Obituary

A sharp judge of comic talent

New York - Jack Rollins, a producer and a sharp judge of talent who saw more than a shy gag-writer in Woody Allen and believed that the manic improvisations of Robin Williams would crack up audiences, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.

His daughter Susan confirmed his death.

Rollins did not just boost fragile young egos. To his clients - who also included Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Lenny Bruce and the team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, an American pantheon of hilarity - he was a father-confessor, real estate agent, psychiatrist, marriage counselor and financial guru.

He and his longtime partner, Charles H. Joffe, who was a co-producer of most of Allen's films in the 1970s, were deans of comedy management for decades starting in the 1960s, nurturing generations of the nation's funniest entertainers to fill the hungry maws of nightclubs, television, Broadway and Hollywood.

One day in the late 1950s, a bony, bespectacled face peeked in at the Rollins-Joffe door. It was a painfully shy Allen.

"Woody wanted merely for us to manage his affairs in a conventional fashion, to better his career as a TV writer," Rollins told The New York Times in 1985. "Well, we just thought he had the potential to be a triple threat, like Orson Welles - writer, director, actor."

He worked with Allen on routines, perfecting timely pauses, the right inflections and gestures for punch lines, and prodded him to take risks. It took 18 months of stand-up club dates, but the Allen magic caught on.

Williams became a client in the late 1970s. Agents hardly knew what to do with his parodies of Shakespeare in iambic pentameter, his impromptu foreign dialects and improvisations. Rollins gave structure to the scattershot performances, breaking them down into beginnings, middles and ends.

Williams was soon one of the hottest stars on television, playing a quirky alien on Mork And Mindy and on his way to stardom.

Rollins retired in 1992. He had kept a reminder on his office wall: "It's difficult to soar with eagles when you walk with turkeys." New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Obituary A sharp judge of comic talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe