I read with great sadness today about the passing of my friend, film producer Julia Phillips. Even though I knew she had cancer, I had no idea that she'd become so ill recently. Her death is a terrible blow.
I met Julia — who literally made The Sting, Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind — when she was preparing to publish her controversial memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. I excerpted it in Fame magazine in 1990. The original version of the book was over 1,000 manuscript pages, but that was before the lawyers got to it. What I can't tell you even now — and what wasn't published after the vetting stage — were some wild things that Julia witnessed but could not actually include in her vivid report of Hollywood in the '70s.
Let's just say she saw everything and heard everything and was part of everything. And just about everything we the public heard about Hollywood's heyday in the '70s was completely true. Every bit of it.
Later, when Peter Biskind distilled Julia's book into his own book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, Julia was not bashful. "That's my book, isn't it?!!" she screamed.
Lunch was so controversial in its verisimilitude that it got Julia banned from eating meals at Morton's, the Hollywood hangout. This made her very depressed, and some years later when she was able to go in there again she was relieved. She was not a mean person, just a woman with sharp, biting acerbic wit and an inability to put up with other's facades. It will be interesting to see who says what now — and believe me, Julia will be haunting certain people if they start revising history. I'd be careful if I were those people.
During her last couple of years, Julia was busier than her obits state. She helped Internet columnist Matt Drudge write his book, and you can tell from reading it how much of her influence is there. She tried yet again to get a film version of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying off the ground. And though not many people knew it, she was trying to write a screen version of Lunch for Showtime — possibly as a series like Sex and the City. It would have been spectacular.
On a personal note, Julia was so proud of her daughter Kate, who'd become a lawyer and gotten married in the last couple of years. She missed her dad, whose funeral I attended in New York, and stayed close to her brother. She was a great friend, a passionate friend, a steady phone buddy from 3,000 miles away, a smoky, gravelly voice of fun and reason who deserved the huge comeback she got with Lunch, and even more vindication after that. All the women in Hollywood who are in power now owe their careers to Julia, the first woman producer to win a best picture Oscar (for The Sting). God bless her. I will miss her so much.
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