Jay Weston, ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ Producer, Dies at 93

Jay Weston, producer of films like “Lady Sings the Blues” and “Buddy Buddy,” died of natural causes Feb. 28 at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 93.

Weston first met Billie Holiday at the Newport Jazz Festival — a chance encounter that would ultimately lead to Weston producing a biopic about her starring Diana Ross in 1972. “Lady Sings the Blues” marked Ross’ feature debut and went on to score five Academy Award nominations, including best actress for Ross and original screenplay.

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“I read the book and I said to [Holiday’s] agent, ‘I want to make a movie out of it,’” Weston said in a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, referring to the jazz singer’s autobiography. “He said, ‘Give me $5,000, and I’ll think about it.’ So I gave him $5,000, and it took 13 years and many $5,000 payments to keep the rights because everybody wanted it.”

The veteran filmmaker made his break as a producer on 1968’s “For Love of Ivy,” which featured Oscar winner Sidney Poiter in the lead role. In the years that followed, Weston would serve as a producer on features such as “W.C. Fields and Me,” “Night of the Juggler,” “Underground Aces” and “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash.” His 1981 film, “Buddy Buddy,” cemented itself in film history as director Billy Wilder’s last feature prior to his death in March 2002.

Weston was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 9, 1929. He attended New York University before he was drafted to Korea in 1952, where he started an award-winning newspaper called The Hialean during his service. When he was discharged, Weston started a publicity firm in New York that represented budding stars like Paul Anka.

The filmmaker also worked for a decade at Cinerama Inc. as public relations counsel, before being hired in 1967 as head of Palomar Pictures, ABC’s feature film division. The following year, Weston produced the Broadway play “Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?” which kickstarted the career of Al Pacino.

In 1981, Weston established a monthly newsletter in which he reviewed various restaurants. He continued publishing reviews until 2022.

Weston is survived by his daughter, Teresa Kraegel; his grandchildren, Connor and Caroline; his sister, Ann Sowers; his ex-wife, Annabelle Weston; and his nephews, Greg and Eric Gantwarg.

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