There are some filmmakers whose careers are Hollywood history lessons in and of themselves, Roger Corman comes to mind, David O. Selznick… the kind of mega-producers that traditionally get lumped in with the different “golden ages” of cinema. Dino De Laurentiis is one such producer whose career spans an even wider range of time, and includes a much greater latitude of quality across his 500 films.
Associated with everything from Neo-Realist films in the 40s, European copycat films in the 60’s, and then some of the biggest American tentpoles from the 70s onward, no one had a weirder resume than De Laurentiis. He worked with filmmakers like Fellini, Rossellini, Bergman, Lumet, Lynch, Milius, and Raimi, author’s like Stephen King and Thomas Harris, and accumulated 35 Oscar nominations.
While his career started illustriously, it was filled with plenty of box office bombs, and smash-hits of dubious quality. One of De Laurentiis’ most famous pieces was the 70s remake of King Kong, which was actually as controversial and combative a production as there has ever been. A massive fight over the rights broke out as Universal and Paramount set-up dueling productions, and then when De Laurentiis and Paramount won and made their film, it was done with such a huge budget that it was questioned if the thing could even break even, much less be a success. The blockbuster producer made the right call on that project, even if he would not be so lucky with others.
Ironically enough, after producing the 1986 Harris-adaptation Manhunter, Some of De Laurentiis’ final work was pulling together the multiple Silence of the Lambs sequels and prequels, which Laurentiis jumped onto after having passed on the 1992 Best Picture winner. De Laurentiis was active in Hollywood up until just a few years ago, and was 91 when he passed yesterday in California with his family, including his daughter and Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis,
If you’d like to go way back, you can read the Feb 1976 NY Magazine article below from which the above pictures was taken- it tells a story of an old-school, scrappy producer tackling a big studio in search of a hit. You’ll certainly be able to read dozens of other profiles and retrospectives over the next week as well, as Dino De Laurentiis was a true legend.