From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Raised in Winnetka, Illinois, on the North Shore of Chicago, Byrum studied at New York University in the late 1960's. His instructors included Haig P. Manoogian and graduate student Martin Scorsese,and classmates Oliver Stone and Eric Jenkins. At NYU he co-wrote "Item 72-D, The Adventures of Spa and Fon" with director Edward Summer.
As a student, Byrum interned with Jim Henson on early appearances of The Muppets and was eventually hired by Henson as one of the original writers of Sesame Street. Henson took an interest in Byrum's talent and hired him to write a full-length motion picture and helped him find an agent in Hollywood. Hollywood took notice of Byrum's original script Inserts and he was tapped to write the script Harry & Walter Go To New York by producers and mentors Don Devlin, Tony Bill, and Harry GIttes. After that script was sold for a record-breaking amount, Byrum was hired to wite the Diana Ross vehicle Mohogany, passing on the chance to write the script for "Jaws" in order to work on "Mahogany" with one of his idols, director Tony Richardson, only to have Richardson leave the film mid-production after clashing with producer Berry Gordy of Motown fame. Berry took over directing chores and it is said that the true drama of Mahogany was the behind-the-camera relationships between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross. Byrum directed his first feature film Inserts with stars Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Veronica Cartwright, Stephen Davies, and Bob Hoskins. Among Byrum's other produced films that he wrote and directed are his paen to 50's-era Beat love story Heart Beat starring Nick Nolte, John Heard, and Sissy Spacek, and the 1984 film based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel The Razor's Edge starring Bill Murray, Catherine Hicks, Theresa Russell, and James Keach. After the box office failure of The Razor's Edge, financially-strapped Byrum directed the goofy comedy The Whoopee Boys starring Michael O'Keefe and Paul Rodriguez, as well as a cameo part by former wife Linda Fiorentino. Byrum created, wrote and produced several television series including Middle Ages starring Peter Riegert, Michael O'Keefe, Amy Brenneman, and William Russ, and South of Sunset starring Glenn Frey of The Eagles fame, and Winnetka Road starring Ed Begley, Jr., Meg Tilly, and Josh Brolin. Byrum's television movie Murder in High Places starred Ted Levine as a Hunter Thompson-like character who is elected mayor of a Colorado ski resort. Co-stars included Jamey Sheridan, Judith Hoag, Adam Baldwin, and newcomer Lisa Kudrow. Byrum was scheduled to direct his original script of (karaoke road trip dramedy) "Duets" when he was felled by a serious case of Lyme Disease that had gone long undiagnosed. Byrum showed his script to his friend Bruce Paltrow who wanted to direct "Duets" with his daughter Gwyneth Paltrow as one of the six ensemble characters. Brad Pitt was attached to co-star with Paltrow, his fiancee at the time, but when their engagement ended, the film's financing faltered once again. "Duets" was filmed several years later with Scott Speedman in the role originally chosen by Pitt, along with Paul Giamatti, Maria Bello, Andre Braugher, and Huey Lewis. John Byrum resides in California and Connecticut with his wife Karin Reznack.