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Twenty Years Later, They’re Still Riding Hollywood’s Rapids : Movies: Producers Lawrence Turman and David Foster have had a long, fruitful partnership. ‘We’re total opposites. That’s why it works,’ says Foster. Their latest hit: ‘The River Wild.’

TIMES MOVIE EDITOR

It’s a miracle that producing partners Lawrence Turman and David Foster have stayed together over the years.

The movie-making duo is celebrating their 20-year partnership--one of the longest in Hollywood today--with the release of Universal’s action-adventure picture “The River Wild,” starring Meryl Streep, which was the No. 1 movie at the box office last weekend with an impressive $10.2-million opening. But what is at least as impressive as their product is their longevity--considering how diametrically different they are.

Sitting on an overstuffed floral sofa in the sunlit living room of Foster’s Century City condominium, the partners of Turman Foster Co. constantly step on each other’s lines and interrupt one another.

“We’re total opposites,” says Foster, 61, “That’s why it works.” Turman, 67, chimes in: “One of the beauties of our partnership is we don’t have to agree.”

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Even physically, the two are strikingly dissimilar. Foster, a short, wisecracking New Yorker with a prickly beard who accurately describes himself as “a little more grizzly” than his more refined partner, sports dark shades, a black baseball cap, jeans and loafers. He’s unabashedly outspoken and swears without restraint.

The softer-spoken, California-born Turman, who is more pragmatic and cerebral than his shoot-from-the-hip partner, is conservatively dressed in a tie, blue pin-striped shirt and dark slacks.

“Larry is the opera and the symphony,” Foster says. “I like to go to the football game and scream and carry on.”

The two first met when Turman hired Foster, then a publicist, to help promote his 1967 movie, “The Graduate.” Since joining forces in 1974 on “The Drowning Pool,” a whodunit starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, they have collaborated on more than a dozen productions, including “Heroes,” starring Henry Winkler; John Carpenter’s “The Thing”; “Mass Appeal,” starring Jack Lemmon; “The Mean Season”; “Running Scared,” with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines; and “Short Circuit” and its sequel. They’ve also produced four TV movies for CBS and have one in development at HBO, “The Life of Walt Disney.”

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Foster, whose three sons--Gary, Greg and Tim--are all in the movie business, says he is more “Hollywood” than Turman is. “I still go to Mortons on Monday night to see who’s there--it’s fun,” notes the producer, who’s been married to the same woman, Jackie, for 35 years. “I drive a Jaguar convertible; he has a (5-year-old) Peugeot. To him the car doesn’t mean anything. I like to put my top down and be smooth.”

Turman is the first to agree that he and his wife, Lauree, would much rather go to a quiet neighborhood restaurant than dine at one of Hollywood’s hot-spots. “I haven’t been to Mortons in six years, except twice when we were invited as guests to the new one,” Turman says.

Yet when it comes to dividing production chores, Turman and Foster find their individual styles help their work.

“I ski, so I like to take off in the winter and spring,” Foster says, “and (Turman) bikes and hikes, so he goes away in the summer. It works out great.”

Turman says “one of the advantages of having a partnership is we believe in having a life.” Typically, one of them will take the lead role on a given project based either on availability or a particular passion for a piece of material, though both will pitch in as needed.

In the case of “The River Wild,” a suspense story directed by Curtis Hanson about a troubled married couple who take their son on a white-water rafting trip, Foster--an avid white-water rafter himself--had kick-started the project three years ago and convinced Universal to option Denis O’Neill’s script for $400,000. But it was Turman who oversaw the pre-production and went on location to supervise the production because Foster had several weeks of filming still left on Fox’s remake of “The Getaway.” Foster later joined Turman on location in the Northwest halfway through the shoot.

“It all evens out,” says Foster, recalling a visit to Mexico 14 years ago to supervise “Caveman,” starring Ringo Starr, which Turman had conceived and developed but couldn’t oversee because he was busy working on “Tribute,” starring Jack Lemmon.

Yet Foster readily admits he and Turman are fiercely competitive with each other.

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“I’ll say to Larry, ‘How did you get that script or that book?’ I’m being very candid here, but whoever gets the material is in first position in the (screen) billing.”

Both producers broke into the movie business by answering ads in the Hollywood trade papers.

Foster, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC, had ambitions of being a sports columnist. But after getting out of the Army, he couldn’t find a reporting job. “I saw an ad in the trades for (the public relations firm) Rogers & Cowan for young trainees,” he says. He worked there for about three years, then quit when he realized he’d never become a partner and opened his own PR firm with three partners, representing such clients as Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Peter Sellers and Clint Eastwood.

In 1970, McQueen convinced Foster to go make movies himself. He partnered with Mitchell Brower (now manager of the New York State Theater) and produced Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” and two years later, the original “The Getaway,” with McQueen and Ali McGraw.

Turman, a UCLA liberal arts graduate who had worked in his father’s textile business before realizing “it wasn’t for me,” broke into Hollywood in 1955 by answering a blind ad in Variety for a talent agency that represented such clients as Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. After five years as an agent, he left to produce movies with partner Stuart Millar, with whom he made “The Young Doctors,” Gore Vidal’s political satire “The Best Man,” “Stolen Hours” and Judy Garland’s last film, 1963’s “I Could Go On Singing.”

On his own, in 1966, Turman discovered Charles Webb’s novel “The Graduate,” and hired newcomer Mike Nichols to direct. Turman went on to produce “The Flim Flam Man,” “Pretty Poison” and “The Great White Hope” and to direct “The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker” and “Second Thoughts.”

Turman muses that “what may separate our partnership from others is that we cannot and do not veto each other.” He claims that he and Foster “never really have fights--we have disagreements about petty things.”

While they clearly share a passion to make movies, the partners hardly share the same taste.

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“I’m drawn to strong, intimate material--more emotional character pieces,” says Turman, before he’s interrupted by Foster: “ I enjoy working on the big movies and I’m always saying we need big event pictures. . . .”

Nonetheless, recalling the days of going it alone, Turman says he sees much value in having a partner.

Quoting from a poem he loves, though it was written about a romantic liaison, Turman says of the partnership: “All pleasures are doubled and all the pain is cut in half.”


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