She died peacefully at her home tonight surrounded by her husband, screenwriter Alvin Sargent, her family, and her friends after a long and courageous and public bout with breast cancer. She was 61. In Hollywood where women rarely make it to the top of the movie establishment, Laura Ziskin rose to become one of Hollywood’s leading independent producers and studio executives. She is best known for producing the blockbuster Spider-Man film trilogy which broke box office records worldwide and became the highest grossing film franchise in Sony Picture Entertainment’s history. But she will be remembered most for her humanity as the proud producer of the historic three-network “Stand Up To Cancer” televised fundraisers. Like one in 3 women in this country, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in February 2004. (Doctors had repeatedly missed it previously because of the diffuse type of cancer she had.) She never wanted anyone to refer to her struggle as a ‘battle’: instead, she preferred to focus on the victories and was determined to use all her resources to make cancer a first tier issue in this country. As she wrote me in March 2011: “Three years ago, Stand Up To Cancer was little more than a dream, a bold idea shared by a few. We knew that cancer scientists finally had both the knowledge and the technology to make critical breakthroughs in detecting, treating and preventing cancer, but too often lacked the funds needed to bring new developments to fruition. Our goal was to raise money that would help speed up the pace at which scientific breakthroughs move from labs to clinics, where they can help patients and save lives, and to build a grassroots movement in support of that effort. Since our launch in 2008, thanks to all of you who have stood up with us, the collaborative ‘Dream Teams’ of researchers that we fund have already made significant scientific progress, and the SU2C grassroots community continues to grow.”
Among the highlights of her movie career was 2002 when she produced the 74th Annual Academy Awards and became the first woman to ever produce the awards solo. The show was nominated for 8 Emmy Awards including Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special. Then, in 2007, Ziskin did it again, this time producing the first ever ‘Green’ Oscar ceremony. The show was nominated for 9 Emmy Awards.
A native of the San Fernando Valley, Ziskin wanted a movie career from the very beginning. She was a graduate of both USC and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. After graduation, Ziskin started out writing for game shows and then became Jon Peters’ personal assistant and then a development executive, moving into feature films with Jon Peters’ production company where she worked on the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand. In 1978, she was the associate producer of The Eyes of Laura Mars.
In 1984, Ziskin partnered with Sally Field in Fogwood Films and produced Murphy’s Romance, which yielded an Academy Award nomination for James Garner as Best Actor. She also produced No Way Out starring then newcomer Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. In 1990, she was Executive Producer of Pretty Woman, which remains one of the
highest grossing films in Disney’s history.
In 1991, Ziskin produced the comedy hit What About Bob?, from a story by Ziskin and Sargent. And she produced the drama The Doctor. A year later, she produced Hero, which was also from a story by Ziskin and Sargent, and two years later, To Die For.
In 1994, Ziskin was named President of Fox 2000 Pictures, a newly formed feature film division of 20th Century Fox. Under her stewardship, Fox 2000 released such films as Courage Under Fire, One Fine Day, Inventing The Abbotts, Volcano, Soul Food, Never Been Kissed, Fight Club, Anywhere But Here, Anna And The King, and The Thin Red Line, which garnered 7 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.