Respected agent and film producer Leslie Linder passed away on January 16, aged 85 years old.
During 1960s and 70s, the boom years of British films, he became a noted agency with a reputation for spotting and nurturing young actors including Sean Connery, whom he found in the chorus of South Pacific.
Linder joined talent agency John Redway Associates after giving up his own acting career in 1961 and he soon developed a reputation for integrity and straight dealing. While at Redway, he also handled Peter Sellers, himself just gaining a reputation. Having scored strong reviews for his role as Clare Quilty in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, Sellers received a Hollywood offer and called on Linder to break the contract on his next project, a British comedy called Waltz Of The Toreadors. But with just ten days to go before shooting started, Linder refused saying it would kill the project and put people out of work. Sellers threatened to move to American agency, William Morris, but a calm Linder simply responded by sending him directions to his rival’s office. Sellers stayed on with Redway.
He went on to open Redway’s Italian office in Rome in 1964, where he continued to attract talented actors, directors and writers for the productions Hollywood was setting up in Italy to take advantage of the lira-dollar exchange rate.
After ten years as an agent, he moved to Martin Ransohoff’s Filmways Company and where he produced his first film 10 Rillington Place. An adaptation of Ludovic Kennedy’s book, it told the story of serial killer John Christie, played by his friend Richard Attenborough.
Lord Attenborough described Linder as “a most imaginative and creative agent”. He added: “He produced films of outstanding quality such as 10 Rillington Place, in which I played.”
A committed campaigner on social justice issues, Linder later went on to make many projects that reflected that. As an anti-apartheid activist, he had met Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo before the former’s imprisonment in the early 1960s, and produced Mandela, starring Danny Glover, for the BBC in 1987.
During the 1960s, Linder, Stella Richmond and Wolf Mankowitz, a friend and client, bought the Ward Room, a restaurant on Curzon Street, with a plan to turn into a place for clients and friends. Journalist Logan Gourlay was not impressed. “This is a terrible idea,” he said. “You’ll lose your shirt. It’s a white elephant.”
Linder called it The White Elephant, and it became the place to dine for Hollywood stars in London for 30 years. In the 1970s, with Lord Lichfield and the celebrity tailor Douglas Haywood, he opened Burke’s restaurant in Mayfair, continuing the “lucky elephant” theme with the Cool Elephant, a jazz club, with Dudley Moore as resident pianist.
He was diagnosed with leukaemia aged 80 years old although he continued to play tennis every day throughout his chemotherapy treatment.
Reflecting on his, he recently told a friend: “I have a wonderful son, two terrific daughters, six grandchildren whom I adore, and a beautiful and loving partner [the former fashion marketing guru, Norma Quine]. What else do I need?”
Linder will be greatly missed by many in the industry. Debra Hayward of Working Titles Films said: “Leslie Linder was a producer of the old school, possessing talent, charm and great taste. He was greatly respected by all who knew him - many of them still working in the industry and his most notable film, 10 Rillington Place is an extremely important film in British cinema history. He remained active in trying to develop film and television ideas until well into his eighties. I met with him as recently as last year to talk about possible movie ideas and his passion and enthusiasm for the industry would shame producers a quarter of his age! He passed on his producing gene to his daughter, Dixie Linder and I know he was so proud of her and all her achievements. Above all, he was a family man who will be missed greatly by many.”