Gittes attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst before starting his career as an advertising copywriter and photographer in New York. In the ’60s, he began shooting album covers for the likes of Woody Allen and Cass Elliot at the Bitter End, New York’s oldest rock club. Gittes also photographed then-up-and-comers including Nicholson, Elliott Gould, and Liza Minnelli.
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He became friends with producer Roy Silver, who eventually sparked Gittes’ future as a film producer. Together, they produced the 1969 pilot of the animated special “Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert.”
Gittes also cultivated a friendship with Nicholson, and produced several projects with the actor-director, including “Goin’ South,” “Drive, He Said,” and “About Schmidt.” Nicholson’s character in 1974 classic “Chinatown,” private investigator J.J. Gittes, was named after the producer.