At 100 years old, Jack Rollins survived and thrived through all of the comedy booms, and rightly could take at least partial credit for the great talents of at least two peak periods in the funny business as a manager and producer.
Starting in the 1950s, Rollins represented and fostered the young careers of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, and Woody Allen. Right there you could say stop and you’d have a legendary career.
But Rollins also managed Robin Williams, David Letterman, Billy Crystal, Robert Klein, Dick Cavett, Joan Rivers, Steven Wright, Andrea Wright, Jim Carrey, Jimmy Tingle, Diane Keaton, Paula Poundstone and Martin Short. Rollins served as executive producer for Letterman during his NBC stint at Late Night from 1982-1992, retiring when Letterman leapt to CBS.
Born Jacob Rabinowitz in 1915 to Russian immigrants in Brooklyn, he changed his name to Jack Rollins in the late 1930s. As Rollins, he served in the Army in World War II, mostly in India, then became a Broadway producer upon his return — where he discovered the young Harry Belafonte and guided him to superstardom. He then founded a one-man talent agency — which became two men with the late Charles H. Joffe — to make the most of his own talents as a shaper and maker of dreams for others.
With Joffe, Rollins produced all of Allen’s movies between 1969 and 1993 — and briefly appeared as himself in Allen’s 1984 film, Broadway Danny Rose, in which Allen played a version of Rollins. “Woody wanted merely for us to manage his affairs in a conventional fashion, to better his career as a TV writer,” Rollins told The New York Times in 1985. “Well, we just thought he had the potential to be a triple threat, like Orson Welles — writer, director, actor.”
Allen, in turn, said this about Rollins via a statement: “He was one of the very few people in my life who lived up to the hype about him. All the stories about how great Jack Rollins was are true.”
Alan Zweibel last night put it simply: “Great manager, lover of talent, supreme mensch.”
Here’s Robert Klein talking about Rollins, his first manager.
Several of his former clients joined in celebrating Rollins when he turned 100 in April. Rollins died Thursday in his Manhattan apartment. He is survived by his three daughters.