NEW YORK — Alan Ladd Jr., the Oscar-winning producer and studio head who, as executive of 20th Century Fox, lit up “Star Wars,” has died. He was 84 years old.
Ladd died Wednesday, his daughter Amanda Ladd-Jones, who directed the documentary “Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies,” wrote in a Facebook post. No cause of death was given.
Ladd Jr., the son of “Shane” star Alan Ladd, started out in the film industry as his father’s stuntman but went on to become one of its most important and beloved executives. As studio head at Fox and MGM (twice), Ladd – affectionately known as ‘Laddie’ – was involved in some 14 Best Picture nominees, including ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974), ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “Blade Runner” (1982). As an independent producer, Ladd Jr. helped direct films such as “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), “The Right Stuff” (1983) “Gone, Baby Gone” (2007) and ” Braveheart” by Mel Gibson (1995), for which he won Best Picture.
Altogether, Ladd-produced or green-lit films that have won more than 50 Oscars and 150 nominations. And he did it with a laid-back, understated manner that made him widely admired by stars and filmmakers alike. Esquire magazine put it on the cover in 1978 with the title: “Triumph of the Laid-Back Style”.
A former talent agent for stars like Robert Redford and Judy Garland, Ladd Jr. joined 20th Century Fox in 1973 and later became president. There he lit George Lucas’ $10 million sci-fi film – the original screenplay was titled ‘The Adventures of Luke Starkiller from the Whills’ Journal, Saga 1, Star Wars’ – when few in Hollywood there saw potential. .
Lucas once recalled meeting Ladd, whose faith in the filmmaker began with an early screening of Lucas’ “American Graffiti” before its release.
“The only reason it started was because Alan liked ‘American Graffiti’ and said, ‘I don’t get this movie, I don’t get it at all, but I think you’re a talented guy and I want to you to do it,” Lucas said in Tom Shone’s 2004 book “Blockbuster.”
Even when studio confidence wavered on “Star Wars,” Ladd remained confident in what would become one of the highest-grossing films ever made. His only wrong move may have been to grant Lucas the marketing rights rather than a raise when “American Graffiti” became a hit.
“My biggest contribution to ‘Star Wars’ was shutting up and staying true to the image,” Ladd told Variety.
“Star Wars” wasn’t the only Ladd-lit classic sci-fi movie at Fox. Ladd also backed “Alien”. But the same year as the 1979 film opened, after a run-in with Fox chairman Dennis Stanfill, Ladd left to form the independent production company Ladd Co.
Alone, Ladd produced, alongside “The Right Stuff” and “Blade Runner”, films like “Body Heat” and “Police Academy”.
But Ladd Co., weighed down by a few disappointments and hefty budgets for movies like “The Right Stuff,” struggled to make a profit. In the mid-1980s, Ladd moved to MGM, which he would eventually manage. His two stints at the studio were less successful than his stint at Fox, but films he made there included “Moonstruck” (1987), “Rain Man” (1988) “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) and “Thelma & Louise” (1991).
When a default put MGM in the hands of Credit Lyonnais, the French bank acrimoniously ousted Ladd, who was eventually awarded $10 million to breach his contract and two projects to take with him. He chose “Braveheart”.
When ‘Braveheart’ won Best Picture, some saw it as the much admired Ladd – Richard Donner once said ‘There are snakes in this business and then there’s Alan Ladd’ – getting the last to laugh.
“I guess it’s kind of sweet justice,” Ladd told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. “If I was more eloquent, I would have thanked Credit Lyonnais for treating me badly and allowed to take this project with me. In all honesty, MGM could not have afforded to make this film at the time. Paramount could.
Ladd was never known for his talkativeness, however. When he, as one of the three producers, accepted the Oscar, his whole speech was, “I would like to thank my family. Thank you.”
Ladd is survived by his wife, Cindra Pincock; children Kelliann, Tracy and Amanda; half-brother, David Ladd; half-sister, Alana Ladd; and his half-sister Carol Lee Stuart-Ladd.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP