Gerald Ayres (born February 3, 1936) is an American involved in the film business as studio head, producer and screenwriter. His perhaps most notable works are as producer of The Last Detail (1973) starring Jack Nicholson and as writer of Rich and Famous (1981) the last film directed by George Cukor.
After Yale where Ayres had a few plays produced, he started his career in New York (1957) as a play doctor. Between writing jobs he worked in a zipper factory in the garment district and as a story analyst for the New York office of Columbia Pictures.
In 1964 he was brought to Columbia’s Hollywood studio as assistant to new studio chief, Mike Frankovich. During the Frankovich years (five in all) the studio had an astonish run including Lawrence of Arabia, Man for All Seasons, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In Cold Blood, Georgie Girl, Oliver, To Sir With Love, The Proffessionals, Funny Girl to name a few.
When Frankovich left in 1971 Ayres was made creative head of the studio.
In 1970 Ayres served as producer of The Model Shop directed by French auteur Jaques Demy and starring Anouk Aimee and Gary Lockwood. Because he had yet to step out of his position as studio executive he was unable to be credited. He tried at the same time to secure financing for Demy’s wife, Agnes Varda, to direct a script of hers, Peace and Love. Varda’s dispute with Columbia over final cut killed the deal.
He went from there to produce for Columbia the small film, Cisco Pike (1972) starring Kris Kristofferson, Gene Hackman and Karen Black. Following that, he produced The Last Detail (1973) which was nominated for three Academy Awards: Jack Nicholson as actor, Robert Towne as screenwriter and Randy Quaid as supporting actor. The film won BAFTA’s best picture award and Nicholson won best actor laurels at Cannes.
His struggles with Columbia pictures to make the film (they considered it “un-American”) forced Ayres to take the production to Toronto, events which are detailed in Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Ranging Bulls (1999).
He wrote Foxes (1979) starring Jodie Foster which he co-produced with David Puttnam. It was the first film for director Adrian Lyne.
He wrote the screenplay for Rich and Famous (1981) which starred Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. It was the last film directed by George Cukor. It was said to be Cukor’s fiftieth. Ayres was awarded the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.
His first effort at TV (1980) is notable only because it was a series based on The Last Detail and was directed by Jackie Cooper. It did not get picked up.
Ayres wrote the shooting draft of the ABC film Stormy Weathers (1992) starring Cybill Shepherd.
For TNT Ayres wrote Crazy in Love (1993) starring Holly Hunter, Frances McDormand, Bill Pullman and Julian Sands. He received nominations for Artois, Golden Globe and CableAce awards.
Typical of Hollywood writers, Ayres developed material never produced for such top creators as Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner , their first pilot before they advanced on to producing The Cosby Show. Ayres also developed a pilot for Paul Witt & Tony Thomas, a screenplay for Richard Dreyfuss and Mike Medavoy. He developed another original for David Field and Stephen Bach at United Artist; a long-form HBO script for Rick Rosenberg and Robert Christiansen on the life of Dorothy Parker.
In 1995 Ayres wrote a four-hour mini-series for NBC on the life of Elizabeth Taylor (released as Destiny). The producer, Lester Persky, radically changed the script during production and Ayres elected to use a pseudonym on the produced work.
Ayres was born in San Diego, California to US Navy seaman Bickings Ayres from the tobacco country of South Carolina and Madeline Brown Ayres, a teen from the vineyards of Central California. The father became an officer and fought in the South Pacific during World War II, going out as a commander after a 30 year career. Ayres had one brother, Burr Douglas Ayres, who ran off at 17 to fight with the Marines in Korea. He returned and was killed in an auto accident in 1955 at age 21.
Ayres received a scholarship to Yale, class of 1957. He dropped out a few months short of graduation to become a writer in theatre in New York, starting his career in fact while working in a zipper factory. Within a decade he was creative head of Columbia Studios in Hollywood. From there he became an independent writer and producer of films and television.
The story of his move from the garment district to studio head is the subject of the memoir he is currently writing, a process that has been slowed by a decade of four recurring bouts of lymphoma cancer.
His first marriage at 21, was to Anne Bartlett Ayres. They had two children, Christopher and Elizabeth. Elizabeth who has given him two grandchildren. His marriage ended in 1971 having in great part to do with Ayres’ growing acceptance of his preference for a gay life. He left Hollywood in 1971 to join a gay commune in the Sierras. He returned to Hollywood with a lover, Nick Kudla.
In Peter Biskind’s bio of Warren Beatty, the writer described Ayres as “one of the few out-of-the-closet gay men in Hollywood at the time.” That was 1971.
He now lives with his second spouse, artist Nicola Filippo. They split their time between Palm Springs, California and an old farm house in upstate New York near the St. Lawrence River, in the Thousand Islands.
1981 Rich and Famous
1982 Rumpelstiltskin (1982) (teleplay)
1992 Crazy in Love (TV movie) (teleplay) 1992
Stormy Weathers (TV movie) (teleplay) 1995
Destiny (TV mini-series on the life of Elizabeth Taylor) written under the pseudonym of Burr Douglas
1973 The Last Detail
1972 Cisco Pike
1973 The Last Detail - Skater at Ice Rink (uncredited)
2002 How to Draw a Bunny (documentary) Himself
Rich and Famous- 1980 Writer’s Guild award Best Adapted Comedy of the Year