Walter Mirisch, who has died aged 101, was one of many few movie producers of the post-Hollywood studio period who had the instinct and the know-how of the outdated moguls of the Thirties and 40s, mixed with the daring and confidence to entrust the films to the artists themselves.
This resulted in a string of movies that gained the approbation of mass audiences and critics alike within the decade following the inspiration of the Mirisch Company (additionally identified variously as Mirisch Manufacturing Firm and Mirisch Movies), the corporate arrange in 1957 by Walter, his brother Marvin and his half-brother Harold.
The corporate rapidly gained a fame for cautious budgeting, high quality of manufacturing and the whole inventive autonomy it gave to film-makers, who included Billy Wilder (Some Like It Scorching, The House), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Nice Escape), John Ford (The Horse Troopers), Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther), Norman Jewison (Within the Warmth of the Evening, The Thomas Crown Affair) and Robert Wise (West Facet Story). Movies underneath the Mirisch Company banner accrued 87 Academy Award nominations and 28 Oscars in all.
Walter’s father, Max, who was born in Kraków, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, emigrated to the US in 1891 as a teen. He ultimately grew to become a tailor in New York, the place his youngsters have been born. Walter and Marvin have been the sons of his second marriage, to Josephine Urbach. Though the household was hit arduous by the Melancholy, Walter managed to take a historical past diploma at College of Wisconsin, then examine at Harvard Enterprise College.
He started his reference to the movie enterprise aged 17 as a administration trainee at one of many chain of Skouras movement image theatres. This meant appearing as an usher more often than not, but it surely did give him the prospect to observe films, amongst them Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), each exemplars of the top quality at which he would later purpose.
After the second world battle, Harold, who was chief movie purchaser for RKO theatres, put his youthful brother in contact with Steve Broidy, basic supervisor of Monogram Footage, the Poverty Row studio. As producer, Mirisch did his greatest to carry the requirements at Monogram, later renamed Allied Artists, however he was solely biding his time.
However, throughout his 12 years within the minor league, he discovered many points of film-making on an environment friendly B-picture stage. Among the many dozens of Monogram photos underneath his watch have been a collection of 12 worthwhile quickie films starring Johnny Sheffield, previously Tarzan’s Boy, Beginning with Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949) and ending with Lord of the Jungle (1955), through which the muscular adolescent hero invariably did battle with some wild animal and villain.
On a a lot increased stage have been the six westerns Mirisch produced for Allied Artists starring a barely over-the-hill Joel McCrea. These included Wichita (1955) and The First Texan (1956), through which McCrea performed Wyatt Earp and Sam Houston respectively. All the things modified when the Mirisch Company began to launch by way of United Artists.
It was the start of an attractive friendship. UA’s relative financial stability allowed Mirisch, as head of manufacturing, larger flexibility on the manufacturing facet. The corporate and the producers got here to a choice on the story, the forged, the director and the finances collectively, after which the producer was given full freedom to make the image. Because the producers additionally owned a share of their films’ earnings, they generally appointed their very own gross sales representatives to assist the distribution.
“To me, good style means good style by way of writing, directing, appearing, scoring, enhancing, and all the opposite phases of the image enterprise,” mentioned Mirisch, who noticed the producer’s position as serving to the collaborative course of to work easily.
The Mirisch Company, hoping to turn out to be pre-eminent as the standard unbiased film-maker, launched Fort Bloodbath (1958) as its first manufacturing. Though a strong rugged western of advantage, shot in CinemaScope and De Luxe Shade, with McCrea at his dependable greatest, it didn’t fairly fulfil their hopes. The breakthrough got here with Some Like It Scorching (1959), which was one among UA’s largest hits. They hit the jackpot once more with The Magnificent Seven (1960), which earned an impressive $7m and West Facet Story (1961), which grossed $11m.
In 1963, a inventory switch gave possession of the Mirisch Firm to UA, although their modus operandi modified little. Whereas the foremost studios have been nonetheless burdened by excessive overheads and salaries, Mirisch was able to supply excessive charges and virtually full management to administrators such because the Canadian Jewison, who responded with three hits in a row for them – The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966), Within the Warmth of the Evening (1967), for which Mirisch obtained the Oscar for greatest image, and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). For Ford’s The Horse Troopers (1959), the Mirisch Firm paid each William Holden and John Wayne $750,000, plus 20% of the earnings.
In his 2008 memoir, I Thought We Had been Making Motion pictures, Not Historical past, Mirisch associated some revealing anecdotes about a number of the administrators and stars he labored with. Among the many few film-makers with whom he fell out was John Huston.
Initially, Mirisch vetoed the director’s want to make use of his daughter Anjelica as his main woman reverse John Harm within the movie Sinful Davey (1969). Then, after preliminary previews have been disastrous, the movie was recut in opposition to Huston’s will. Regardless of, or due to, the re-editing, overseen by Mirisch, Sinful Davey stays one of many firm’s and Huston’s largest flops. Mirisch additionally remembered, with out malice, his issues with Peter Sellers on the Pink Panther movies, and the manufacturing difficulties on Hawaii (1966), which by no means earned again the $15m spent on it, although it gained seven Academy Award nominations.
The Mirisch contact tended to be much less assured within the 70s, although there have been hits similar to Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Battle of Halfway (1976) and Dracula (1979). Within the Eighties, the corporate moved virtually solely into tv. Among the many TV collection on which Mirisch was government producer was a derivative from one among his biggest previous successes, The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000) and in 2016, he government produced the movie remake.
In 1977, Mirisch, who served 4 phrases because the president of the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, and three phrases as president of the Producers Guild of America, obtained the academy’s Irving G Thalberg memorial award, and, in 1982, its Jean Hersholt humanitarian award.
He’s survived by a daughter, Anne, and two sons, Andrew and Lawrence, from his marriage to Patricia Kahan, whom he married in 1947, and who died in 2005, and by a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.
Walter Mortimer Mirisch, movie producer, born 8 November 1921; died 24 February 2023