Alan Ladd Jr., R.I.P.


Studio Executive and Producer Alad Ladd, Jr., the son of screen icon Alad Ladd, has died. He was eighty-four.

Alan Ladd Jr., ‘Star Wars’ Savior and Oscar Winner for ‘Braveheart,’ Dies at 84
A longtime studio exec and son of a movie icon, he also had a hand in such films as 'Blade Runner,' 'The Turning Point,' 'Alien' and 'Thelma & Louise'

The Hollywood Reporter
By Mark Barnes, March 2, 2022

Alan Ladd Jr., the revered Hollywood producer and studio executive who saved Star Wars when Fox wanted to shut down production and gained vindication when he received an Oscar for Braveheart after being dumped by MGM, has died. He was 84. Ladd, who headed production at Fox, Pathe Entertainment, and MGM (in two stints) and ran his own outfit, The Ladd Company, with great success, died Wednesday, his daughter Amanda Ladd-Jones said.

“With the heaviest of hearts, we announce that on March 2, 2022, Alan Ladd, Jr. died peacefully at home surrounded by his family,” she wrote on social media. “Words cannot express how deeply he will be missed. His impact on films and filmmaking will live on in his absence.”

As a studio executive and producer, Ladd — the son of screen idol Alan Ladd (This Gun for Hire, Shane) — had a hand in 14 Best Picture nominees. His imprint can be found on such touchstone films as Young Frankenstein (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Omen (1976), Breaking Away (1979), Body Heat (1981), Chariots of Fire (1981), Blade Runner (1982) and Moonstruck (1987).

Before it was fashionable, Ladd supported films with strong female-centric themes, including Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977); Julia (1977), starring Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave; 11-time Academy Award nominee The Turning Point (1977); Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), starring Jill Clayburgh; Norma Rae (1979), which earned Sally Field an Oscar for best actress; and the Bette Midler-starring The Rose (1979). Ladd upped the ante by making a woman the main protagonist in a big-budget action film with Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), starring Sigourney Weaver, and he greenlighted Scott's Thelma & Louise (1991), the icon of feminist cinema toplined by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.

An exception to the stereotypical studio chief or producer who could be vulgar or duplicitous, Ladd was genial and soft-spoken, affectionately called “Laddie” by his peers and known for making tasteful yet commercial pictures. “There are snakes in this business, and then there’s Alan Ladd Jr.,” director Richard Donner once said. In 2011, Ladd and Warner Bros. settled a long-running suit in which he claimed the studio had underpaid his company millions of dollars in profits from a slate of films including Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, and the Police Academy movies.

Ladd was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 1937, and practically grew up on the Paramount and Fox lots in Hollywood. While his father was starring in pictures, he romped around the soundstages during his school vacation days, meeting up with his father in the evenings after shooting. Ladd lived with his mother after his parents divorced, but she was in poor health, and he returned to his father, who died from an accidental overdose of sedatives and alcohol in 1964, when Ladd Jr. was 26. The son once called their relationship “basically nonexistent.”

As a boy in Beverly Hills, he took a job as a movie usher so that he could see Errol Flynn pictures five and six times. He developed his “Saturday Matinee Rule of Thumb,” which included three musts: root for the hero, boo the bad guy, and keep a fast pace. Upon high school graduation, he studied abroad for a year and a half with a tutor while his father was working in Europe. He returned to Los Angeles and enrolled at USC, where he played football and basketball.

Ladd began his movie industry career as a stuntman on his father’s films Santiago (1956) and The Deep Six (1958). In the early 1960s, Ladd joined Creative Management Associates as a talent agent, repping the likes of Judy Garland, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty. He turned to independent production six years later and moved to London, where he produced nine films (including 1972’s Elizabeth Taylor starrer X, Y, and Zee). Ladd returned to Los Angeles in 1973 to become head of creative affairs for Fox and quickly rose to become studio president.

During his tenure, Fox produced some of its most successful films, including Star Wars (1977), which he optioned after Universal rejected it. He championed George Lucas’ movie against the wishes of his board of directors, and the film became one of the most profitable in history. “The only meeting I had with Laddie about the script, he said, ‘Look, it doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but I trust you. Go ahead and make it.’ That was just honest,” Lucas once said. “I mean, it was a crazy movie. Now you can see it, know what it is, but before you could see it, there wasn’t anything like it. You couldn’t explain it. You know, was like this furry dog driving a spaceship. I mean, what is that?”

When Lucas’ previous movie American Graffiti became a hit, the director’s agent, Jeff Berg, asked Fox to increase his Star Wars fees by a few hundred thousand dollars. Lucas offered to take sequel rights instead, and when he got those, he traded them for merchandising rights. “When that deal came up,” Ladd told The Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday in 2018, “I said fine. At the time, merchandising meant nothing at all. Jaws had some sharks but that was it. So we said, ‘Let’s give him the merchandising and let’s not give him a raise.'”

On Wednesday, Lucas paid tribute to Ladd, telling THR in a statement, “Laddie loved film and believed in filmmakers. He was one of the few executives who bet on the person rather than the project. Without Laddie there would be no Star Wars. He didn’t understand what Star Wars was about, but he believed in me and supported my vision. Quiet and thoughtful, he had an independent spirit that gave so many storytellers a chance. He stood up to the studios and went with his gut instinct. Laddie took a great personal and professional risk on Star Wars, and on me, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Under his low-key guidance, Fox was adventurous and known as the place for filmmakers. Altman, for example, turned out 3 Women (1977), A Wedding (1978), Quintet (1979), A Perfect Couple (1979) and HealtH (1980) there.

With Ladd at the studio controls, Hollywood had its first female vice president, Paula Weinstein, and its first African-American marketing chief, Ashley Boone Jr. Ladd was also a cutting-edge executive in terms of distribution, pioneering the select-site release pattern. Ladd resigned from Fox in 1979 out of frustration with the stifling corporate strictures of chairman Dennis Stanfill, a former investment banker with Lehman Brothers. He formed The Ladd Co., based at Warner Bros., along with Fox associates Jay Kanter and Gareth Wigan. The company went on to produce Body Heat, Night Shift (1982), The Right Stuff (1983) and Police Academy (1984) and picked up domestic distribution rights to eventual best picture winner Chariots of Fire.

With The Ladd Co. in financial trouble (The Right Stuff was a high-cost failure at the box office), he shuttered the company and joined MGM/UA in 1983, where he invigorated the studio with such successes as Spaceballs (1987), Moonstruck (1987), Willow (1988), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Rain Man (1988). He moved to Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti’s Pathe Entertainment, where he oversaw the production of such films as The Russia House (1990), then returned for a second MGM stint in 1991 after Pathe bought the studio from Kirk Kerkorian in a deal valued at $1.36 billion.

After Parretti defaulted on more than $1 billion in loan payments, French bank Credit Lyonnais inherited MGM and ousted Ladd in favor of Frank Mancuso in July 1993. When Ladd threatened to file a breach-of-contract lawsuit, he was given $10 million and allowed to take with him two projects, one of which was Braveheart. Ladd re-established The Ladd Co. through a production deal with Paramount, and Braveheart earned five Oscars, including those for Ladd and director Mel Gibson, who also starred as Scottish folk hero William Wallace. Braveheart represented sweet payback for Ladd. “I guess it is kind of a sweet justice,” he told the Los Angeles Times after the 1996 Oscars. “If I were more eloquent, I would have thanked Credit Lyonnais for treating me shabbily and allowing me to take this project with me. In fairness, MGM couldn’t have afforded to make this film at the time. Paramount could.”

“Laddie got the last laugh,” producer and close friend Richard Zanuck had told the Times. “This was a great vindication. And I, like a lot of other people in this town who love him, were absolutely thrilled to see him win.” The Ladd Co. also produced The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), A Very Brady Sequel (1996) and The Phantom (1996) at Paramount, and his recent producing efforts included An Unfinished Life (2005) and Gone Baby Gone (2007).

Survivors include his second wife, Cindra, whom he married in 1985, daughters Kelliann, Tracy and Amanda, who directed and produced a 2021 documentary about her dad titled Laddie; and brother David. Another daughter, Chelsea, 34, died in March 2021.
"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

Knew about him for a long time, especially after his championing of Star Wars. One of the few execs that I constantly paid attention to. Godspeed, Laddie.
"Miss Jean Louise, Mr. Arthur Radley."