The colorful and controversial De Laurentiis, who helped to revive Italy’s cinema scene after World War II before embarking on a prolific Hollywood career, died Wednesday night at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by his family. He was 91. Honored in 2000 with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, it could be a welcome announcement or wary predicament for Hollywood VIPs when they found out Dino was attached to a property. Best known in recent years as the official producer of the Hannibal Lecter series of films, it was said that negotiating with De Laurentiis over those pics was more painful than a root canal. Because of all of Dino’s different deals, a tortuous history of the rights to Hannibal, the Silence of the Lambs sequel, was drafted at one point by the Century City law firm of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger and took 10 pages to sum up. Even so, the confidential document was incomprehensible even to those people involved from the very beginning. And yet De Laurentiis was capable of surprising people. As the producer of Manhunter, the 1986 film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ first novel featuring Lecter “Red Dragon” which allowed Dino to control the rights to both the Harris books and character, he scaled back his famously overaggressive persona and demands in his dealings with Universal in order to get Hannibal to the screen. (Dino was canny enough to send his personal pasta chef to Miami to cook for Harris so the writer would finish the book faster.) With Dino, the best course of action was trust, but verify. More than one exasperated agent would only deliver a screenplay into De Laurentiis’ hands if the check was verifiably visible and not just “in the mail”.
De Laurentiis collaborated on many projects early in his career with fellow producer Carlo Ponti and worked with Italy’s most famous directors like Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini. Having moved to the U.S. in the early 1970s, he eventually produced many hits and notable misses, including: Dune, Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, Year of the Dragon, Tai-Pan, Breakdown, Ragtime, King Kong, U-571 and the trio of Hannibal, Red Dragon and Hannibal Rising. He produced two Oscar-winning foreign language films — La Strada and Nights of Cabiria — and in 2001 he received the Thalberg Memorial Award. He also fashioned himself an operations visionary. His Delaurentiis Entertainment Group Film Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina, opened in 1984 but it soon floundered. It wasn’t the first facility he created; he was also behind Dinocitta, which opened in 1964 on the outskirts of Rome, and Dino De Laurentiis Studios in 1947.