Paul Kohner, 85; Agent to Legendary Hollywood Stars

Times Staff Writer

Paul Kohner--agent to such legendary stars as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Erich von Stroheim, and more recently Charles Bronson, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Max von Sydow--has died of heart failure after a two-month illness. He was 85.

A family spokesman said Kohner’s wife of 56 years, Lupita, his son, producer Pancho Kohner, and two grandchildren were at his side when he died Wednesday night at UCLA Medical Center.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 19, 1988 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 19, 1988 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Funeral services for entertainment industry agent Paul Kohner will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park. The time was misstated in an earlier edition.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 29, 1988 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
In its editions of March 18, The Times incorrectly identified the author of “The Magician of Sunset Boulevard: The Improbable Life of Paul Kohner, Hollywood Agent.” The biography was written by Kohner’s brother, whose name is Frederick, not Walter, as reported.

Kohner was recognized as one of the more influential and capable Hollywood agents to rise in the modern film industry as the power of the studios and their contract-player system faded.


His business of representing some of the industry’s best-known actors, directors and writers grew out of his own early career as a producer for Universal Pictures, MGM and Columbia during the 1920s and 1930s. His ability to speak six languages was key in bringing foreign artists to the United States, especially World War II refugees.

In 1938, he started the Paul Kohner Agency in the Sunset Boulevard offices that it still occupies.

“He was here every day,” said Irene Heyman, who worked with Kohner. “He absolutely ran this shop” despite his advancing years, she said.

“He was not a well man,” director Billy Wilder said, “but he worked to the last possible second.”

Wilder described Kohner’s way of doing business as “not just an agent, but a friend . . . a father confessor.”

Kohner was born in 1902 in the town of Teplitz Schoenau--then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now part of Czechoslovakia.

While working as a reporter for his father’s film industry trade newspapers in 1920, Kohner interviewed then-head of Universal Pictures Carl Laemmle and came away with the promise of a job in New York.

He started as an office boy at Universal but quickly rose through the publicity, promotion and distribution departments to be a producer and later head of European productions in Berlin before World War II.

Kohner produced such films as the silent version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” starring Lon Chaney, and “The Phantom of the Opera.” He also produced Jimmy Stewart’s first movie, “Next Time We Love.”

In all, Kohner produced more than 50 foreign-language films and 30 in English. Among his foreign language production credits were “S.O.S. Iceberg,” “A House Divided,” “The Rebel,” “The Prodigal Son” and “The Doomed Battalion.”

During his long career as a top agent, specializing in foreign-born stars, Kohner handled Yul Brynner, Maurice Chevalier, Delores del Rio, Jeanne Moreau, David Niven and Lana Turner.

His first client was Walter Huston and he handled the career of the actor’s son, the late actor-director John Huston, for nearly 50 years.

In 1959, Kohner met Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and later brought Bergman’s films to the United States.

A biography, “The Magician of Sunset Boulevard: The Improbable Life of Paul Kohner, Hollywood Agent,” written by his brother Walter, was a best seller in Europe.

In a 1975 interview with The Times, Kohner said: “If I’d remained a producer, I would’ve been long gone by now. As an agent, I can still feel I’m an integral part of the industry.”

In addition to his wife, son and brother, Kohner is survived by his daughter, actress Susan Kohner Weitz, and four grandchildren.

A family spokesman said funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.