This article by New York journalist Nicholas Stix (posted on Tuesday and updated today) could have been called “When Billy Shafted Bruno.” It’s not mentioned in the lead graph or the second or third graph, but the heart of the story provides indications and quotes supporting a thesis that Billy Crystal “made” the career of the late Bruno Kirby, who died last week, and then he un-made him.
Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby
Or so the indicators indicate. Crystal certainly seems to have had an indirect hand in limiting Kirby’s acting opportunities and may have been, in a sense, a “career- killing ogre” as far as Kirby was concerned. By all means read Stix’s article, but in a nutshell it says the following:
(a) “Kirby was one of the hottest character actors in Hollywood in the late 1980s, through 1991, the high point of which was Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989), in which Kirby played the male second banana as the sportswriter- best friend of Crystal’s character. Sally would prove to be one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made, and the high point in the career of everyone involved in the production.”
(b) “In 1991, Kirby had an even more substantial role in City Slickers as Crystal’s character’s macho friend,. That same year, Kirby also won acclaim on Broadway, replacing Kevin Spacey as the male lead, playing the smallest of small-timers, would-be gangster ‘Uncle Louie’ in Neil Simon’s memory play, Lost in Yonkers which won four Tony awards.”
(c) “At that point, Kirby was one of the top character actors in the business, his career on a trajectory that was leading inexorably to Oscar nominations, and perhaps even a golden statuette. And then his career tanked. Following City Slickers, the names of most of the pictures he was in were so forgettable — obscure, direct-to-video duds that I had never even heard of — that I instantly forgot them.”
(d) “During or shortly after the making of City Slickers, Kirby and Crystal had a falling out, and not only would Crystal no longer work with Kirby, but neither would any of the many producers and directors associated with Crystal. As a result, while Kirby continued to work, he was cast in fewer movies and the ones he was cast in were, well … take a look for yourself: Golden Gate (1994), Heavenzapoppin’! (1996), A Slipping-Down Life (1999), History Is Made at Night (1999), One Eyed King (2001).
(e) “On 9.12.01, USA Today‘s Susan Wloszczyna interviewed Crystal as part of a press junket for America’s Sweethearts, and at one point asked for a worst-junket story: Wloszczyna: “The only thing I could come up with is that when you were making City Slickers II, you and Bruno Kirby had a falling out.” Crystal: “He wasn’t in City Slickers II.” Wloszczyna: “Yeah, I know, but there was some reason that he didn’t do it. Are you guys still friends?” Crystal: “I haven’t spoken to him — I think we are. I haven’t seen him or spoken to him in a long time.” There’s an interlude and then back to the subject. Crystal: “This is a perfect situation. We’re here to talk about the movie, and you’re talking about something personal or whatever it is that happened, I don’t know, eight, nine years ago.” Wloszczyna: “But it’s about the movie, because the subject of the movie is the press and famous people.” Crystal:: “So now you’re my worst junket story.”
(f) “I think we are” still friends? “Something personal or whatever it is that happened, I don’t know, eight, nine years ago”? “Whatever”? With a guy you went from being practically vaudeville partner with, to not seeing or speaking with “in a long time”?