Family & Companions
This Russian-born producer and executive emigrated to England with his family in 1912. A former music hall dancer turned impresario, Lord Lew Grade calls himself "the last Charleston dancer" but is better known as one of the pioneers and leading figures in the development of commercial television in Great Britain, a major worldwide distributor of such series as the classic "The Avengers," and as financier and/or executive producer of adaptations ranging from Barbara Cartland novels to such acclaimed features "On Golden Pond" (1981) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982).
Lord Grade's story is not unlike the bulk of the founders of American film and TV dynasties. Born Louis Winogradsky in Odessa in 1906, he fled the Russian pogroms with his parents in 1912, settling in London, where his father set up shop as a tailor. Grade was heading for a life in the garment trade when he entered--and won--the 1926 World Charleston Championship. Instead of needles and threads, it was lights and music. Grade went on to dance professionally in music halls until 1934, when he developed water on the knee. Instead of trying to salvage a career as a performer, he joined with his friend Joe Collins (father of actress-novelist Joan Collins and novelist-producer Jackie Collins) to form the Collins and Grade Agency. In addition to representing the cream of British talent, Grade also handled the foreign interests of such American stars as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Grade later parted with Collins and, with his brother, created the theatrical agency Lew and Leslie Grade, Ltd.
In 1955, Grade turned his back on agenting and moved into production, all but pioneering the British commercial TV industry, a feat which would later be duplicated by Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman in Hollywood when they gave up their MCA talent interests to own Universal Studios. Grade's first effort as a producer was "The Adventures of Robin Hood," starring Richard Greene, which went on to become an international success, airing in the US on CBS from 1955-58. Grade formed ITC Entertainment as his production arm, which eventually became a division of his Associated Communications Corporation in 1973. For three decades, Grade produced, executive produced or financed numerous international small screen successes. While BBC and other British productions aired on PBS in the US, Grade broke through to commercial broadcasting across the Atlantic, either on one of the major US networks or in syndication. His shows were also hits in Britain, Canada and Australia, among other territories. Under his aegis, ITC offered the world "Secret Agent" (1965-66), with Patrick McGoohan, "The Avengers" (1966-69), with Patrick McNee and Diana Rigg, "This is Tom Jones" (1969-71), "The Englebert Humperdinck Show" (1969) and numerous others.
While most British networks might produce a handful of episodes of a so-called series in a given season under the guise of creative energy, Grade understood that the "factory" system employed in the US was the key to international and financial success. Many of his TV shows, although produced in London, were co-productions with US entities and geared for the lucrative American first-run syndication market, such as "The Muppet Show" (1976-81) and "Space 1999" (1974-76). Grade also produced longforms, such as "Moses the Lawgiver" (CBS, 1975), starring Burt Lancaster and Anthony Quayle, and Franco Zefferelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" (NBC, 1977). Grade's empire also included Marble Arch Productions.
In 1969, Grade moved into feature production with "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun." During the 70s, releasing through AVCO-Embassy, in which he had stake, he offered Blake Edwards' romance "The Tamarind Seed" (1974), starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif, Edwards' "Return of the Pink Panther" (1975), a remake of "Farewell My Lovely" (1975), with Robert Mitchum the earnest all-star "Voyage of the Damned" (1977), Ingmar Bergman's award-winning "Autumn Sonata" (1978), starring Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann, and "The Boys From Brazil" (1979), which brought Lord Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck together. But, in 1980, Grade sunk $36 million into "Raise the Titanic," a film which returned only $8 million in its initial box office. (Grade later quipped "it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.") That failure, coupled with the changing fortunes of the global entertainment marketplace, led to Grade stepping down from Associated Communications in 1982, although he continued to finance such American films as "On Golden Pond" (1981) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982), both released through Universal.
From 1982-85, Grade chaired Embassy Communications International, parent associate of Norman Lear's Hollywood Embassy Communications, which was run for a spell by Grade's nephew, Michael Grade. When Lear sold out to Coca Cola, Grade founded The Grade Company in 1985, and, in now well into his 80s, continued going strong. He acquired the rights to romance novelist Barbara Cartland's works and, through a deal with TNT, produced several adaptations, including "A Ghost in Monte Carlo" (1990) and "Duel of Hearts" (1992). Grade also turned to the legitimate stage, with limited success, in the 80s. He produced Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" on Broadway in 1981, which only ran a few dozen performances. His attempt with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" (1987) was only marginally better.
Grade returned to feature producing with "Something to Believe In" (1998), a romantic drama starring William McNamara and Maria Patillo that he had developed for five years. Re-energized by this, Lord Grade revised his original intention to retire at the turn of the century; he died just one year short of achieving his goal.
Producer (Feature Film)
Emigrated to England from native Odessa with family
Won World Charleston Championship
Gave up performing to become an agent
Formed The Collins and Grade Agency with Joe Collins
Produced "The Adventures of Robin Hood" for TV
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
Broke into feature films with "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun"
Produced miniseries "Moses the Lawgiver"
Created Lord Grade of Elstree, life peerage
Experiences his own sinking with $36 million failure, "Raise the Titanic"
Made Broadway producing debut with the short-lived Stephen Sondheim musical "Merrily We Roll Along"
Ceded control of Associated Communications Corp.
Formed and headed The Grade Company
Returned to Broadway to produce Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express"
Began executive producing Barbara Cartland's novels for TV
Returned to feature film producing with "Something to Believe In"