“I love him,” says Julianne Moore. “And he means more than anything to me.” Keith Carradine speaks of a lifelong “love affair with Robert Altman,” while Tom Skerritt “just loved the guy from the first.” “You’d always love him,” says Geraldine Chaplin; “You’ve got to love him,” adds Mark Rydell. “I loved Bob and… I’d do anything for Bob,” says Sally Kellerman, and it’s true: for Brewster McCloud, he filmed her prancing naked in a public fountain in Houston during the morning commute.
Actors may have swooned over Robert Altman, but his producers, for whom he lost vast amounts of money during his fifty-year filmmaking career, were less enchanted. “Bob called me ‘the Jew with the money,’” says Peter Newman, who produced O.C. and Stiggs, the least-celebrated bomb of Altman’s career. “He wished me dead,” says David Picker, a former head of Paramount. “I had a gall-bladder operation…. It wasn’t something I took lightly.” Altman was sued for slander after telling a newspaper reporter that the Dutch producer of Vincent & Theo was “a thief, liar and pimp” whom he hoped “would get cancer and die.” And woe to any studio executive who got too close to the lion’s cage. Lily Tomlin remembers a Columbia Pictures representative asking Altman to trim six minutes from California Split. Altman socked him, and the man splashed into a swimming pool.
The Hollywood outcast, in complete control of his art, fending off the pinstriped gorillas who would sacrifice artistic vision for commercial gain—t...