Louis Nizer (February 6, 1902 in London - November 10, 1994 in New York City)
was a noted Jewish-American trial lawyer and senior partner of the law firm
Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon. He represented many celebrities in a
variety of cases, among them Quentin Reynolds in his successful libel suit
against columnist Westbrook Pegler, and the broadcaster John Henry Faulk against
AWARE, a right-wing organization that had falsely labeled him a communist. A
graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School, he wrote several books,
among them the best-selling "My Life In Court" in 1962, about many of his famous
cases, which spent many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He also
wrote "The Implosion Conspiracy" in 1972, a study of the Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg espionage case. He died at the age 92 in New York City, having
continued to work at his firm until 10 days before his death. His representation
of Reynolds served as the basis for the Broadway play A Case of Libel, which
starred Van Heflin. With Jack Valenti, Nizer helped created the motion picture
ratings system of the Motion Picture Association of America, which he served as
general counsel. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he authored the
foreword to the Warren Commission report that investigated JFK's murder and the
conspiracy theories that still surround it. In addition to his legal work, Louis
Nizer was an author, artist, lecturer, and advisor to some of the most powerful
people in the worlds of politics, business, and entertainment. For a number of
years, Nizer was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the
"highest-paid lawyer in the world". In addition to his success in the legal
world, he was married to his wife Mildred for over 50 years. Over his life,
Nizer granted significant grants and charity to many Jewish causes. Nizer was
portrayed by George C. Scott in the 1975 CBS made-for-television film, Fear on
Trial, co-starring William Devane as the blacklisted radio personality John
Louis Nizer, the shrewd and voluble trial
lawyer who made a long career of representing
famous people in famous cases and whose
autobiography, "My Life in Court," was a best
seller, died yesterday at Beth Israel Medical
Center in Manhattan. He was 92 and lived in
The cause was kidney failure, said Perry
Galler, the managing partner in the New
York-based law firm Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin,
Krim & Ballon, of which Mr. Nizer was the senior
Mr. Nizer founded the firm with Louis
Phillips, and colleagues said yesterday that he
remained active, going in to his office almost
every day, until 10 days before he died.
Mr. Nizer's wavy hair and near-classic
profile adorned countless courthouses, board
rooms and corridors of power as he talked his
way to fame and fortune. In the course of his
work as a trial lawyer, he made himself an
authority on contract, copyright, libel,
divorce, plagiarism and antitrust law, and on
other kinds of law involving the entertainment
His roster of celebrity clients included
Johnny Carson, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali,
Eddie Fisher, Alan Jay Lerner, Mae West, the
basketball star Julius Erving and Spyros P.
Skouros, once board chairman of 20th Century Fox
The tension of the courtroom and the
fervor of the advocate pervaded his books,
including "My Life in Court" (1962, Buccaneer
Books) which made him nationally famous. It rose
to the top of The Times's best-seller list and
logged 72 weeks as a sales leader. One critic
praised it as "entertaining and philosophically
instructive, an unusual combination."
The book included stories of court cases
that Mr. Nizer had won, including the famous
libel action that the writer Quentin Reynolds,
with Mr. Nizer as his lawyer, brought
successfully against the columnist Westbrook
Pegler. The account of that case served as the
basis of the 1963 Broadway play "A Case of
Another of his books was "Implosion
Conspiracy" (1972), a study of the Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg espionage case. Its publication
prompted the Rosenbergs' two sons to sue him.
Accusations of defamation of character and
invasion of privacy were eventually dismissed in
1977 by the United States Court of Appeals in
Manhattan. A remaining copyright issue was later
settled out of court.
Although Mr. Nizer's courtroom career
spanned more than six decades, he once wrote:
"The excitement has never diminished. Indeed it
has grown. The challenge is ever new. The
contest is ever intense. Surprise is ever
The challenge took many forms. Sometimes
it lay in gaining the exoneration of an
individual like John Henry Faulk, the CBS radio
and television personality. In 1962, Mr. Nizer
won for Mr. Faulk a $3.5 million libel judgment
-- later reduced to $550,000 on appeal -- after
an ultra-conservative publication had linked Mr.
Faulk with a Communist conspiracy. That legal
victory was widely credited with breaking the
back of blacklisting in broadcasting.
Sometimes the challenge lay in working
behind the scenes, advising clients like the
Motion Picture Association of America, which Mr.
Nizer served as general counsel.
He was born in London on Feb. 6, 1902, and
brought to the United States as a child. Early
in his life, as the son of the owner of a
Brooklyn dry-cleaning establishment, he made his
voice and name heard in his noisy new hometown.
As a youth, he won a Government citation for his
patriotic speeches during Liberty Loan drives in
World War I. Fresh out of Columbia College, he
twice won the Curtis Oratorical Prize at
Columbia Law School, from which he graduated in
As a fledgling lawyer in 1925, he talked
his way into the newspapers when he championed
the interests of a group of Brooklyn merchants.
It was in 1926 that he and Mr. Phillips set up a
law partnership, which grew into the prestigious
firm of Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim & Ballon.
A combination of qualities brought Mr.
Nizer his vast success. He was exuberantly
competitive: "I enjoy the clash of ideas," he
once said. On trans-Atlantic voyages in the
1930's, for lack of other realms to conquer, he
passed the time winning shipboard table tennis
He strongly identified with his clients'
interests. He once wrote what he called "A
Lawyer's Prayer," which began: "I would pray, O
Lord, never to diminish my passion for a
client's cause, for from it springs the flame
which leaps across the jury box and sets fire to
the conviction of the jurors."
He was a master at preparing and
presenting legal arguments. He cut an earnest
and authoritative figure, presenting arguments
that were not memorized outright, but planned
meticulously, during long hours at his office.
Much of what he spoke or wrote was
garnished with sweeping declarations that would
resound pleasingly in a high-ceilinged
courtroom, even if they were actually composed,
say, for a modest book review.
"Nowhere is the cupidity and nobility of
man better demonstrated than in the judicial
arena" was the sort of thing he was apt to say.
Mr. Nizer was also a master at bons mots
about people. Presenting Sara Delano Roosevelt,
Franklin D. Roosevelt's mother, at a banquet, he
said: "A beautiful young lady is an act of
nature. A beautiful old lady is a work of art. I
introduce you to a work of art."
He told many tales of the courtroom.
Speaking of his work on divorce cases, he once
said: "I remember one occasion when I was
cross-examining a lady, who was accused of
infidelity, and after close questioning, she
broke down and screamed: 'What you say isn't
true. I have been faithful to my husband dozens
Mr. Nizer's manifold gifts brought him a
staggering variety of clients over the years,
ranging from Igor Cassini to Gov. James A.
Rhodes of Ohio to Occidental Oil to the
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association to 85 percent
of the producers and distributors of copyrighted
film programs used on television.
Much of his legal work involved the film
industry. He was a longtime executive secretary
and lawyer for the New York Film Board of Trade,
and at one time or another, he was retained by
most member companies of the Motion Picture
Association of America.
His last decade and a half of work ranged
from a high-profile libel case, involving a
resort in California, which was settled in the
early 1980's, to a price-controls-violation case
by the United States Government against a unit
of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. Partners of
his said yesterday that he won, last year, the
his aspect of that case.
Mr. Nizer also continued to act as a
mentor to other lawyers in his firm, and he was
a regular contributor to journals on trial
strategy and other aspects of litigation. Last
month's issue of the journal Federal Litigation
Guide Reporter has a lead article by Mr. Nizer
titled "Finding and Selecting the Right Judge."
Not all of his books were well received.
Mr. Nizer's 1966 book "The Jury Returns," about
cases in which he had been involved, and his
1978 work, "Reflections Without Mirrors," were
unloved by critics.
And his 1992 book, "Catspaw," (Carroll &
Graf) was about legal work he did on behalf of a
man who was repeatedly tried for a double murder
that, Mr. Nizer wrote, he did not commit. A
reviewer said he "orates with such abandon that
impatient readers may lose sight of his
In his spare time, Mr. Nizer was an
enthusiastic golfer and painter for years and
was active in a wide variety of community
affairs. He was a friend and supporter of Mayor
Fiorello H. La Guardia and a leader of March of
Dimes, United Jewish Appeal, and Federation of
Jewish Philanthropies campaigns. The honors he
received included a 1957 Yeshiva University
award "for honoring the spiritual and cultural
heritage of Judaism in America."
His other writings included the books "New
Courts of Industry: Self-Regulation Under the
Motion Picture Code" (1935, Ozer); "Thinking on
Your Feet" (1940), about public speaking; "What
to Do With Germany" (1944), and "Between You and
Me" (1948), about jury trials and other
Mr. Nizer married Mildred Mantel Wollins
in 1939; she died last year. He is survived by
two stepchildren, Tony and Terry Wollins, both
of Boca Raton, Fla., and several
step-grandchildren and step-great-grandchilden.
Funeral services are to be held at noon on
Sunday at Frank E. Campbell the Funeral Chapel,
1076 Madison Avenue, at 81st Street.
The obituary also omitted one publisher of
Mr. Nizer's 1992 book, "Catspaw." While the book
was republished by Carroll & Graf which still
has it in print, the original publisher was
Donald I. Fine.
Correction: December 6, 1994, Tuesday An
obituary on Nov. 11 about the lawyer Louis
Nizer referred incorrectly to the prize he
won while a student at Columbia University,
and to the timing. The award is is the
George William Curtis Prize, given for
excellence in the public delivery of English
orations, not the Curtis Oratorical Prize.
He won it twice as an undergraduate at
Columbia, not while he was a law student
Louis Nizer (February 6, 1902 in
- November 10, 1994 in
New York City) was a noted Jewish-American
trial lawyer and senior partner of the law firm Phillips Nizer
Benjamin Krim & Ballon. He represented many celebrities in a variety of
cases, among them
Quentin Reynolds in his successful libel suit against columnist
Westbrook Pegler, and the broadcaster
John Henry Faulk against AWARE, a right-wing organization that had
falsely labeled him a communist.
A graduate of
Columbia College and
Columbia Law School, he wrote several books, among them the
best-selling "My Life In Court" in 1962, about many of his famous cases,
which spent many weeks on the
New York Times bestseller list. He also wrote "The Implosion
Conspiracy" in 1972, a study of the
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage case. He died at the age 92 in
New York City, having continued to work at his firm until 10 days before
His representation of Reynolds served as the basis for the Broadway
play A Case of Libel, which starred
In addition to his legal work, Louis Nizer was an author, artist,
lecturer, and advisor to some of the most powerful people in the worlds
of politics, business, and entertainment. For a number of years, Nizer
was listed in the
Guinness Book of World Records as the "highest-paid lawyer in the
world". In addition to his success in the legal world, he was married to
his wife Mildred for over 50 years. Over his life, Nizer granted
significant grants and charity to many Jewish causes.