Longtime producer Stuart Cornfeld, 67, died June 26 of cancer, but left a mark on Hollywood with collaborations with iconic directors and a run of hit movies dating back to 1980.
As a film student at the AFI Conservatory in the 1970s he worked with Anne Bancroft, who went on to introduce him to Mel Brooks. Cornfeld was an assistant on Brooks’ 1977 comedy “High Anxiety,” and the two men teamed as executive producers on David Lynch’s 1980 “The Elephant Man.”
Cornfeld went on to produce David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” which put the Canadian body-horror master on the map. Cornfeld also produced Steven Soderbergh’s “Kafka,” the young filmmaker’s first movie after the 1989 indie sensation “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” and the Vince Gilligan-scripted “Wilder Napalm.”
But Cornfeld’s closest collaboration was with filmmaker and actor Ben Stiller, with whom he launched Red Hour Productions and turned out a string of hit comedies including “Zoolander,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Dodgeball,” “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny,” “Blades of Glory,” and “Tropic Thunder.” In the 2010s, Cornfeld turned to indies and television, including Richard Ayoade’s cult hit “Submarine” and the reality-TV-skewering web series “Burning Love.”
“I love Stuart Cornfeld,” David Lynch told IndieWire. “Stuart was the one who introduced me to ‘The Elephant Man,’ which led to Mel Brooks giving me the chance to direct this film. Stuart, bless his heart, always believed in me and supported me. He was a true friend. He liked to take me to lunch — he took me to lunch many times. I turned Stuart on to Transcendental Meditation and he loved this meditation — through the years he always thanked me for telling him about it. Stuart was great to talk with — easy, fun, great insights, many laughs. I picture Stuart most likely laughing at the whole thing right now.”
“Better Call Saul” executive producer Mark Johnson, who first worked with Cornfeld on “High Anxiety,” told IndieWire that It’s hard to imagine a world without Cornfeld.
“All of us knew that he had a terminal illness, but you’re never prepared,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be without Stuart in the world. It’s almost impossible to describe. He was a force of humor, of passion. He was on the forefront of independent filmmaking, [but also] just plain good filmmaking. In an effort to hang out with the cool people, he overlooked the fact that he was the coolest one in the room.”
Johnson also revealed that Spanish painter Joan Bofill is at work on a documentary about Cornfeld, which the producer said is “remarkable because of who Stuart was.”
“Many things in this business — and in this life — will disappoint you. Stuart never did,” filmmaker Howard Franklin said.
“When I was a young struggling screenwriter, he literally gave me the shirt off his back,” “The English Teacher” screenwriter Dan Chariton told IndieWire. “And then half a dozen more, on the condition that I keep them dry cleaned in case I ever wanted to return them.”
“Stuart passed gently without added drama or chaos,” Johanna Went, performance artist and Cornfeld’s ex-wife, said. “I believe he experienced a good death if there can be such a thing. He was aware that his cancer was a runaway train. He did say, in that joking way he had, ‘This is the only trip I can take right now.’ He was at peace with dying and had clarity and presence.
A really great person left the planet today. Stuart Cornfeld was as funny, smart, talented & cool as a person gets. He was my friend, producing partner, and creative confidant. He knew movies, made movies and loved movies. World=less better without him. IMDB him. He was the best. pic.twitter.com/sOx85UvxC4
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) June 27, 2020
RIP to the great producer Stuart Cornfeld, one of the nicest guys in film. We never worked together, but he was always so kind to me & always full of amazing stories. As well as his epic run of comedies with Ben Stiller, he produced Kafka, The Fly & The Elephant Man. A true gent. pic.twitter.com/QpimWxy9Eo
— edgarwright (@edgarwright) June 27, 2020
Stuart Cornfeld was one of the most unique, hilarious and lovely guys I’ve ever met. Everyone should be lucky to have someone like him in your corner. From The Elephant Man to Zoolander and so many in between. He will be missed. RIP pic.twitter.com/c6kgKMfQ8V
— Paul Scheer (@paulscheer) June 27, 2020
Stuart had confidence in me when there was no sane reason to. He gave me my first studio writing job, my first production experience, so much else. He was my rabbi, friend, comrade. He has lived in my head, indelibly, for decades. And always will. https://t.co/RkuaoO2pmB
— Howard A. Rodman (@howardrodman) June 27, 2020
Stuart Cornfeld was a genius, mensch, and repository of the weirdest and most fascinating Hollywood stories I’ve ever heard. This news is devastating. https://t.co/zsEFY2MIci
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 27, 2020
RIP Stuart Cornfeld. Made a lot of great movies but, more importantly, one of the most genuine people in Hollywood. Funny, smart, made of stories, Stuart was the guy you ran to wherever you saw him. “This party sucks. Wait, Stuart’s here. This party is awesome.” I’ll miss him.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) June 27, 2020
I love Stuart Cornfeld. He believed in me more than I believed in myself and he had the best stories and jokes. https://t.co/tWLbO8nFG9
— Emily V Gordon (@emilyvgordon) June 26, 2020
Anne Thompson contributed reporting.