Alan Ladd Jr., who greenlit Star Wars, dies


Alan Ladd Jr., an Oscar-winning producer and former studio executive best known for greenlighting George Lucas’ seminal blockbuster Star Wars as a top executive at 20th Century Fox in the 1970s, is in his Angel died at home in Los Angeles.

Ladd died early Wednesday, wrote daughter Amanda Ladd-Jones, who directed the documentary Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies The film’s Facebook page. He was 84. No reason was given.

Once described as “one of Hollywood’s favorite sons,” Ladd was the namesake of Alan Ladd, legendary star of the 1953 western classic Shane.

Shy and laconic, Ladd Laddie, as he was known, was one of Hollywood’s most likable and respected film executives and producers.

Ladd, a former talent agent who became an independent producer in London in the late 1960s, was appointed vice president of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox in 1973. Three years later he was appointed president of Fox’s feature film division.

Ladd was reportedly so excited at the studio to see an early, bootleg printing of “American Graffiti,” the 1973 Universal Pictures release directed by Lucas, that he jumped at the opportunity to shoot the boy’s next film filmmaker: “Star Wars. ”

“Laddie believed in me when no one else did and banked on a young kid with a crazy idea for a sci-fi adventure — something that wasn’t exactly marketable at the time,” Lucas told Variety in 2007.

Recalling his meeting with Lucas in a 2008 interview with the Montreal Gazette, Ladd said, “He was talking about distant galaxies and sand people and special effects, and honestly I had no idea what on earth he was talking about. … But I was just hoping he knew what he was talking about.”

Released in 1977, Star Wars became an overnight cultural phenomenon and one of the highest grossing films in history.

“My biggest contribution to ‘Star Wars’ was shutting up and standing next to the picture,” Ladd told Variety, recalling ignoring a research paper that said, “Worst words for a title are ‘star’ and ‘war’.’”

During Ladd’s tenure as Fox president, the studio released hits like “Alien,” “Julia,” “The Turning Point,” and “An Unmarried Woman” — as well as bombshells like “At Long Last Love” and “The Blue Bird.” .”

“With his own personal taste and style,” Ladd “has dominated the studio since 1976 like no other film company executive in recent history,” says a 1979 Times story.

That year, Ladd and the two executive producers under him – Jay Kanter and Gareth Wigan – left Fox and formed the Ladd Co., an independent production company funded by Warner Communications Inc.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore at Fox [Chairman and Chief Executive] Dennis Stanfill and his corporate “management by objectives” crap,” Ladd recalled.

In the early 1980’s, the Ladd Co. produced such films as Body Heat, The Right Stuff, Blade Runner, Night Shift, and Police Academy. And in partnership with Warner Bros., it earned North American distribution rights to Chariots of Fire, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

But in 1984, after a series of commercial failures, including the high-budget film The Right Stuff, Warner Bros. terminated its contract to finance and distribute the Ladd Co. films.

In 1985, Ladd was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of MGM/UA Entertainment Co.; a year later he became chief executive and chairman of the board of directors of the company.

He later served as Chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, President and CEO of Pathé Entertainment, and Chairman and CEO of MGM-Pathé Communications before re-establishing Ladd Co. in 1993.

Early on, the reserved Ladd gained a reputation for easy-going leadership and a penchant for risk-taking.

“He had a wonderful flair for commercial films as well as those that aren’t commercial but had a place in the market,” said longtime collaborator Jay Kanter in 2007. “And he treated everyone on a very equal basis, with no hierarchy . You could go to his office anytime.”

“In the business of the fast talker,” says a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, “Ladd is legendary for his restraint.”

As reported by The Times, one executive recalled a meeting where Ladd communicated using only hand signals. And another executive said Ladd once responded to a lengthy film presentation by simply saying “no.”

In fact, one top Hollywood dealmaker called him “the least dynamic person I’ve ever met.”

However, the story goes that Ladd offered unquestionable loyalty, and it quotes an associate as saying, “I’d rather not die for Alan Ladd, but I’d happily kill for him.”

When Ladd accepted an Oscar in 1996 as one of the three producers of Best Picture winner Braveheart, his words were characteristically short: “I want to thank my family. Thanks.”

What Richard Donner, a director who started Ladd, joked to The Times: “I’ve never heard Laddie say so many words in my life.

“Really, I wanted to choke him. Ninety-seven percent of the people in this audience know Laddie and love him. I think a lot of us wanted him to stand up there a moment longer and let us applaud him for finally getting something he deserves.

“There are snakes in this business, and then there’s Alan Ladd Jr.”

He was born Alan Walbridge Ladd Jr. on October 22, 1937. His parents divorced when he was 2 years old and his father reportedly spent little time with him.

“I wasn’t a celebrity kid,” Ladd told Variety in 2007. “I was a Valley kid.”

After his divorce, Ladd Sr. married his agent Sue Carol and started a second family. According to a 1990 Times story, Laddie was a teenager before living on his father’s estate in Holmby Hills.

Despite growing up among Hollywood’s top stars and spending a lot of time in the cinema, Ladd told The Times in 1996 that he never wanted to be an actor.

“Their life was like a prison,” he said. “There weren’t any TV stars back then, so movie stars were even bigger. They had nowhere to go.”

In 1963, after a stint in the Air Force and a brief stint in his stepfather’s business, Ladd became an agent with Creative Management Associates. His boss was the renowned agent Freddie Fields, and his clients included Robert Redford and Judy Garland.

“Judy Garland wasn’t a walk in the park, I can tell you that,” Ladd said. “A little crazy. She called 24/7 and said, ‘I cut my wrists, you better come over here.’ It just wasn’t easy.”

He said he “kinda got into producing” in the late 1960s.

“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “You just have to be moderately intelligent and get along with people. And remember, in the end it’s the director’s ball game. He is the leader.”

Even his “pathetically shy and quiet nature” worked to his advantage. “I listen and observe,” he said, “and don’t try to be the man of the moment.”

McLellan is a former Times staffer. Alan Ladd Jr., who greenlit Star Wars, dies

Caroline Bleakley

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