Hank Kaufman, a child of the silent film age, shared his passion for cinema with South Florida audiences for nearly two decades as a Miami International Film Festival programmer.
“When he was a kid, whatever money he got to buy candy, he went to the movies,’’ said longtime partner Esteban Garcia. “Charlie Chaplin, Theda Bara, Louise Brooks — he said that was his life.’’
Born Henry Kaufman in Boston on May 25, 1918, he was 94 when he died Aug. 25 in Miami Beach. The U.S. Army veteran of World War II succumbed to complications from a fall in July, Garcia said.
An ex-pat talent agent who lived “La Dolce Vita” in Rome after the war, Kaufman and his later partner Gene Lerner represented some of the biggest names in Italian cinema, including Sophia Loren. Their social circle included the legendary Italian director Federico Fellini, Paris-based African-American entertainer Josephine Baker and actor Rock Hudson.
When he joined the festival’s programming roster in 1984 — before it added “International’’ to its name — Kaufman “brought in major Italian talent’’ to South Florida, including actors Rossano Brazzi and Ugo Tognazzi, and the director Pupi Avati, said Nat Chediak, the film festival’s director from its inception in 1983 until 2001.
“The festival would have been much less without him,’’ said Chediak. “The audience knew Hank’s name was as good as gold in Italian film circles.’’
In a 2002 letter to a Brazzi fan website, Lerner described a party he and Kaufman hosted in the summer of 1957 in honor of Brazzi and his wife, Baroness Lidia Bertolini. They called it a “Cocktailus Romanus.”
“We organized similar events for Simone Signoret, Robert Aldrich, Ava Gardner, Anna Magnani, and Margaret Truman and Clifton Daniel Jr. when they came to Rome on honeymoon, and others.’’
Kaufman and Lerner’s chronicle of those heady times, Hollywood on the Tiber, was published in Italy.
“We were on the ground floor at a glorious moment, with lots of wild, sometimes unbridled activity going on,” Kaufman told a Miami Herald reporter in 2000.
Kaufman came to South Florida in 1978 “to find another career,’’ said Garcia, onetime festival ticket manager. He taught music and film history at Florida International University, and had a burst of creativity in the mid-1980s.
He was instrumental in organizing a free festival of vintage Hollywood films from the Miami-Dade Public Library, and the Israeli Film Festival of South Florida.
With Lerner, created the musical Berlin to Broadway.
During a 1998 revival, Miami Herald theater critic Christine Dolen called it “a glorious revue’’ based on the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht collaboration.
The show was “a smash when director Jack Allison first staged it’’ at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, she wrote, “winning the award from South Florida critics as the 1985-86 season’s best musical.’’
In addition to Garcia, Hank Kaufman is survived by a sister, Estelle Weinstein. His remains were cremated.