There are very few people who would be sanguine about delivering bad news to Robert De Niro – especially first thing in the morning. But at 8:30 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, Jane Rosenthal, sitting in the back of her chauffeur-driven black SUV, cheerfully answers her cell phone (“Hi, Bob, you’re up early”) and cuts without apology to the chase: The script for Analyze That, the sequel to the blockbuster comedy that starts filming in less than a day, is still a work in progress. “The beats are still off on some of the jokes,” she tells him evenly en route to drop her 7-year-old daughter at Brearley. Scenes between De Niro and Billy Crystal, reprising their respective mobster-shrink roles from Analyze This, are still being cut or reshaped by Harold Ramis, the beleaguered director-screenwriter. “It’s better,” she adds diplomatically. “We’re not there yet. But we’ve got 24 hours.”
She switches seamlessly to the other high-profile, high-anxiety production she and De Niro are collaborating on at the moment, the Tribeca Film Festival, also debuting within days. “Did I tell you that Oliver Sacks has agreed to be on a panel? Hey, Bob, I gotta go, I gotta walk Juliana into school, I’ll call you later.”
It was Jane Rosenthal who, in the anguished weeks after September 11, suggested to De Niro that they jump-start a long-standing plan for a film festival in their traumatized neighborhood.
“I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it, let’s commit to it,’ ” says De Niro, an eighties pioneer in putting Tribeca on the map as both a downtown destination and the unofficial capital of the New York film community. De Niro, whose office in a converted coffee factory directly overlooks ground zero, says of the festival, “If there was ever a time to do it, it was now.”
Better brace for limo gridlock in Tribeca starting May 8: Their idea has morphed into a Cannes-style film festival south of Canal, with premieres of the summer’s hottest movies, including the latest installment of Star Wars and the chick flick Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; parties with the likes of Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, and Al Pacino; a free rock concert to be broadcast on MTV; a children’s street festival; and 155 films screening at seven venues. To plan an artsy film festival typically takes a year, but Rosenthal and De Niro have created this event in a mere four months. And ever since April 3, when filming started on Analyze That, De Niro has been tied up on location. “I told Jane, ‘Just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it,’ ” he says.
So Rosenthal has tapped her unparalleled Palm pilot of entertainment-political names: enlisting Ben Stiller to perform for free in TV ads, asking Richard Holbrooke for advice on landing Nelson Mandela as a speaker, calling on Deputy Mayor Patti Harris to slice red tape. “Jane cuts a swathe through New York City. She can rally the troops,” says Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax. “She has political connections all the way to the top, whether it’s Republicans like George Pataki or friendships with ex-president Clinton. She can also rally the mommy brigade. Do not underestimate that group. They can work you and blackmail you and get anything done.”
Rosenthal’s husband, real-estate financier Craig Hatkoff, has also been working full time on the festival, lining up insurance and landing sponsors (American Express signed a multi-million-dollar, three-year deal). These days, the couple, who moonlight as major Democratic Party fund-raisers, talk on the phone or e-mail each other several times an hour (yes, an hour) on festival or family business. As Paula Weinstein, Rosenthal’s co-producer on Analyze That, says, “This is the moment when all the parts of Jane’s life have come together.”
And all parts of her personality, too: In the countdown to the festival, Rosenthal switches personas from sarcastic New Yorker to pragmatic producer to manic hostess-with-the-mostest. Urging a Los Angeles agent to attend the festival, Rosenthal told him she’d arranged hotel and airline discounts. “I feel like a used-car salesman,” she says, hanging up the phone. “I’ve got deals!” Her friend Jennifer Maguire Isham, a former CNN executive recruited to supervise the festival, says, “When Jane chose the jurors for the festival, she said it was the equivalent of trying to cast the perfect dinner party.” Which is why Holbrooke, Julian Schnabel, and Isaac Mizrahi will be judging the films, along with Frances McDormand, Helen Hunt, and Barry Levinson.
As she careers from her trailer on locations for Analyze That in Manhattan and New Jersey back to her office to handle festival business, Rosenthal is worrying simultaneously about everything from filmmakers’ time slots to transportation between events to toilets and phones at the hospitality center. “Janie has a go switch,” says her friend Wendy Wasserstein, marveling at Rosenthal’s stamina. “I have a go-to-bed switch.”
In Hollywood, the long-running working relationship between Rosenthal and De Niro is a subject of great curiosity. “They are such an odd couple,” says Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Studios. “She is Miss Glam, this fund-raising, producing person. She puts it all out there. He seems to keep it all inside and use his feelings for his profession.”
The pair have produced seventeen films together, a mixture of monster hits and art-house movies. She has edged the actor, known for brilliant, brooding performances, into more comedic roles, a career-enhancing move that has brought him a new generation of fans. The script for Meet the Parents had been floating around Hollywood for several years when Rosenthal made it a go by first suggesting to Universal that De Niro would be ideal for the father-in-law-from-hell, and then convincing the actor to take the part.
Harvey Weinstein, who rents office space in De Niro’s Tribeca Film Center and has had an entertainingly volatile relationship with the duo, says, “Jane can make Bob do things the right way, the polite way, and Bob will listen to her in a way he’ll never listen to Marty Scorsese and me. He has the ultimate respect for her.”
How does she handle Mr. Raging Bull? As Rosenthal says flippantly, “I have a talent for dealing with difficult men.”
Rosenthal has sought to broaden Tribeca Productions’ output by deliberately making movies that do not star De Niro, including the soon-to-be-released screen version – starring Hugh Grant – of Nick Hornby’s best-seller About a Boy.
“A lot of people who work with actors have the need to make themselves important, and want to be the bridge between the actors and the world,” says Paula Weinstein, who first worked with the pair on Analyze This. “Jane has none of that. Her identity is not caught up with him in that way. Only a very secure person can do that.”
That said, the Bob and Jane Show could win at least a Golden Globe for playing off their disparate identities. Jay Roach, the director of Meet the Parents, describes his first encounter with the pair in a hotel suite: “Bob is quite a warm guy, but he creates anxiety in the hearts of most people who meet him. He’s an intimidating presence, which he kind of enjoys perpetuating. Jane is incredibly comforting, and she helps you through those moments.” Denis Leary, who was in their Wag the Dog, says, “Bob is confident in her, because she handles everything. He can just show up and do his work. He doesn’t have to stand there and fight for his things, because it comes out of Jane’s mouth.”
De Niro is notoriously reluctant to reveal much of himself in interviews – he’s the master of the inarticulate, sentence-drifting-off riff – but he is eager to praise his partner of fourteen years. “She will tell me what she feels, and she’ll disagree with me and stuff. Sometimes I’ll want to do it this way, and she’ll say, ‘Let’s stop and think for a minute.’ She has been a very good complement for my, uh, thinking.”
On the morning of September 11, Rosenthal was in a Town Car with her driver Henry Kumi. They had dropped off her daughter at school and were pulling out of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel as the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Trapped in the chaos downtown, they had made their way by car to the South Street Seaport when the first tower collapsed. Even now, she tears up at the memories. In the midst of a completely unrelated conversation in her office one afternoon, she stands up abruptly and says, “Come with me,” marching two doors down to De Niro’s handsome corner office decorated with leather couches, movie posters, a wooden bar counter, and a direct view of ground zero. Pointing out the window, she begins talking about what it was like to work amid the noxious smells and heartbreaking sounds. “The fires didn’t stop for months. There were days it felt like Apocalypse Now. We still hear fire trucks racing down with sirens on every time they find a new body.”
The site is located to the left of the Tribeca Film Center, and the harried festival staff has come up with an unofficial mantra, muttered as a motivator to deal with the long hours: “Look left.” In the neighborhood, merchants have been economically devastated; the prospect of some 40,000 people arriving for high-voltage fun is considered a godsend. “Jane and Bob are downtown heroes, an over-used word, but it applies to them,” says Carl Weisbrod, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “A lot of people have clout, but very few exercise it so selflessly.”
Clad casually in a black T-shirt and green khakis, Rosenthal works the phone this afternoon, trying to lock in celebrity panels (“If we can get Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep, let’s make it a conversation”) and line up musicians for the free concert. (“We have Sheryl Crow and Wyclef Jean and a guy who’s really buzzy,” she tells a record exec, “but I haven’t heard his tape yet because I had to listen to Sesame Street in the car yesterday.”)
She jumps from call to meeting to call, yelling out constantly to her three assistants to check on her next obligation. In one ten-minute period, she hunts for the name of a man she wants to invite to the festival (his firefighter son died at ground zero), fires an actor whose role has just been cut from Analyze That, and manages a call from London about a musical that she and De Niro are producing (We Will Rock You, based on the music of the rock band Queen).
She relaxes briefly only when Isham arrives to screen a series of spoof TV ads for the festival, featuring an unshaven Danny DeVito (gruffly acting Tom Cruise’s role in Jerry Maguire), Drew Barrymore (pretending to be tough guy Joe Pesci in GoodFellas), and Ben Stiller (hamming it up as Russell Crowe in Gladiator). Rosenthal, beaming, shows off the crystal apples she and De Niro bought from Tiffany as thank-you gifts for the actors, cheerfully admitting, “In another life, I could be a personal shopper.”
But as the day wears on, with the pressure to produce two big-budget projects intensifying, her mood flags. At one point, she puts her head down on her desk like a second-grader ordered by a teacher to take a time-out. “I’m having a breakdown,” she whispers.
By the time she gets in a Town Car to head home, it’s 9 p.m. After arranging for an early-morning pickup so she can watch the dailies from Analyze That, reassuring Juliana, her daughter, on the cell phone (“Please don’t go to sleep, I’ll be home in a few minutes”), and checking on 3-year-old Isabella, she sits back in the dark and muses, “I keep reminding myself I’m going to make mistakes. I know that no matter what I do, some important person will feel snubbed.”
She shrugs and issues an exhausted plea. “I just hope people will understand we’re only doing this to try to help downtown.”
For all the stereotypes of the movie producer, Rosenthal is not even remotely the Botoxed personal-trainer type. She scarcely wears makeup (just a touch of lipstick), and her eat-what-I-want diet would appall a nutritionist (French fries and spinach for one typical lunch). While she is an occasional yoga enthusiast, her true hobbies include trolling eBay for collectibles (she’s addicted to Victorian napkin rings) and shopping for clothes and Manolo Blahniks (low-heeled versions, so as not to emphasize her five-foot-nine-inch height).
“Jane is a high-powered executive, but she’s very much a girl,” says the blonde Isham; the two of them have a running joke about the blonde versus brunette view of life. A world-class networker, Rosenthal has a loyal cadre of girlfriends who include Wasserstein, Caroline Kennedy, Comedy Central Films vice-president Patty Newburger, and veteran TV reporter Perri Peltz. The latter two are also currently working on projects with Rosenthal. “Jane and I do some of our best work in the changing rooms at Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan,” says Peltz. “Walking Madison Avenue is just as good as nine holes on the golf course.” Rosenthal has hired so many pals that Peltz and Isham printed up joke business cards for her: “Jane Rosenthal. If you have a friend, I have a job.”
Wasserstein, who spent three weeks in the hospital with complications before giving birth to her premature daughter, says Rosenthal was her anchor during those scary days. “She came to the hospital every day,” recalls Wasserstein. Rosenthal not only consulted with doctors but brought in the Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long to decorate the room. “I named my daughter Lucy Jane after her,” says Wasserstein.
Rosenthal’s serene apartment in the Dakota, with extraordinary Central Park views, sports Oriental rugs, a collection of antique globes, a Steinway piano, and an entire room devoted to Hatkoff’s guitars. The intensely wired Rosenthal met her easygoing husband when he was representing De Niro on a real-estate project. “Jane is a doer, and our entire marriage has been about working on projects together,” says Hatkoff, citing the construction of their Bridgehampton home, and their decision to hold a political salon in their living room, where framed photos of the Clintons perch on a side table. Rosenthal and Hatkoff became involved with Democratic fund-raising in 1997 at the instigation of Hatkoff’s older sister, Susan Patricof, and her husband, venture capitalist Alan Patricof, who befriended the Clintons back in 1991. “We asked Jane and Craig to do a fund-raiser,” says Susan, “because we were looking for a younger crowd, for people who hadn’t been exposed to the political scene.” Rosenthal, of course, pulled out all the stops: Her first foray featured De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his Titanic fame, and a cast of movers-and-shakers for a $25,000-per-person dinner at which Clinton played the saxophone.
The beneficiaries of the couple’s energies range from the presidential all the way down to the, um, amphibian – specifically, a Cuban tree frog that jumped out of a shipment of plants delivered to Rosenthal’s office. Rather than kill the creature, Rosenthal promptly called the Central Park Zoo for advice and ended up sending over the frog by limousine. She repeated the story to her husband that night, and when he idly mentioned that the tale might make a good children’s book, she jumped on the idea. He typed up a treatment, she shopped it around, and they landed a book deal for what became Cesar’s Amazing Journey. “I’ve learned,” says Hatkoff: “Be careful what you wish for around Jane.”
The oldest of three children, Rosenthal, now 45, grew up in the provinces (well, Providence), where her father, Martin, ran a prosperous wire import-export business, with her mother, Ina, who also acted in community theater. Her parents divorced in 1985. “My father died on his 60th birthday, which was seven years ago,” she says, adding that she has felt his loss even more deeply since September 11. Ina, now living nearby on the Upper West Side, has reinvented herself as a character actress, playing bit parts in films like Conspiracy Theory and Celebrity, as well as in several of her daughter’s movies. As she confesses, “I’m not Judi Dench, but I do what I do well.”
For all her confidence now, Rosenthal describes herself as an awkward child: “I never fit in. I was always tall for my age. When I would walk down the street with my girlfriends, they’d walk on the sidewalk and I’d walk in the gutter to try to be the same size. I am really shy by nature, painfully shy.”
Her mother has a somewhat different version of this story, recalling her daughter as unstoppably self-assured. “Jane was not a straight-A student, she never wanted to go to school. It was too confining for her. She wanted to get out in the world.” Considering politics as a potential career, Rosenthal volunteered at 12 for the Rhode Island gubernatorial race and talked her way into Governor Frank Licht’s motorcade. “She always had to be at the top of the heap,” says her admiring mom. When Rosenthal, 16, was turned down in her bid to be a page in the state’s House of Representatives – receiving a letter stating that those jobs were reserved for college-age men – she pestered the statehouse until she was hired. Even now, the producer smiles at the memory: “I was the youngest person and the first girl to be a page.”
She couldn’t wait to get to college, enrolling in an experimental program at Brown University for what would have been her last two high-school years. Tim Forbes, now the chief operating officer of his family’s magazine empire, was an upperclassman who met Rosenthal in film class. “She was bright-eyed, precocious, sweet, and focused. The guys were really smitten by her personality,” says Forbes, who remains a close friend. They have helped each other out over the years: Rosenthal, as a fledgling movie exec, hired would-be screenwriters Forbes and his wife, Anne Harrison, to write an after-school special; the Forbes family has now offered Rosenthal their floating party boat, The Highlander, for use at the film festival.
Rosenthal arrived in Manhattan in 1975 as a junior at New York University, found an apartment on Bleecker Street (“It faced a brick wall; you never knew if it was rainy or sunny out”), and wangled prestigious part-time jobs as a production assistant at CBS Sports and as a gofer on the workshop production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Patty Newburger also toiled on that project. “Jane was working for the director, I was working for the producer, and the two of them got into a dispute and weren’t communicating, and we became fast friends.”
Careers are made from small breaks; that spring, as TV-network execs flew to New York for pilot week, Rosenthal had the connections to pull off seats for the sold-out Whorehouse, making her instantly popular. “I could get everybody tickets,” she says. Impressed, CBS entertainment executives offered her a job in Los Angeles working on the network’s mini-series. “I was cheap labor. My big negotiating demand was that I had to make my age,” she says. “I was 21.”
During nine years at CBS, she made 70 television movies, from disease-of-the-week weepies to adaptations of books like The Women’s Room and Haywire. Eager to establish herself as someone who could scout talent, she signed a number of playwrights she admired to write scripts, including Liz Swados, Peter Parnell, Albert Innaurato, and Wasserstein. “I was lonesome for New York,” Rosenthal says. “My secret was, by hiring all these writers, I could come back for meetings. I’m not happy in any city where I can’t hail a cab, and you can’t hail a cab in L.A.”
After a grueling stint at Disney – “I was going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark” – Rosenthal was so burned out that she quit. Thirty years old and still single, she started taking flying lessons, and was contemplating her future when she got a call from Martin Scorsese. They had met when Rosenthal was the Disney production executive on The Color of Money. Scorsese wondered if she’d like to sit down with his friend De Niro, who was buying a factory building and turning it into a film center and wanted someone to run his own production company. Rosenthal didn’t immediately jump at the job; friends warned her that becoming the go-to person for a notoriously prickly actor could be career suicide. “I spent a year looking for somebody,” says De Niro. “I interviewed around twenty people and re-interviewed them, and re- and re-interviewed them, and finally felt she was the best person for it, and I wasn’t wrong. She still is.”
She and De Niro are in touch so constantly that they talk in couple’s shorthand. I ask her whether it feels like she has two husbands, and she laughs. “I was at a dinner with Bob and Craig, and they both told me they were ready to go. So I got ready to leave, they were both chatting with other people, and I had to get them both out of their conversations. The elevator door was opening and closing and opening.”
The friendship among the threesome has led to one big-budget enterprise that they’d all prefer to forget. To Hatkoff’s chagrin, he launched his wife’s most disastrous movie project by giving her as a Valentine’s gift the collector’s edition of one of their favorite vintage TV shows, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. (On their first date, they spent the evening singing theme songs from sixties shows.) Rosenthal remembered the characters so fondly that she spent years pursuing the rights and developing a screenplay; her live-action-and-animated version of the film, starring De Niro as Fearless Leader, was panned as a critical and commercial disaster when it hit theaters in 2000, losing $30 million. “It was really Jane’s baby from the beginning, and it was a big disappointment,” says De Niro.
“The failure felt so personal,” she says. “I’m always worried about my career, but this wasn’t ‘I’ll never work again.’ It was ‘I don’t know if I can work again.’ ” Patty Newburger recalls, “What was hard for Jane was that people stopped calling for a few days. The silence bothered her.”
Four months later, however, her reputation was restored when their next movie, Meet the Parents, hit the screens. It brought in more than $200 million.
As for her current project, the festival’s success won’t be measured in Variety by box-office gross; she and De Niro are aiming to please a smaller audience, a slice of New York. “Bob felt personally insulted by what happened down here,” Harvey Weinstein says, “and it’s Jane’s tenacity that has made the festival happen. She got it done.”