Carol McCullough-Wexler
Josh Wolk
June 18, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If you’re looking for inside dirt in actor-writer-director Paul Mazursky’s memoir ”Show Me the Magic” on the more gossip-worthy stars that he’s worked with over his 40-plus-year career, like Cher (”Faithful”), Bette Midler (”Down and Out in Beverly Hills”), and Woody Allen (”Scenes From a Mall”), you’ll be disappointed. The closest thing you’ll find to juice is an affectionate tale of Mazursky heading to Jack Nicholson’s house to court him for the role of the bum in ”Down and Out” (which eventually went to Nick Nolte), and finding Nicholson indulging in some mind-poppingly powerful ”Maui Wowie” marijuana.

The real dirt comes when Mazursky opens up about legends from the past. For instance, there was the time that Stanley Kubrick, who directed Mazursky in 1953’s ”Fear and Desire,” stopped by his apartment to check on what stage name he wanted to use in the credits (his real name is Irwin Mazursky). Mazursky was out of town, so what did Kubrick do? He made a Hollywood-style pass at Mazursky’s wife-to-be (which was rebuffed).

When reminiscing about writing for Danny Kaye’s 1963 TV variety show, Mazursky recounts how Kaye — who ”wasn’t really very funny” — was clueless that the entire writing staff was laughing behind his back at his incessant name-dropping. And then there’s the anecdote about Peter Sellers, the star of 1968’s ”I Love You, Alice B. Toklas” (which Mazursky cowrote), who refused to leave his trailer when he saw a script girl wearing a purple sweater, because Sophia Loren once told him that ”purple is death.” ”My divining rod on who to include in the book was if they’re dead, you can do it,” Mazursky tells EW Online. ”That story isn’t gonna bother Peter (Sellers) now.”

Mazursky, 69, knows that in today’s Hollywood it’s critical to remain friendly, considering how hard it’s become to get a movie made. During his heyday, when he was churning out hits like 1978’s ”An Unmarried Woman” and 1984’s ”Moscow on the Hudson,” Mazursky could walk into a pitch meeting with studio heads and get instant okays — most of the time. One funny story has him meeting with Disney head Michael Eisner to pitch the drama ”Enemies: A Love Story,” about Holocaust survivors adjusting to New York in 1949. A doubtful Eisner said, ”Why don’t you update it?” Mazursky jokingly asked if he wanted to make it with Cambodians. The movie ended up elsewhere.

But in the ’90s, the studios have gotten more bureaucratic and it’s not easy to get an immediate handshake deal. ”Now you’re dealing with underlings, committees, people who want to test ideas with the marketing people before they agree,” says Mazursky, who concedes that part of the problem may be that he’s no longer the flavor-of-the-month. ”It may be ageism. They may want kids (making films) for a variety of reasons — they’re cheaper and you can control them. But that’s okay. This is not a business that anybody should go into if they don’t have some kind of strong shell. It’s cruel, and I understand it.” He may sound forgiving now, but once these execs die… look out!

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