Robert Lifton, a former producing partner, agrees with the characterization. Lifton says he dissolved their partnership after Joe broke contract and withheld residual monies from him. “Joe was focused on what he’d like to do, and what other people wanted didn’t matter much to him,” he says.
The walls of Joe’s Upper East Side office were lined with Clio Awards that he had won for his jingles. “And he has his Academy Award and People’s Choice Award on his desk,” says Paul Carafotes, who starred in another Brooks production, Headin’ for Broadway. “And between those awards was Joe Brooks’s head.”
According to the director Martin Davidson, a former colleague, “when Joe latches onto you, he doesn’t let go. He’s so needy, of friendship, of support, it becomes unbearable to the person he needs.” Joe would leave things at Davidson’s apartment so that he could stop by uninvited. When they ate out, he would order everything on the menu, then only take a few bites of each dish. After Joe took money from one of their films in order to record his own version of its soundtrack, Davidson told the producers, “It’s me or him.” Joe was fired.
In the late seventies, Joe married Susan Paul, a model and actress who appeared in All That Jazz and posed on the cover of the September 1978 issue of Playboy. She gave birth in 1981 to a daughter, Amanda, and, five years later, to Nicholas. The family lived in New York and then London. From the start, says one of Joe’s former assistants, he was unfaithful. “He was trying to live the Hollywood myth of director, Oscar, casting couch. Some actresses would think that getting a role requires them to sleep with a director. This isn’t anything he invented.” After trying to leave him repeatedly, Susan filed for divorce in an English court in the early nineties and won custody of the children.
According to Amanda Brooks, the demise of her parents’ marriage didn’t seem to affect Nick at first. He was, she recalls, a naturally sweet child. “He was always giving things away. His toys, chocolate,” she says. “If he saw someone on the street who looked badly off, he’d give them his pocket money.”
After the divorce, Amanda and Nick had regular contact with Joe and would visit him during the holidays in New York. When she was 12 and Nick 7, they lived with Joe for a portion of the summer, but during the trip, Joe sued Susan for custody in a New York matrimonial court and refused to send them back to London. Joe was convinced that Susan had been mistreating the children. According to Amanda, “he had always said that if our mother left him he would destroy her, and he knew the only way to do that was to take us.” Joe even checked himself and the kids into hotels under assumed names and hired bodyguards, and mercilessly disparaged Susan in front of them. “My father is a bully and very scary and very intimidating,” says Amanda, now a 29-year-old actress living in Los Angeles.
Despite all of this, Joe was able to win custody of the children (Amanda claims that Susan couldn’t afford adequate representation and that Joe persuaded them to criticize their mother in court). Once Amanda and Nick settled into their new life in New York with Joe, she says Joe became increasingly abusive toward her. Nick was still too young to protect his sister, although that didn’t stop him from trying. So Amanda began reaching out to her mother over the phone, and when she was 13, flew to London for a visit with Joe’s permission. But shortly before she was scheduled to fly back, she received a letter from her father: He instructed her not to return to New York. “I was dead to him. He has never spoken to me since,” Amanda says. For years, she sent letters and tried to call her father but received no response. She and Nick would not see each other again for over a decade. “He was dealt such an unfair hand and was tortured his whole life by [Joe],” Amanda says. “He missed out on having a mother and a sister for fourteen years … and I missed out on having a brother who I was always very close to and loved very much.”
After moving to Hawaii and then Los Angeles (where Joe made his last film, the unreleased Sara’s Life Before It Became a Movie), Joe and Nick returned to New York, where Nick attended Horace Mann for his junior and senior years of high school. According to a classmate and close friend, Nick had little interest in academics, and Joe didn’t encourage him to study. But people liked Nick. He was confident, charming, tall, and attractive. “He got girls extremely easily. They just loved him,” his friend says.