Interview: Jeffrey Schwarz, director of The Fabulous Allan Carr

At the age of nine, Jeffrey Schwarz saw the film Grease and it was love at first sight.

“It was colorful and fun and I got the soundtrack and the trading cards,” recalls Schwarz.

It was also the first time he was aware of the name Allan Carr, who produced the film. Carr’s name would come up later as a producer on Grease 2, Where the Boys Are ‘84 and Can’t Stop the Music.

Then, in 2010, Schwarz—who turned his movie obsession into a successful profession, directing such gay-centric documentaries as I Am Divine, Tab Hunter Confidential and the Emmy-winning Vito, about author and activist Vito Russo—read the 2010 biography Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr written by Robert Hofler. The book hit a nerve with Schwarz, who decided to make a documentary about the flamboyant producer.

The cinematic result of Schwarz’s Allan Carr interest took 5 ½  years to produce and is called The Fabulous Allan Carr.  It is being released, which was release on DVD and various streaming services on June 5.

Entertaining, fast-moving and surprisingly poignant, The Fabulous Allan Carr chronicles the caftan-wearing, forever-self-promoting producer from his early career days as a theatrical producer and Hugh Hefner protégé to a successful manager of the likes of Ann-Margret, Peter Sellers and Marlo Thomas to his high as the producer of Grease. It then movies to his calling the shots on a series of flops and being ridiculed for his producing of the 1989 Academy Awards telecast to his return to the theater where he produced the Tony-winning musical La Cage Aux Folles.

“I used Allan Carr’s life to look at Hollywood from the 1950s to the 1970s to the AIDS era in the 1980s, which I found particularly moving,” says Schwarz.

According to Schwarz, Carr was perceived of as being gay because of his flamboyance, but never really came out as being gay.

In the film, Schwarz elicits interviews from a diverse group of Carr friends, followers, experts, co-workers and even fellow party-goers who attended the producer’s soirees Carr’s Hillhaven Lodge, his disco-decadent estate. Schwarz also dug up the larger-than-life Carr’s appearance on different talk shows, along with still photos and animated dramatizations of certain parts of the producer’s life.

There’s no doubt the low point of Carr’s career was when he produced the 1989 Oscars show. That’s the one with the introduction where Rob Lowe and an actress dressed like Snow White performed an extended musical number in the manner of an old fashioned Hollywood musical–much to the horror of audience members and home watchers.

According to Schwarz, the show made Carr a “pariah.”

Schwarz, a New York native who’s been based in Los Angeles since 1995, got his start making movies while attending SUNY Purchase, where his master thesis was a short documentary on “Grandpa” Al Lewis of TV’s The Munsters fame. He later worked on 1995’s The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo’s landmark book about homosexuality in Hollywood films, and eventually became the producer of scores of documentaries and short subjects as supplements for the DVD releases of major studio films. Schwarz’s first solo feature was Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007) centering on the cigar-puffing gimmick-obsessed horror movie specialist behind The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill.

According to Schwarz, 49, the first step in making these documentary features is getting financing, which he says comes in many ways, sometimes from crowd-funding, sometimes from grants and contributions and usually in dribs and drabs. Typically, he and his co-workers at his production company Automat Pictures begin with extensive research to see what archival materials are available and then set out to interview pertinent subjects for the films.

The list of people featured in The Fabulous Allan Carr is, well, fabulous—and includes performers Marlo Thomas, Maxwell Caulfield, Steve Guttenberg, Connie Stevens, Alana Stewart and Lorna Luft, former studio head Sherry Lansing, Grease director Randal Kleiser and cinematographer Bill Butler. and several of Carr’s acquaintances from his school days in Chicago and his wild party days in Hollywood. But there is one person Schwarz would have loved to have interviewed that he didn’t snag and who only featured in the doc through archival footage.

“I didn’t get Ann-Margret,” laments Schwarz, “I’m a huge fan, but she doesn’t do interviews. And you never really know if some of these celebrities get your request. You have to go through so many channels.”

Schwarz is currently working on a few feature projects that are works-in-progress, including Swanson on Sunset, a look at how actress Gloria Swanson tried to launch a comeback in the 1950s by turning Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard into a stage musical, and a documentary on Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 cult classic Showgirls.


The Fabulous Allan Carr is available for streaming at iTunes and GooglePlay.


About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.