Photographic Memories / An Agent of Change

Eytan Fox's friendship with Hollywood powerhouse Jay Moloney proved to be a pivotal chapter in the director's life, but not in the traditional manner.

In the 10th episode of the series "Florentine," Dana Modan, who played a reporter on a local Tel Aviv newspaper, travels to the Accadia Hotel and interviews all kinds of Tel Avivians there. Jay Moloney, an acquaintance of [my partner, filmmaker] Gal Uchovsky and mine from the United States, was in Israel at the time, and I decided that it would be nice to include him in this episode. These pictures are taken from the scene where Dana interviewed him next to the pool.

That was in 1997. An American producer we knew asked us to host a friend of his who had come to visit Israel. He was a tall, handsome and charismatic guy, and we knew almost nothing about him. A few days later we saw a photo of him in a bookstore, on the cover of the U.S. film magazine Premiere, under the heading "The Rise and Fall of Jay Moloney." We read the article and couldn't believe our eyes. It turned out that this guy was a Hollywood agent who represented Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Stiller, among others. Suddenly we understood that our guest, who had become like a member of the family, was actually a very important person in the American film industry.

Florentine, Jay Moloney

This was at the time when agents became the strongest, most important and most influential thing in Hollywood, and Jay's company, Creative Artists Agency, dominated the industry high-handedly. They would bring together all the people they represented - directors, actors, screenwriters - and were responsible for all the hits of those years. But that world, which worships money, success and power, also - perhaps unavoidably - creates great emptiness and a sense of failure. Jay began to compensate for that feeling with an incredible amount of cocaine, an addiction that slowly but surely began to affect his ability to function. They sent him to rehab and tried to help him, but when all that didn't help, he sold his share of the agency. He began to try to find himself again and, in that context, because he was Jewish, he came to visit Israel.

Without admitting it, we secretly thought that if we saved Jay from himself, he would return the favor when he returned to Hollywood, when he would take us with him and turn us into major American stars. But as in a saccharine Hollywood movie, instead of exploiting him, we found ourselves falling in love with him. He spent a lot of time with us, accompanied us to the Jerusalem Film Festival the year "Florentine" was awarded the prize for best television series, and organized a big victory party (as is customary in Hollywood ) on the beach in Tel Aviv.

We began to arrange dates for him with all kinds of actresses he liked: Orly Weinerman, Noa Tishbi, Tinkerbell, Ayelet Zurer. And then one of the "Men in Black" producers came to visit him here, started talking business with him, and the renewed encounter with big money drove him crazy again. With the money that he received from the sale of the car we had leased for him a few weeks earlier, he went to buy drugs in Lod and later was hospitalized and spent days on end in our house on the sofa, almost unconscious. In the end, when we really didn't know what to do with him, we put him on a plane back to the United States.

I was born in the United States and my family is American, so I've always had an internal dialogue with the idea of making films in America. After Jay returned to Los Angeles he called me and said: "Forget about Israel, come to make films in the United States." I picked myself up, left everything and went there. He introduced me to all kinds of leading figures in the industry, among others the creators of the series "Homicide: Life on the Street" (called "Murder from Red to Black" in Israel ), and we started talking about developing a New York version of "Florentine." At the same time, Jay took me to all the hot spots in the city, and one Saturday afternoon he took me to drink coffee with his neighbors Warren [Beatty] and Annette [Bening].

But those things from which Jay had fled, once again left him feeling hollow, and I realized that at any moment they were liable to do the same to me. I recognized that in Los Angeles there's a type of collective narcissistic personality disorder - that people there work from a different place, not from the place from which I want to work. I understood that I missed home, the things of which I'm made, my childhood memories, [singers] Chava Alberstein and Arik Einstein, places from which I want to create.

I decided to return home. I understood that I was giving up my American dream. Moreover, I realized that giving it up wasn't hard and that there was something very liberating about it. I realized that from now on I would invest all my energy in making films in Israel, and during the following years I made "Yossi & Jagger," "Walk on Water" and "The Bubble," one after the other. It was actually giving up that dream that caused me to work in depth and to devote myself to the stories I wanted to tell and to my cinema. Something I did take from Jay was a professional attitude toward distribution, and the understanding that if you do your work properly, worthwhile films can reach a worldwide audience.

Jay knew that I loved Carly Simon, and on Christmas Eve in 1998 the phone rang. When I answered, a familiar voice began to sing "You're So Vain." I listened in amazement. Either someone was doing a wonderful imitation, or... And then Jay got on the line, and said: "Hey friends, I'm celebrating here with Carly and I wanted her to sing a song for you." One morning a few months later, a friend called and told us she had just read on the front page of The New York Times that Jay was dead. He had hanged himself.