and nightclubs.

During World War II, he entered the Army Air Forces as a second lieutenant. When he learned that the service was planning a revue to entertain enlisted men, he managed to arrange a meeting between the writer Moss Hart and the commander of the Air Forces, Gen. H. H. (Hap) Arnold. The meeting set in motion the stage and film success "Winged Victory," which earned $5 million for the forces' relief fund and a captain's rank for Mr. Lazar.

After the war, with Hart as his first client, mentor and role model, Mr. Lazar began meeting and acquiring his celebrity clientele. Among his legendary deals were the sale of Neil Simon's as-yet-unwritten play "The Odd Couple" on the basis of a one-sentence synopsis, and the sale of the movie rights to "My Fair Lady" for what was then a record $5.5 million.

Mr. Lazar was also known for the star-studded parties he had at Spago restaurant in Los Angeles on Academy Awards night.

His wife, the former Mary Van Nuys, died last January at the age of 60.

Photos: Irving (Swifty) Lazar (The New York Times, 1980); Mr. Lazar escorting Happy Rockefeller to a party in 1983. (Bill Cunningham)

Correction: January 6, 1994, Thursday An obituary on Saturday, and in some late editions on Friday, about the literary and entertainment agent Irving (Swifty) Lazar attributed one business deal to him in error. The sale of the movie rights to "My Fair Lady" was negotiated by Harold Freedman, a literary agent who died in 1966.

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Swifty Lazar's Timeline

March 28, 1907
NY, United States
December 30, 1993
Age 86
Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, CA, United States