YAM Notes: May/June 2014

By Marty Snapp

The stage was crowded at the Academy Awards on March 2 after the Best Picture Oscar was awarded to12 Years a Slave. But one of the most important people behind the movie was 3,000 miles away. It was Joe Cohen, the financier who put up the money to get it made.

“I’m a member of the academy, but there are 6,000 members of the academy, so to get tickets you have to go through a lottery,” he says. “The last three years I got tickets, but this year I didn’t win the lottery. So I decided to spend the night in Miami Beach with my girlfriend, cheering at an Oscar party at the Aquilina Hotel. Everyone was blasé about the whole thing except us.”

But as the night wore on, he began to get nervous.

“Gravity was picking up most of the awards, and my heart started sinking. I thought there might be a real groundswell building. But when Lupita Nyong’o—who is a Yale Drama School grad by the way—won Best Supporting Actress, my hopes started to pick up. And then when John Ridley won Best Adapted Screenplay, I began to think we really might have a chance.”

Then Will Smith opened the Best Picture envelope and said, “And the Oscar goes to 12 Years a Slave!” And Joe and his girlfriend jumped up and screamed. “I kissed her, and she said, ‘Ooh la la!’ because she’s French. All those blasé Miami Beachers were looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I think they thought I had a lot of money riding on it in Vegas.”

By the time they got back to their room there were more than two dozen congratulatory e-mails waiting for them, including messages from Dick Pechter, Randy Alfred, both Belle and Peter Petkas, and me.

In Randy’s words, “Joe is that Hollywood rarity—a financier with style and taste.” He runs what he calls a “boutique media investment bank that specializes in incubating and advising independent film and television production and distribution companies.” Among the films he has bankrolled: Brokeback Mountain, Into The Wild, and The Blind Side.

Thanks to Joe and a few others like him, Hollywood is still making movies for grownups in addition to slam-bang, computer-generated action films aimed at 14-year-olds.

His next movie is going to be a biopic about Brian Wilson, the tortured genius who created the Beach Boys sound. “There’s a Yale connection there, too,” he says. “Brian suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and he was controlled by a Svengali-type shrink who will be played by Paul Giamatti ’89.”

But Joe has no plans to produce movies himself. “I’d rather be a consigliere,” he says. “I like having my finger in 20 pies instead of just one.”

On a much sadder note, it’s my sad duty to report the deaths of two classmates whom we—and the world—can ill afford to lose: Rick Whitaker and Richard Urowsky.

There isn’t enough space to write about both of them in this column, so I’ll write about Rick Whitaker next time. Richard Urowsky died on January 14 after a long battle with cancer. After Yale College (Phi Beta Kappa) and Yale Law School (editor of the Law Journal), he studied political science at Oxford and clerked for Supreme Court justice Stanley Reed before beginning private practice at Sullivan & Cromwell, where he spent his entire career.

“Whether the case was large or small, Richard always brought his incisive approach to legal issues to bear,” the firm said. “Richard was perhaps best known for leading the defense of Microsoft in several antitrust cases brought against the company during the 1990s by the US government. His command of the enormous factual record developed during a six-month trial and his mastery of a wide range of complex legal subjects during a multi-day oral argument before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February 2001 was a sight to behold. He was a brilliant lawyer, one who combined a rigorous analytical mind with a sparkling wit.

“Richard was also a wonderful teacher who was very generous with his time in mentoring younger lawyers. We all learned a lot from him. We were lucky to have had Richard as a friend and colleague for the last 40 years. He was, as one loyal client said upon hearing of his death, ‘a force of nature and a very good human being.’ He made us proud of his many accomplishments, but he also made us laugh. We will miss his great intelligence and his subversive sense of humor in equal measure.”

Richard was a loyal son of Yale who endowed the Jacob Urowsky Professorship of Philosophy in memory of his father; the Anne Urowsky Visiting Professorship for visiting non-tenured faculty members; and the Richard Urowsky Scholarship Fund for students attending Yale College.

The Class of ’67 was represented at his memorial service by Richard Wind, Rick Taft, Barry Vasios, Bill Kroener, and Dave Richards. “It was a nice event,” Dave reports. “Speakers included not only his partners who worked with him on the Microsoft antitrust case, which was a notable victory for any litigator, but also Microsoft’s general counsel Bill Neukom and Yale Law dean Harold Koh, who spoke of Richard’s gift there of an endowed professorship in honor of his mother and also read a letter from Hillary Clinton about Richard (whose year of study at Oxford, in the middle of his law school attendance, moved him into the classes shared with the two Clintons, ’72 and ’73). I used to see Richard at the Yale Club on Friday afternoons with his martini. The bar at the buffet lunch after the memorial service offered the Urowsky Martini as a choice.”

And in case you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s the recipe for the Urowsky Martini: Tanqueray, very dry, up, with a twist.