Charles H. Joffe, a legendary manager of comic talent who helped guide the careers of Dick Cavett, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Woody Allen and co-produced nearly all of Allen’s films, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a long illness. He was 78.
Joffe and his business partner, Jack Rollins, were considered the deans of comedy management, who nurtured many young comics through their small New York City agency. According to Allen biographer Eric Lax, Rollins and Joffe were the first to bring Lenny Bruce to New York and helped develop the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
They signed Allen when he was writing comedy sketches for others and nudged him into the spotlight to perform his own material, helping him find success as a stand-up comic before he broke into films.
It was Joffe who brokered Allen’s first movie deal, to write and play a part in the 1965 box-office hit “What’s New Pussycat?” He began producing Allen’s films in 1969 with “Take the Money and Run,” the first movie Allen wrote and directed.
Joffe’s prowess as a negotiator helped Allen gain total artistic control over his movies.
According to Lax, Williams called Joffe “the Beast,” a nickname that paid tribute to Joffe’s “ability to stand up to studio and network moneymen and make almost unbelievably lucrative deals for his clients.”
“He was a fabulous deal maker. That was his real strength,” said his wife, Carol Joffe.
He is also survived by two daughters, Suzanne Joffe and Nicole Holofcener; a son, Cory; his stepmother, Esther Joffe; and three grandchildren, all of Los Angeles.
Joffe was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 16, 1929. He entered talent management as a booker of bands while a journalism student at Syracuse University. He worked briefly for the MCA talent agency before joining Rollins in 1953.
He and Rollins remained partners through the late 1980s, when they each decided to focus on a single client. Rollins became an executive producer for David Letterman while Joffe mainly handled Allen and produced his films.
He also produced some television shows, including movies for Showtime and NBC.
Joffe is listed as co-executive producer on Allen’s upcoming release, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” a comedy starring Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. It was Joffe’s 42nd project with the nebbish filmmaker.
He picked up the Best Picture Oscar for Allen’s “Annie Hall” at the 1978 Academy Awards while Allen, a devoted clarinetist, stayed in New York to play the clarinet with his New Orleans-style jazz band.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.