For nearly 50 years Greg Bautzer was one of the premier entertainment attorneys in Hollywood, with a client list that included moguls Howard Hughes, Charles Bluhdorn, Darryl Zanuck and Kirk Kerkorian. He also made a name for himself handling the high-profile divorces of Ingrid Bergman, Nancy Sinatra and Rock Hudson. Movie-star handsome, he was engaged to Lana Turner and Dorothy Lamour, dated such other glamorous actresses as Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford, and was married four times, including to actress Dana Wynter. Bautzer, who died in 1987 at 76, is now the subject of a new biography, "The Man Who Seduced Hollywood," by B. James Gladstone, executive vice president of business and legal affairs for Lionsgate Entertainment. We talked with him about the book.
Greg Bautzer wanted to become a major player in Hollywood as soon as he got out of law school.
It's almost like a scene from a movie where he comes up with this plan to invest $5,000 that he borrowed from someone — we don't know who — and buy himself a fancy wardrobe. He starts hanging out at the nightclubs and restaurants — the Brown Derby was the power place at that point.
He would go there and impress people. I think he also used that money to bribe maitre d's to give him the best table in the house. Then he'd ask famous women to dance with him in these nightclubs and then date them, and he then got his name in the paper. It was pretty incredible. As he said, "Presto, I was a celebrity."
He was lucky in that he was born with really good looks. He was over 6 feet, 2 inches. He was incredibly athletic and an incredible dancer. He was really a very smart man.
But he also had a dark side. He was an alcoholic who was easy to enrage if he thought he was slighted.
He had a very complicated side. I think the problem with alcohol, my guess, was that it was genetic, because of his family history. He had an uncle who had died at 32 of alcoholism. People who are his strongest defenders will say if he had a few drinks under him, he could be a real problem personality.
Especially that time when he nearly got into serious trouble in Las Vegas.
Frank Sinatra ends up saving Bautzer's life when Bautzer almost gets into a fight in a Las Vegas nightclub with gangsters. He didn't realize they were gangsters, and Frank jumps up from another table in the casino and says, "Greg, we have to go. We are going to be late for a meeting." Greg doesn't know what he's talking about. But Sinatra gets him outside and says, "Don't you know who those guys are? They are the toughest Mafia guys in town."
He romanced practically every stunning leading lady in Hollywood, including a very young Lana Turner.
She was just 16. She hadn't even become a star.
But he remained friendly with his former flames and helped them during their careers.
He took care of everything. If you didn't know what to do and you were a movie star and had been his client or his girlfriend, you called him for advice. Lana stayed in his life for the rest of her life, as did Dorothy Lamour, Ginger Rogers, Rosemary Clooney.
Would you talk about his tumultuous affair with Joan Crawford? They had really physical, knock-down, drag-out fights.
It was the talk of the town for four years. They would arrive at a party and they would be throwing things at each other before too long. There is the Arlene Dahl story that she told me personally about Crawford dumping a glass of red wine on [Dahl's] white dress because she was upset that Bautzer was flirting with her, and Joan Fontaine seeing it and saying, "You did that on purpose."
Bautzer knew and worked with all of the top executives in Hollywood, including Howard Hughes. It seems that he and Hughes were pretty much cut from the same playboy cloth.
I came away with a picture of Howard Hughes that is not the common one of him being crazy and obsessive-compulsive. I think that that has been overblown, based more on the last couple of years of his life. When Bautzer and Hughes link up in the early 1940s, they are both out on the town. He is going out with Bautzer trying to pick up girls. They dated many of the same girls!
Why was he so successful in court?
When you are on a trial, it's really a performance. You are putting on a show for the jury. He had an incredible charisma. He knew how to get them to love him.