Leonard Arthur Finkelstein, legendary film producer of One Heck of a Lady (1956), Connecticut! (1961), Last Train to Heaven (1963), and the career-ending Who the Fuck Is Billy Wilder? (1965), died yesterday in his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.
Finkelstein was born in Milwaukee, WI, the son of a Jewish belt-maker. In 1931, at the age of sixteen, determined to become an actor, he moved to Hollywood. After bit roles in several low-budget comedy features—I Take This Man (1938), Hook, Line and Stinker (1940)—Finkelstein produced his first film, the WWI drama A Trench in Somme (1943). It was a smashing commercial success, and quickly helped Finkelstein becomes one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood.
In 1953 Finkelstein married the strabismic starlet Selma Sternfeld. That year he cast her in Goodbye, Mr. Crackerjack, a musical starring Bing Crosby’s nephew. When the project fell through (allegedly due to Sternfeld’s inability to walk in a straight line), Finkelstein divorced Selma and married her sister Slema. In 1955, Slema was struck by a Hollywood tour bus; and shortly thereafter, Finkelstein remarried Selma, who had found work as a bus driver for MGM.
In 1965, Finkelstein produced the notorious Who the Fuck Is Billy Wilder? The film, which starred a handful of aboriginal actors, was a commercial failure and inspired a flurry of lawsuits from Wilder and his estate. In his last public interview in 1987, Finkelstein insisted that he really had no idea who Billy Wilder was.
Leonard Finkelstein died of agnosia.