During the mid-to-late '70s, the '80s, and into the '90s, Brillstein's clients would produce some of my favorite television and films; more than likely yours, too: NewsRadio, The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, The Celluloid Closet, and The Muppet Show and movies, just to name a few.
He was credited as producer or executive producer on many of these, but I think that was mostly a reward for delivering his clients. That's not meant pejoratively, his job was to "produce" those clients and keep them happy, something that by most accounts he did very well.
This column says,
Everyone has a favorite Brillstein story.
And that's right. You see, although not an actor or screenwriter himself, Brillstein was a supporting character in the lives of so many performers that I like and have read about; that's how I collected the stories.
Here are two of the best.
Brillstein managed John Belushi, for example, a job he got this way:
As Brillstein told the story, the night of the very first episode of Saturday Night Live, Belushi was still dragging his feet about signing his contract. This was a matter of some urgency because without the contract, he could not be allowed on the air.
Finally Belushi, after complaining loudly for several long, agonizing minutes, said he'd sign only if Brillstein (who already managed Lorne Michaels), agreed to become his manager. Brillstein, more out of exasperation and the need to get-this-done, did so agree.
Only later did he realize Belushi had just "crazed" himself into a deal with the boss's manager.
He would also come to represent, among others on SNL, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.
(Chase left Brillstein's "stable" when he left the show, and look what happened to him.)
Another story Brillstein told was of the day that a young man with long hair and a beard (which were fashionable at the time) came to see him, seeking representation. The man had already begun to make some headway in TV, but sought Bernie's help in getting more exposure for his act.
Brillstein was iffy, and only more so when the man started taking oddly-cut pieces of felt out of a box that he'd brought with him, and having conversations with them. The young agent was looking for a graceful excuse to get this nut out of his office when the phone rang and he seized it gratefully.
It was Brillstein's superior, calling him to let him know he'd seen a wonderful new puppeteer on television the night before. He wanted to know if Brillstein could investigate the possibility of representing this fine young man.
Brillstein was glad to be able to tell his boss that this Jim Henson fellow was sitting directly across from him even as they spoke.
So, Bernie...I know it's probably more a comforting thought than reality, but I would like to think John, Jim (and Gilda Radner!) are singing, performing, and otherwise clowning for you now. RIP.