Allan Carr: The rise and fall of a Hollywood hedonist

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Armed with a bulging contacts book and a luxury pad with its own disco overlooking Beverly Hills, bombastic impresario Allan Carr threw the Hollywood parties that defined the 1970s.

The producer launched countless careers with stage and screen hits like "La Cage aux Folles" and "Grease" but was as notorious for his diamond-encrusted caftans, garish yellow Mercedes and lifelong battle with obesity.

The mogul and bon viveur hosted debauched soirees where the cocaine, free champagne and even freer love attracted a galaxy of stars, from Rita Hayworth to Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger.

"Glamor is entertainment. That's what entertainment is about... It's the American Dream come true," Carr, who died in 1999, says in an archived interview unearthed in a new documentary.

Available from video streaming services from June 5, "The Fabulous Allan Carr" doubles as a history of the gay experience in Hollywood, both in the carefree pre-AIDS 1970s and in the dark days that lay ahead.

Carr's kitschy parties often turned into all-gay affairs after the stars went home, where entertainment industry bigwigs would mingle with the young, muscular, flaxen-haired men he called his "twinkies."

"Although it was no secret that Allan Carr was gay, he never formally acknowledged it publicly. The word 'flamboyant' was used to describe him, a code word," says the film's Emmy-winning director Jeffrey Schwarz.

"Using humor and outrageousness to gain entry into a conservative industry, Allan Carr furthered the acceptance of gay identity just by being himself."

- Star-maker -

Born Allan Solomon to a Jewish family in Chicago, Carr worked at Playboy before reinventing himself as a party planner, arranging a black-tie evening for Truman Capote in an abandoned Los Angeles jail.

His talent agency managed Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Joan Rivers and "Mama" Cass Elliot, and he is credited with discovering numerous other stars, including Olivia Newton-John, Mark Hamill and Steve Guttenberg.

Carr impressed with his marketing know-how on several of Bee Gees manager and Hollywood producer Robert Stigwood's movies, including rock opera "Tommy" and "Saturday Night Fever."

For his next project, an unfancied musical called "Grease," Stigwood entrusted Carr not only with the marketing and premiere party, but also writing the screenplay and co-producing.

Shot over two months in LA for $6 million, it was eviscerated by critics but ended up grossing $400 million and was the most successful movie musical of all time until "Mamma Mia!," 30 years later.

Carr's showmanship was never in doubt but his instincts as a producer were notoriously inconsistent.

Among his biggest flops was the flamboyant, spectacularly awful $20 million Village People origin story "Can't Stop the Music," a big screen musical brought out in 1980, long after disco went out of vogue.

In 1983 Carr came back fighting with a hugely successful musical version of the Broadway play "La Cage aux Folles" that ran for five years, picking up six Tony Awards.

- Cringeworthy -

"It was a revolutionary portrayal, made more poignant by the fact that it was released at the height of the AIDS crisis. Allan Carr was the last great showman of the 20th Century," said Schwarz.

His reputation for lavish parties brought ABC calling, and in 1989 he created a 61st Annual Academy Awards that he promised would be a transformation from the dry, staid production it had always been.

Instead it was a laughing stock, culminating in a cringeworthy duet with squeaky-voiced Eileen Bowman and a tone deaf Rob Lowe that prompted the New York Times to award it "a permanent place in the annals of Oscar embarrassments."

Crushed by the criticism, Carr became a recluse. Despite enjoying a degree of success on other projects, such as Paramount's 1998 re-release of "Grease," his reputation never recovered.

Morbidly obese, recovering from a kidney transplant and suffering from years of hard living, Carr died on June 29, 1999 from liver cancer, as he was preparing a new Broadway show.

"Allan was from the last era of the big dreamers: 'Let's do this big, that's not big enough, let's do it bigger,'" said TV personality and socialite Nikki Haskell.

"He was a one of a kind. There isn't anyone like him. There'll never be another Allan Carr."