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Photo of Barry Avrich
Barry Avrich. Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg

60 Seconds with Barry Avrich

In his new memoir, the filmmaker and ad exec talks divas and Donny Osmond

In the showbiz world, Barry Avrich (BA 1985 Woodsworth) is something of a double agent. On the one hand, he’s a veteran ad exec who specializes in making clients look great. On the other, he’s a successful filmmaker best known for his warts-and-all documentaries about some of Hollywood’s biggest names. In his new memoir, Moguls, Monsters and Madmen, Avrich reveals who’s naughty – and nice – in the celebrity world he knows so well. Here, he tells all to Cynthia Macdonald.

You promoted Garth Drabinsky’s theatre productions, then later made a film about him he didn’t want made. He was known as one of the scariest bosses in Canada (sample story from your memoir: Garth yelling “go faster!” at his private jet pilot). This was the guy you wanted to get close to?
I’d heard all the stories about his insatiable need for perfection. But when Garth became my client – as opposed to a boss, though he might as well have been one – he took a liking to me in a paternal way. I was the subject of that volatile temper, but compared to others I pretty much got out unscathed. I knew how to pull a thorn out of a paw.

You’ve met lots of other fearsome celebrities along the way, including some divas. Maggie Smith haughtily compared her Toronto hotel room to The Shining; Lauren Bacall commanded you to eat hot dogs with her. Are these grandes dames a dying breed?
No. I don’t think Lady Gaga or Beyoncé are any less diva-like in their demands. But I believe at the end of the day they’ve earned it. They’re providing us with entertainment and escape, so they should be treated in a special way, and I’m fine with that.

You’ve chronicled the lives of movie moguls such as Lew Wasserman and Harvey Weinstein – but also Bob Guccione, the notorious publisher of Penthouse. Why him?
Nobody gave Guccione credit for his journalism; his coverage of issues such as Vietnam veterans and homelessness was award-winning. I was interested in a tormented soul who wanted to be recognized as an artist, and went to his grave being known as a pornographer. There were many other magazines he owned that had nothing to do with pornography.

Not all celebrities you’ve met are friendly. You didn’t exactly hit it off with Barry Manilow or Shirley MacLaine. But I’m happy to hear that Donny Osmond is neither monster nor madman.
Oh, he’s a complete sweetheart. He’s so nice that when I approached him to be in the Garth Drabinsky documentary he said, “I can’t do it, I’ve got nothing bad to say.” I said, “Donny, you can say something good!” He is a wonderful guy.

Watch: The director appears at TIFF to talk about his documentary Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project.

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