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HARRY GITTES, the producer of Columbia Pictures' "Little Nikita," is very proud of the results of his labors -- and is especially pleased that he nurtured the story long enough to let it develop from what was originally a light-hearted premise into the extremely serious, honest and exciting work it has become.
"Little Nikita" is the story of turmoil faced by a teenaged boy (River Phoenix), when he learns from an FBI agent (Sidney Poitier) that his parents are actually deep-cover Soviet spies. The secret turns the teenager's quiet world upside down and catapults him into the frightening world of international espionage.
Gittes pushed and tugged "Little Nikita" through more than four years of creative tunnels until it saw the light of day as one of the first projects given the green light under David Puttnam's leadership at Columbia Pictures.
The family aspect of "Little Nikita" was fully developed when Gittes and Benjamin turned to Bo Goldman to deliver the final script. "We brought together a very family-oriented group of filmmakers and stars. Richard Benjamin's life is making movies and his family. Sidney Poitier has six daughters. River Phoenix has three sisters and a brother. Bo Goldman has five children. These are people for whom family is an important part of their lives."
A suburban community as the backdrop to the story always interested Gittes. "Russians look very much like Americans to me. A tremendous number of immigrants that came over to this country were Russians, my family included, and live in today's society. I've always been intrigued by the 'sleeping spies' theory in which agents stay here for 20 years and become assimilated into our society.
"It was just a very staggering idea that the guy who lived next door could turn out to be a Russian spy. I wanted to examine the dynamics of those dimensions that would change between people -- especially within the family unit."
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, Gittes attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. While a student there, he was a drummer in a well-known jazz combo that played professionally at colleges and night spots on the East Coast.
He came to Los Angeles in 1960 following his graduation and began supporting himself as a professional photographer. At this time he began doing photography sessions with aspiring yet little-known actors. One of them was Jack Nicholson.
Three years later, he settled on Madison Avenue and augmented his copywriter income as a photographer doing album covers and shooting popular acts at the Bitter End such as Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Cass Elliot and Bill Cosby. He next moved full-time into the advertising field, where he collected more than 30 advertising writing awards, including the prestigious Gold Key, as a writer and creative group head at such agencies as Grey Advertising, Jack Tinker and Partners and Wells, Rich and Green.
Gittes returned to Los Angeles in 1970 to produce the pilot for the still-running Cosby cartoon special, "Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert." The pilot had the unique distinction of being the first of its kind to combine live-action with animation.
Nicholson and Gittes renewed a friendship, and they began to work together in film. Gittes co-produced "Drive, He Said," which marked Nicholson's debut as a director. He also produced "Goin' South," directed by and starring Nicholson, and introducing John Belushi to the screen.
Gittes moved to Columbia to produce the James Caan/Elliott Gould-starrer "Harry and Walter Go to New York." He later produced the science fantasy "Timerider" and was involved with the development of "Repo Man." He also produced the television film "Dangerous Company," directed by Lamont Johnson.
Upcoming, Gittes is preparing "Breaking In," to be directed by Bill Forsyth from a script by John Sayles.
Gittes lives in Beverly Hills and is married to Christine Cuddy, a leading entertainment attorney. They have a newborn son, Michael Arthur.
Columbia Pictures presents a Harry Gittes Production of a Richard Benjamin Film starring Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix, "Little Nikita." Produced by Harry Gittes, the film was directed by Richard Benjamin from a screenplay by John Hill and Bo Goldman, based on a story by Tom Musca & Terry Schwartz. Art Levinson served as co-producer.