Producer Daniel Melnick died last Tuesday, which was right in the middle of my Fantastic London sojourn. And then I kind of kicked it around in my head after returning to New York two days ago (i.e., Thursday). And then I remembered two or three phone conversations I had with Melnick in 1994, when he was 62.
They were all about the then-unfolding Heidi Fleiss Hollywood hooker scandal, which involved suspicions that certain actors and producers and studio execs had enjoyed Heidi’s girls with money siphoned or skimmed off production budgets. None of this was ever proven, but it sure was fun to nose and dig around. (I was reporting/filing at the time for Entertainment Weekly and doing stories for L.A. Times Sunday Calendar.) Melnick was known to be something of a ladies’ man (and perhaps one of those who’d sampled a Heidi girl from time to time…who knew?), and he agreed to talk to me, I presumed, with the idea of steering me away from this aspect.
Which isn’t to imply that Melnick had done anything “wrong” or icky. He just didn’t want to be mentioned in any Heidi stories being written, that’s all. No collateral stink to mess with his well-deserved reputation as a classy and sophisticated bon vivant.
In any case at one point I must have sounded too nosey during one of our conversations because Melnick suddenly arched his back and told me in stern stentorian tones that he wouldn’t tolerate any implications in the press that he had hound-dogged on the Heidi side of the fence. I immediately responded that it was against my religious beliefs to identify or admonish anyone for catting around per se, and that I was only interested in finding out if studio or production-budget funds had ever been (unofficially) used to pay for prostitutes. Melnick eventually calmed down but it was touch-and-go for a while.
Melnick always spoke like a smoothie — he had a warm, deepish, silky-toned voice — and in so doing seemed to fortify his rep as a man of the world who knew a little about everyone and everything.
Here’s a recollection from screenwriter/journalist John Eskow, who worked with Melnick on Air America.
Melnick produced the original 1971 Straw Dogs, and so his passing naturally affected Rod Lurie, the director-writer of the remake that recently wrapped in Shreveport, Louisiana. The news hit just as Lurie and crew were…okay, no spoilers but it was the last day of filming. During the original Dogs shoot Melnick was thought of “the Peckinpah wrangler,” Lurie informs.