Dino De Laurentiis, the flamboyant Italian movie producer who helped resurrect his nation’s film industry after World War II and for more than six decades produced films as diverse as the 1954 Federico Fellini classic “La Strada” and the 1976 remake of “King Kong,” has died. He was 91.
De Laurentiis, who moved to the United States in the 1970s and continued to produce films until 2007, died Wednesday night at his Beverly Hills home, his daughter Raffaella De Laurentiis, said in a statement Thursday. The cause was not given.
Once described by Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein as “a master showman, the last survivor of a bygone era of swashbuckling Hollywood producers … who made movies fueled by grandiose schemes and consummate salesmanship,” De Laurentiis launched his long career as a producer in Italy in the 1940s.
In the 1950s, he produced two Oscar-winning best foreign films — Fellini’s “La Strada” (with then-partner Carlo Ponti) and Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” (1957).
During the De Laurentiis-Ponti partnership in the ’50s, they launched into foreign film production in Italy, producing director Mario Camerini’s “Ulysses,” starring Kirk Douglas, Silvana Mangano and Anthony Quinn; and King Vidor’s “War and Peace,” starring Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer.
As film producers in Italy after World War II, “De Laurentiis and Ponti in particular took the function of producer, which had never been highly regarded in European cinema before this, and raised it to a higher level,” said USC film professor Rick Jewell.
De Laurentiis, Jewell told The Times in 2007, “was involved with some very important films at that time. Those films didn’t just help resurrect the Italian film industry but brought attention to the Italian film industry that it had never done before.”
While mentioning De Laurentiis-produced films by Italian directors such as Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, Jewell said that De Laurentiis also “got involved in foreign productions in Italy at a time when Hollywood in particular was looking to make films overseas for various reasons, and he jumped on that with films like ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Ulysses.’ ”
In 1962, the prolific producer began building a sprawling studio complex on the outskirts of Rome that he called Dinocitta — Dino City.
During the 1960s — he is credited with pioneering the now-common practice of financing films by pre-selling the distribution rights in foreign countries — De Laurentiis produced films such as director Richard Fleischer’s “Barabbas,” starring Anthony Quinn; John Huston’s star-studded “The Bible”; and Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella,” starring Jane Fonda.
His company also produced Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.”
After selling his studio and moving to the United States in the 1970s, De Laurentiis produced films such as “Serpico,” “Death Wish,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The Serpent’s Egg,” “Ragtime” and “Conan the Barbarian.”
But De Laurentiis’ name also became synonymous with expensive box-office failures such as “Dune,” “Tai-Pan” and “King Kong Lives.”
Veteran Associated Press Hollywood reporter Bob Thomas once summed up De Laurentiis’ varied output as “high-brow and low-brow, huge moneymakers and expensive flops.”
Hit or miss, in an industry in which directors are deified, De Laurentiis had no doubt as to where he stood in the cinematic scheme of things.
“If no producer, no movie,” he growled in a 2002 interview with Canada’s The Globe and Mail.
By 1985, De Laurentiis was running a 32-acre movie studio in Wilmington, N.C. The same year, he acquired Embassy Pictures and formed the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), a distribution and production company.
Among the films produced under the DEG banner was avant-garde director David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” which was a critical hit but a disappointment at the box office.
After producing what one analyst called “too many high-priced films, which had minimal commercial value,” De Laurentiis stepped down as chairman in February 1988, and six months later his company was forced to file for bankruptcy.