In an industry that’s still sadly male-skewed, as far as executives, producers, screenwriters and directors go, it would take quite a fight for a female producer to be behind a classic conspiracy thriller, or one of the biggest romantic-comedies of all time, or a billion-dollar superhero franchise, or the Academy Awards, or a series of giant charity telethons, or become the head of a major studio sub-division. Laura Ziskin did all of this, and we’re sad to report that the producer and executive passed away yesterday, at the age of 61.
The California-born Ziskin started out as an assistant to “Batman” producer Jon Peters, becoming a development assistant on his Barbra Streisand-starring remake of “A Star Is Born,” among many others. In 1984, she set up Fogwood Films with freshly-minted double Oscar winner Sally Field, landing her first solo producer credit on the romantic comedy “Murphy’s Romance.” Ziskin swiftly branched out on her own, producing the excellent Kevin Costner espionage thriller “No Way Out,” the Dennis Quaid neo noir “D.O.A” and the Taylor Hackford football drama “Everybody’s All-American” in quick succession.
The 1990s got off to a huge start, with Ziskin serving as executive-producer on the giant Julia Roberts/Richard Gere comedy “Pretty Woman,” still one of the biggest hits in the genre. She produced the William Hurt medical drama “The Doctor,” and came up with the stories for both the Bill Murray comedy classic “What About Bob?” and Stephen Frears‘ undervalued “Hero,” also producing both films, rounding off 1995 with one of the best films of her career, Gus Van Sant‘s dark comedy “To Die For.”
Around that time, she was appointed President of Fox 2000, a new subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, backing the likes of “Courage Under Fire,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Fight Club,” “Never Been Kissed” and “Lake Placid,” as well as executive producing the Oscar-winner “As Good As It Gets” for Columbia in 1997. She left Fox in 1999, and swiftly found a production deal at Columbia, being given what they hoped would be their biggest new franchise, the adaptation of Marvel‘s “Spider-Man.” Ziskin knocked it out of the park, the three films to date grossing $2.4 billion, becoming the studio’s golden goose — she remained on board for the development of next year’s reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which will be one of her last films to go into production (others in development include the Lee Daniels/Denzel Washington drama “The Butler,” an adaptation of hit stage play “Enron” and a remake of German existential thriller “The Robber” with Andrew Garfield). Ziskin was also the first woman to produce the Academy Awards, in 2002, and again in 2007.
Sadly, Ziskin was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2004, but fought valiantly for seven years, and co-founded the charity Stand Up To Cancer, which staged two massive telethons, in 2008 and 2009. She passed away at home yesterday, and is survived by her husband Alvin Sargent, the screenwriter, who worked with his wife on the screenplays for the last three “Spider-Man” pictures. You can donate to Stand Up 2 Cancer at their official site right now. [Deadline]