In a legal career spanning nearly 50 years, Gregson Edward Bautzer was lauded for managing the biggest deals and highest-maintenance clients 20th-century Hollywood had to offer.
Though the name may no longer ring many bells, the stereotype does: a tall and tan charmer with a full head of wavy hair and impossibly white teeth. What Bautzer wasn't born with he achieved by careful calculation, boning up on rhumba dancing, learning to command the best tables at restaurants, borrowing $5,000 as a young law grad to "buy the best wardrobe in town."
"I had a presence when I walked into a room," he said. He also had a plan: "to become known."
Bautzer decided to follow in his father's footsteps as a lawyer. Growing up, he witnessed audiences change from sneering at Nickelodeon performers to lauding them as movie stars. And motion pictures were the sixth-largest industry in the United States when he graduated from law school in the 1930s.
So he naturally chose Hollywood as his forum to gain fame. He garnered the requisite publicity by flaunting his courtships of actresses before Hollywood's eager gossip columnists.
Lana Turner was an early conquest. Bautzer began dating her when she was just 16 and he was 26. The book jacket of The Man Who Seduced Hollywood
shows a photo of him years later staring deeply into her eyes, cradling her face in that way so many women find irresistible.
Through the years, he developed a foolproof formula for wooing: two dozen roses, followed by a fur piece, followed by a long weekend in Acapulco. Scores of stars and starlets were smitten, including Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamour, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Sonja Henie, Jane Wyman, and Ginger Rogers - who was so taken with his dancing prowess she labeled him "my social Fred Astaire." Bautzer's biography itself becomes a snapshot of Hollywood's studio era, and the book contains intriguing photos of him posed with his many beauties.
He also set his sights on Joan Crawford, tempering their romance with what he knew worked best on the Academy Award winner: adulation. He deferentially carried her dog and ever-present knitting bag, and he showered her with gifts that included a ruby-encrusted cigarette case engraved "Forever and Ever." In return, she hired him as her attorney. Bautzer's legal career took off; no additional rainmaking was required.
In time, his client list consisted of A-listers most lawyers could only dream of - including Rock Hudson, Ingrid Bergman, Clark Gable, Sophia Loren, and William Randolph Hearst.
But the client who held the most sway on Bautzer's life and legal career was Howard Hughes, then hailed as the wealthiest man in the world.
"When Howard Hughes all of a sudden says, 'This is my lawyer,' it makes you kind of important," Bautzer once understated.
Hughes provided a steady stream of contract disputes, tax-avoidance schemes, and requests to quash the plethora of unauthorized magazine articles and biographies in the 25 years Bautzer represented him. In the days before cell phones, Bautzer even had a private phone line installed in his office so Hughes could reach him at any time.
Beyond his legal accomplishments, Bautzer was also known as a drinker, brawler, and incurable ladies' man. He died of a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 76.
Author B. James Gladstone, a lawyer with Lionsgate Entertainment, delivers a fun read full of name-dropping and a look inside the Hollywood deals and divorces Bautzer negotiated, but few real insights into the mind of the man who orchestrated them.
No matter. As Gladstone notes, Bautzer's shtick, which belonged to another time and place, is unlikely to work in today's world, where "one smart lawyer is virtually interchangeable with another."
That's show business.
Barbara Kate Repa, a contributing writer to California Lawyer, is a lawyer, writer, and editor in San Francisco.