As a producer in the early-to-mid 1970s, Julia Phillips helped shepherd some of the era's most iconic films to the big screen and consequently became the first woman to ever win an Academy Award as a producer. In partnership with her then-husband Michael Phillips, she made her debut with "Steelyard Blues" (1973) and at age 30 won the Oscar for producing "The Sting" (1973), one of the biggest hits of the decade. Phillips went on to produce "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), only to derail her promising young career with a serious cocaine addiction that stretched well into the 1980s. Her addiction was so debilitating that Phillips rarely produced again and virtually disappeared from the industry into a haze of freebasing and abusive relationships. In 1991, however, Phillips emerged clean and sober, but still as caustic as ever with her tell-all memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, which detailed her rapid rise and fall while managing to alienate a wide swath of celebrities, whose embarrassing behind-the-scenes details were given public viewing. The book became a New York Times bestseller, but at the price of Phillips' permanently ended Hollywood career. Even after her death from cancer in 2002, Phillips had - deservedly or not - maintained the reputation as being the most hated woman in Hollywood.
Born on April 7, 1944 in New York City, Phillips was raised in Brooklyn, Long Island and later Milwaukee by her father, Adolph Miller, who worked on the Manhattan Project, and her mother, Tanya, a manic depressive who was addicted to pills. She later attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she did poorly in subjects like math and French, but won the Phi Beta Kappa Award for creative writing. After graduating Holyoke in 1965 with her bachelor's degree, where she met future husband Michael Phillips, she worked as a production assistant at McCall's magazine and went on to become a textbook advertising copywriter for Macmillan Publications. Phillips spent the next four years working for Ladies Home Journal, where she was an editorial assistant and later the associate editor. In 1969, she entered the film industry as an East Coast story editor at Paramount Pictures, and the following year Phillips headed Mirisch Productions before becoming a creative executive at First Artists Productions, both of which were based in New York.
.Branching out on her own in the early 1970s, Phillips formed Bill/Phillips Productions with her husband, Michael, and actor Tony Bill, and set about producing movies in Hollywood. She earned her first producer credit on "Steelyard Blues" (1973), a quirky, anti-establishment comedy starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. That same year, Phillips had her biggest hit as a producer with "The Sting" (1973), a witty crime comedy starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two con artists who operate a sting against a powerful mob boss (Robert Shaw) as revenge for murdering their friend. A cultural touchstone, "The Sting" was one of the biggest hits of the early 1970s and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. For her part, Phillips became the first ever woman to win an Oscar as a producer. Meanwhile, Phillips and her husband followed up with "The Big Bus" (1976), an off-kilter disaster flick spoof starring Stockard Channing, Ned Betty, Ruth Gordon, Larry Hagman and Lynn Redgrave. Despite predating "Airplane!" (1980) and "The Naked Gun" series, "The Big Bus" was a flop that remained largely forgotten.
Phillips bounced back by shepherding one of the era's most disturbing and influential films, "Taxi Driver" (1976), which starred Robert De Niro as a Vietnam War veteran-turned-New York cab driver who goes on a vigilante spree and saves an 11-year-old prostitute (Jody Foster) from her pimp (Harvey Kietel). Once again, Phillips had a Best Picture nomination, though she ultimately came away empty handed. By this point in her career, Phillips had developed a serious cocaine addiction that ultimately derailed her career after producing "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), from which she was fired during post-production. Just like that, Phillips went into a career tailspin from which she would never recover. She did produce "The Beat" (1988) later in her career, but by that point she was washed up and had virtually fallen off the map. But Phillips soon became the talk of the town - and not in a good way - when she published her tell-all memoirs, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (1991), a no-holds barred look at her life and career in Hollywood.
Though she was harshest on herself, Phillips spared no one from her unrelenting fury at the Boys Club mentality of show business while outing numerous celebrities for a wide array of peccadilloes, including Steven Spielberg, Goldie Hawn, Richard Dreyfuss and Martin Scorsese. The scandalous tome - which was toned down to 500 pages after being turned in as a 1,000-page manuscript - effectively ended her career and even had her permanently banned from Morton's steakhouse, her favorite place to lunch. But it was a huge bestseller and topped the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List for 13 straight weeks. In fact, the book was so damaging to her career that one anonymous producer called it "the longest suicide note in history." She soon followed up with a second book, Driving Under the Influence (1995), which covered the reaction she received to her previous book. Just a few years later, on Jan. 1, 2002, Phillips died in West Hollywood, CA, from cancer at 57 years old, leaving behind the ashes of many bridges burned.
By Shawn Dwyer