Journey Back From Dark : 'Fearless' Producer Paula Weinstein Sees Life Anew

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At a glance, you'd never guess at the year she's been through.

Decidedly glamorous in a snug white T-shirt, black pants and a flowing mane of tawny hair, Paula Weinstein perches for a photographer at the edge of her desk in her offices on the Warner Bros. lot, joking about bad-hair days.

She also projects an aura of power, this 47-year-old producer--second-generation Hollywood on her mother's side, an organizer of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee--with her straight-on gaze, strong handshake, black jacket at the ready and an oval-shaped Cartier watch, "a Valentine's gift," she says softly, "from my husband."

Within a three-week frame, Spring Creek Productions, the company she and husband Mark Rosenberg formed in 1990--she had been president of the motion picture division at United Artists, 1981-82; he was president at Warner Bros., 1983-1985--will release its first two features, both dealing with love and death.

"Fearless" (Warner Bros.), directed by Peter Weir and starring Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini and Rosie Perez, opened Friday.

On Nov. 5 comes "Flesh and Bone" (Paramount). Directed by Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys"), and starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and James Caan, it deals with violence, twisted family ties and a doomed love affair on the stark plains of west Texas.

Last Nov. 6, on the "Flesh and Bone" set in Stanton, Tex., Rosenberg suffered a massive heart attack. At their home in Brentwood, it was 6:30 a.m. "Flesh and Bone" had essentially been his movie; "Fearless," in production on the Warners lot, was hers. As she raced to the airport with her sister, producer Lisa Weinstein ("Ghost") and actor Richard Romanus, the car phone rang. Rosenberg, 44, had died.

Ten days later, their adopted daughter was born. Paula Weinstein was present at the birth.

How's life these days? "Complicated," says Weinstein, taking an easy chair and a cigarette.

"I'm excited about these movies coming out. I'm very proud of them, of the work that Mark and I did together, and at the same time there is a level of sadness because he's not here to enjoy them, and see the remarkable work of these two directors and scripts and people he believed in come to fruition. . . .

"And being a single mother," she adds. "The pleasure I get from her also heightens the sense of loss because we had long waited to adopt a child, to make the decision. . . . So there's this remarkable Love, Life, Love, Death colliding with each other. Of all of our productions together, she is quite the most glorious. . . ."

They married in 1984--her first marriage, his third--but they were the other's "best friend" and, "safe haven for each other" from the time they met in New York in 1970 planning demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In 1973, when she began her career here as an agent with Jane Fonda, today one of her closest friends, among her clients, Rosenberg followed.

She's been an executive at nearly every studio, starting as a Warners vice president in 1976. When she left for 20th Century Fox in 1978, Rosenberg succeeded her. As an independent, she produced "A Dry White Season," and was a producer on "American Flyers" and "The Fabulous Baker Boys."

Now instead of scaling back, Weinstein sees herself doing "twice as much." Will Spring Creek do less? "No, no," she replies. "On occasion I'll bring partners in. I can't see decreasing the volume (but) I certainly don't anticipate a time (like this)."

At her husband's death, Weinstein was juggling three movies: "Fearless" was in the final weeks of production; "Bone" had two months to go, and casting was about to begin on "With Honors." Starring Joe Pesci and directed by Alek Keshishian ("Truth or Dare"), "Honors," due out in February, deals with the relationship of four Harvard students and a homeless man. She brought producer Amy Robinson to work with her on it.

Today Weinstein has some 25 projects in development, including "Possession," based on the A.S. Byatt novel; "Glimpses of the Moon," based on an Edith Wharton novel; a project with Denzel Washington, another with Wesley Snipes. TV plans include an HBO movie based on David McCullough's "Truman."

Rosenberg, who had been partnered with Sydney Pollack, and Weinstein formed Spring Creek, partly as antidote to loneliness, but they relished working separately.

"He had his projects, and I had mine, and we gave each other notes."

She talks about it being hard for a director to work with two producers, "at least two producers as strong as we are"--at times she drifts into present tense--"and we liked the independence. It was very safe to go off and be on our own for a couple of months. Mark liked to be able to take the crew out to jazz clubs till 4 o'clock in the morning without somebody saying, 'Do I have to go?' And I liked to go out and be on the set.

"If Mark looked at dailies of 'Fearless,' and had anything to say, he said it to me. We let the other one make the movie. It also meant there were fresh eyes when you were in trouble, and it happened to be the set of eyes you trusted the most, he and I, in the world."

Work was extended family. They were friends for 20 years with Rafael Yglesias, who wrote "Fearless" based on his novel--and went on to rewrite "With Honors"--while Kloves and Rosenberg, a producer on "Baker Boys," were like "brothers." When she first read his "Flesh and Bone," she found the opening "11 minutes stunning . . . a strong American story of fate and violence and love and family."

She did not go to Texas to oversee "Bone" after Rosenberg's death; she couldn't. "I saw the dailies and spoke to Steve. It was too tough at that point, and also the baby came, three days after the memorial service (at the Writers Guild). All I could do was be a cheerleader from the side and available for advice." She counts herself "lucky" to have had directors like Weir and Kloves.

In November, she worked an hour or two a day. By December she was back full time, now in New York "working with Rafe on the final ("Honors") draft." From February through May, it was on to Chicago and Boston for shooting. Her daughter and nanny went too.

There never was a question that she and Spring Creek--named for the spring creeks near their Montana cabin where Rosenberg went fly-fishing--would continue. The work, "the passion for the two pieces of material that were ours," she says, "saved me."

"I had good training," she adds, "an extraordinarily strong mother who said, 'Don't be ridiculous. No matter what, you get up and you keep going.' And I was wise to marry a man who was quite the same. So at any moment when I think, 'Oh my God, not today, ' I hear those voices saying, 'Get out of bed, do your work, love that baby, laugh. . . . ' "

In the early 1950s, her mother, Hannah Weinstein, disgusted at the political climate and with her marriage failing, moved with three young daughters to Paris and later London. She founded a TV production company in England, giving work to blacklisted writers, making series such as "Robin Hood." In the early '60s, the family came home, and Weinstein went on to produce "Claudine," "Greased Lightning" and "Stir Crazy," both starring Richard Pryor. In 1984, at 73, she died of a heart attack, as Paula, Lisa and Rosenberg were flying to New York to plan Paula and Mark's wedding.

Actually HBO's "Citizen Cohn," also produced by Linda Gottlieb, which drew 11 Emmy nominations, marked Spring Creek's debut. "To have had the chance to work on a movie about the bravery of people I grew up with," Paula says, "was fantastic. . . ."

Months ago, Weinstein renegotiated Spring Creek's three-year contract at Warner Bros. "In terms of the company, the day-to-day work and development, it's all on my shoulders."

Her husband's office is intact. Only now, it's "filled with Hannah's stuff, a stroller and a swing, and she plays there when she's here"--their daughter, Hannah Mark Rosenberg.

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