Executive, agent held varied posts in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

Guy McElwaine, a former top Hollywood agent and onetime president, chairman and chief executive of Columbia Pictures who for the last six years was president of Morgan Creek Productions, has died. He was 71.

McElwaine died Wednesday at his home in Bel-Air after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, said his daughter, Alexandra McElwaine-Grane.

“I wouldn’t say he was old school,” said James G. Robinson, chairman and chief executive of Morgan Creek, “but I will say he brought all the good stuff from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s forward with him, meaning he was a very honorable guy, and his word truly was his bond, and whatever deal that he made, he kept.”

McElwaine worked in the mail room at Paramount Pictures in the 1950s before joining the publicity department at MGM and then going to work for the public relations firm of Rogers & Cowan.


In the early ‘60s, he launched his own public relations and management company, representing such clients as Warren Beatty, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, the Righteous Brothers, and the Mamas and the Papas.

In 1969, McElwaine joined Creative Management Associates (CMA), where one of his clients was young director Steven Spielberg.

“Guy was a good friend and a fabulous representative of my career in its early stages,” Spielberg said in a statement. “He represented his clients the same way he maintained his friendships. With loyalty, great care and a fabulous sense of humor.”

In 1975, McElwaine gave up his successful career as an agent to become senior executive vice president in charge of worldwide production for Warner Bros.

But he returned to the agency business after 18 months, joining International Creative Management (ICM), which had been formed in 1975 with the merger of CMA and International Famous Agency.

As an agent, McElwaine was involved in packaging talent for such films as “The Towering Inferno,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.”

“He was a very respected agent,” said Jeffrey Berg, ICM chairman and chief executive. “He was able to read the psychology of situations very well and knew how to get a deal done in a hard market.

“The unique thing about his career is he did a little of everything: He worked in the independent market and was a senior executive at two major studios.”

In 1981, McElwaine became president of Rastar Films, the company founded by producer Ray Stark and acquired the previous year by Columbia.

“I wanted to start making films instead of deals,” he told The Times that year. “No matter how involved you are with your clients, you lose track of the film. I want to be on it from conception until the last penny is in the till.”

McElwaine was named president of Columbia in 1982 and was later promoted to chairman and chief executive. During his time there, he oversaw production and distribution of more than 60 movies, including “Ghostbusters,” “The Karate Kid,” “Gandhi” and “Stand by Me.”

But in 1986, after a string of box-office disappointments reportedly fueled speculation that he would be replaced at Columbia, he resigned.

After an executive stint at the Weintraub Entertainment Group in the late ‘80s, he returned to ICM as vice chairman. Among his roster of clients were Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.

In 1996, McElwaine again left ICM, this time to create his own entertainment company with writer-producer Terry Hayes, the McElwaine/Hayes Co. Two years later, McElwaine became president and chief operating officer of Trilogy Entertainment Group.

He joined Morgan Creek in 2002 as president. While there, he was an executive producer on the films “Two for the Money,” “The Good Shepherd,” “Man of the Year” and “Georgia Rule,” among others.

McElwaine was born June 29, 1936, in Hollywood and raised in Culver City, where his father was a publicist for MGM. A Hamilton High School graduate, he attended USC on a baseball scholarship but reportedly lost it when it was discovered that he had played for the Hollywood Stars, a minor league team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

McElwaine was married several times, including to actress Leigh Taylor-Young.

In addition to his daughter Alexandra, he is survived by his other children, Erin Ozar, Dawn Taubin and Daniel McElwaine; and seven grandchildren. Another daughter, Katharine, died last year.

The funeral is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary, 1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the William H. Isacoff, MD, Research Foundation for Gastrointestinal Cancer, 100 UCLA Medical Plaza, Suite 345, Los Angeles, CA 90024.