Jewish Journal

Howard Zvi Rosenman ” Jewish Lightning” - Whitney Houston’s last producer

by Micha Keynan

February 17, 2012 | 11:13 pm

I got very close to Elizabeth through the years

Written by : Marilyn Sheriff and Micha Keynan

It’s the end of December, but we are enjoying July weather as we listen to Howard Rosenman tell us how he met Elizabeth Taylor.  “…at the premiere of “Cleopatra,” I hid in the air conditioning unit for eight hours.  Then, I jumped down into the bathroom where Danny Kay was taking a piss and he saw me and he thought I was an angel.  Then I walked out and met the actress Beatrice Lilly, and Beatrice Lilly said to me, “Oh my God, you must be Spyros Skouras’s grandson”. Spyros Skouras produced “Cleopatra,” and so I walked over to the usher and said: “I am Spyros Skouras’s grandson.  Can I have a seat?”  I sat next to Elizabeth Taylor during the premiere.” This heavenly encounter at the “Cleopatra” premiere was the first of many that launched Howard into the seat he sits in now.

Howard Rosenman was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on Long Island.  His mother and father, Israeli Jewish parents are from Mea Shearim and Shaarei Chesed in Jerusalem, Israel.  His family had previously lived in The Old City for seven generations and carried a classic set of values and customs.  Howard attended and graduated from Brooklyn College and then went to medical school for three years.  In 1967, he had the desire to finish medical school at Hahnemann Medical College, but instead retired his schooling to serve as an extern-medic in the Six Day War as a part of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Soon after he served in the war, Howard met his dear mentor Leonard Bernstein.  Leonard Bernstein is the composer of “West Side Story,” “Candide,” and was the conductor of the New York and Israel Philharmonics.  Thirty days after the Six Day War, Leonard Bernstein conducted Mahler’s historic Resurrection Symphony on the newly re-conquered Mt. Scopus.  Isaac Stern played the violin. Howard was at that symphony and met with Leonard Bernstein after the concert.  Mr. Bernstein asked Howard to become a “gofer” on the documentary, JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM, that they were filming of Mr. Bernstein conducting the IPO in Judea and Samarea for the IDF.  It was then that the Maestro convinced Howard to follow his passion for film and music and leave medical school and make the leap into storytelling and show business..

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Howard tells us, “The next time I met Elizabeth Taylor was during Richard Burton’s run of “Hamlet.”  I convinced Richard I was the producer’s assistant and I convinced the producers that I was Richard’s assistant.  They loved me and I had a job.  See, Elizabeth Taylor was so gigantic, there’s nothing like it today not even Brad and Angelina. The crowds were ecstatic whenever Elizabeth was seen.  Richard was appearing as Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater.  There were all these policemen on horseback holding back the crowds when Elizabeth would be driven in, to spend the intermission and second and third acts with Richard.  My job was to bring in Elizabeth from the limo into the theatre then into the dressing room where Richard was spending the intermissions.  I spent every single performance during those intermissions with Elizabeth and Richard.  I got very close to Elizabeth through the years.”
Howard produced his first film for television in 1973, “Isn’t it Shocking” and the dominos kept falling as projects kept coming.  In 1976, he produced his first film for the screen, “Sparkle.” Howard tells us about Sparkle, “The film was about three black girls in Harlem in 1956 that sing and form a girl group… Joel Schumacher and I both met in 1972 and we both had a love for Diana Ross and the Supremes and we both loved R&B music and we both wanted to do a musical.”  So we wrote the story, Joel wrote the screenplay and I produced it for Warner Brothers in 1975.  Howard’s film projects include other films such as THE MAIN EVENT with Barbara Streisand, 1979; RESURRECTION, 1980, both of which he produced with Renee Missel; LOST ANGELS, 1989; GROSS ANATOMY, 1989 (includes Howards’ true stories about being a med student); FATHER OF THE BRIDE, 1991; STRAIGHT TALK, 1992;  BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1992;  FAMILY MAN, 2000; BREAKFAST WITH SCOT, 2007; COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT which garnered an Oscar and a Peabody; CELLULOID CLOSET which won him his second Peabody and many other feature films, including a remake of Israel’s most successful comedy of 2009, A MATTER OF SIZE, which he is about to produce for Paramount Pictures with Carol Baum and David Permut.  Jon Turtletaub is set to direct. Howard Franklin is writing.

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Through the years of producing mega-movies Howard especially made time to give back to the community.  With a remarkable need to help those suffering through HIV/AIDS, Howard and Marianne Williamson, and now long time friend Elizabeth Taylor, started a non-profit organization, Project Angel Food.  Howard explains,  “…is a Meals On Wheels for HIV/AIDS patients, now one of the most successful charities in Southern California. Elizabeth Taylor gave us the first 50,000 dollars from the ETAF…”  The non-profit is, and has, helped innumerable amounts of people through this epidemic then, now, and tomorrow.
Today Howard has been very busy remaking his first feature “Sparkle” for SONY.

Howard shares the details with us: “Debra Martin Chase and the Bishop T. D. Jakes and I are remaking the movie today for the new generation of kids that have grown up and we decided to set in 1968 in Detroit. Whitney Houston plays a former R&B singer who gets disgusted with the R&B way of life and turns to the Church.  When her daughters, who sing in the church, want to go out and sing in the secular world, she doesn’t like it.  It creates great conflict…  Whitney Houston is starring in it, we are devastated about her passing, she was one of the biggest stars; although she was a super star, she didn’t act like one.  Whitney brought star quality to the whole production and her epic performance made the film a true gift to the film world.  Whitney and I had such a lovely relationship, with our joining passion for music we laughed and joked around all the time, on and off set.  I think her passing was a freak and unfortunate accident; we discussed so many future endeavors for her comeback career.  Whitney was excited and focused on her career and her natural love for sharing music with the world could be seen by everyone around her.  Jordin Sparks, who won American Idol a few years ago, also stars in it….  Curtis Mayfield wrote the original five songs, that now R. Kelly has reproduced.  He also wrote four more songs.  Salim Akil, who created “The Game” for the CW, directed it.  His wife, Mara Brock Akil, who created “Girlfriends” for BET, wrote a fantastic script.  It’s fabulous.  I am also in the film.  It’s opening nationwide August 10.

Here we have it, Howard Rosenman doesn’t just sit behind the camera, but he acts too and being in 2012, “Sparkle” isn’t his first role.  Howard goes on to tell us how he landed a role playing opposite Sean Penn in MILK, 2008, directed by Gus Van Sant, “…Gus said to Francine Maisler, the casting director about casting the part of David Goodstein, the owner of the very powerful gay magazine, The Advocate (whom Howard knew well): “Get me someone who looks like Howard Rosenman, who talks like Howard Rosenman, who acts like Howard Rosenman and has his vibe….”  So, Francine says: “Let’s get Howard Rosenman!”  Gus says to Francine:  “Can he act?” So Francine calls me up: “Have you ever acted before?” I answer: “Yes, when I was thirteen I did Henry Higgins at Camp HILI, in Hebrew, and Susan Koskowitz was my Eliza!”

Howard has acted in two more films after MILK.  “Coming and Going,” directed by Sophia Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, starring Sasha Alexander (who used to be Howard’s secretary!) and “Should’ve Been Romeo,” directed by Marc Bennett.  With more films on the way, Howard’s schedule is filling up fast; however, he still makes time to give back like, teaching classes on how to make it in Hollywood and how to pitch your script.  With Howard’s firsthand experience on wheeling and dealing in Hollywood, much credit is due to him for to the explosion of Israeli television remakes brought to U.S. televisions.  In 2001, Jean Friedman and Rita Spiegel asked Howard to begin the Master Class for Creative Producing, (under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Cultural Partnership, with Tel Aviv University and the Tel Aviv Cinemateque,) that taught Israeli producers that they had product that could be bought by U.S. buyers.  He taught the first class with the very successful manager-producer, Susan Landau.  Lynn He then asked Lynn Roth to join him.  The Master Class is the most successful program of the Federation.  Howard tells us: “The Israeli producers became very savvy about the U.S. buyers and learned they had Intellectual Property that could be remade for The States…” Remade they were!  Such as, the Golden Globe nominated “In Treatment” for HBO and Howard Gordon’s “Homeland” for Showtime.  Many other shows also came into fruition like “The Ex List” for CBS; “Traffic Light” for FOX; “The Frame” for the CW; “Who’s Still Standing” for NBC and many others in the works.  Nina Tassler took over from Howard after he led the Master Class for seven years.

We sit with Howard, enjoying the beautiful day, listening to his educational Hollywood stories.  Stories that demand applause and others that will be continued….  In a rush to leave, Howard tells us he has an important event to attend, he has been asked to speak at Bruce Weber’s Memorial for Elizabeth Taylor in New York, just one of many noteworthy speeches he will be giving in the years to come.

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