Few people have held as much sway over the evolution and variety of movies as he has. Few people have careers that have lasted as long as his. The legendary Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis died in Los Angeles this week—he was 91. He began the business of moviemaking at age 20.
De Laurentiis was always an independent; he never associated himself with one studio in particular, preferring to be the decider. No less than six hundred films and two Oscar wins appear on his resume– one for Federico Fellini’s “La Strada” and another for “War and Peace.” In the 70s De Laurentiis moved to Los Angeles from Italy and started producing here, “Serpico” (1973) and “Three days of the condor,” most notably. De Laurentiis sometimes took huge risks. The book on which “Serpico” was based was not even halfway through being written when the producer plunked down the equivalent of five million dollars for the time for the rights to the story. The film ended up being a critical and commercial success.
What distinguished him was his unusually eclectic tastes in the films he produced, which ranged from the earlier-mentioned “La Strada” to “King Kong” and “Conan the Barbarian.” And yes, he launched the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
De Laurentiis truly walked the walk of the independent producer. He put up his own money—to the tune of ten million dollars—for the rights to “Hannibal,” to which Julianne Moore was eventually attached after Jodie Foster turned down the role.
De Laurentiis’s early days in a small italian village near Naples could be said to be portentous of his choice of a career. In interviews he described his teenaged years as, “there was nothing to do but go to the movies with my friends. The cinema could take me to a faraway place and I had always been infatuated with it from a very young age” (Movie moguls speak, by Steven Priggé). A few years ago, De Laurentiis was invited to give a talk at Columbia University. I reached out to Columbia professor, New York indie producer and managing partner of Emerging Pictures Ira Deutchman for his thoughts on the staunchly self-reliant Italian mogul. He told me, “… the man was one of those larger-than-life characters who have always led the way in Hollywood. He had his own unique brand of filmmaking, and never thought of an idea that wasn’t big.”