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Jack Rollins dies; manager of comedy greats was 100

Producer Charles Joffe, holding the Oscar, actor Jack

Producer Charles Joffe, holding the Oscar, actor Jack Nicholson, center, and Joffe's co-producer Jack Rollins are shown at the 50th annual Academy Awards at the Los Angeles Music Center on April 4, 1978. "Annie Hall" won best picture of the year, which was co-produced by Joffe and Rollins. Credit: AP

Legendary talent manager Jack Rollins' client list played a key role in defining comedy in the last half of the 20th century and beyond.

Woody Allen, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Paula Poundstone, Martin Short, Robert Klein -- all were on his roster at one point or another. Along the way, Rollins helped create the role of the modern show business manager.

"When I went into this business in 1946," he said in a 1988 Chicago Tribune interview, "there weren't managers. There was Milton Berle's mother."

Rollins, 100, died Thursday at his home in Manhattan, said his daughter, Susan.

Rollins and his longtime business partner, Charles Joffe, who died in 2008, liked to find young talent to nurture. Rollins, Rivers told the Tribune in 1986, "could take a grain of sand and make it into an industry."

That was never more true than with Woody Allen, who came to Rollins' Manhattan office in the late 1950s because he wanted to write for Nichols and May, the hip comedy act of the era. That wouldn't work out because the duo created their own material, but Rollins and Joffe saw something in the young TV writer.

"He'd be dead serious when he read a sketch of his, but it hit us funny," Rollins told The New York Times in 1985. "He didn't know why we were laughing. He'd give a 'what's so funny?' look."

They encouraged the deadpan Allen to do stand-up. It was painful at first. "The first 18 months as a stand-up comedian were horrendous," Rollins said in the 1986 Tribune interview.

Finally the tide turned. "He got a smile, then a laugh, and then a cult." Allen never forgot the manager who stuck by him. He continued to list Rollins as a producer on his films, including "Irrational Man," scheduled to be released next month, long after the manager retired.

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