UPDATE: Statement from Paramount chief Brad Grey: “Tom Clancy was one of the great storytellers of our time and his passing has been deeply felt by all of us at Paramount. We are forever indebted to Tom for making this studio his home, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family, and his many fans, at this great loss.”
EARLIER: Reports are coming in that bestselling author Tom Clancy has died at age 66 in a hospital near his Baltimore home. His military post-Cold War espionage thriller novels launched the Jack Ryan film series, and he was one of several authors who, in the 1990s, became franchise fixtures, commanded big bucks, and often fought with the studios that turned his books into films. He co-founded the vidgame developer Red Storm Entertainment, which is now owned by Ubisoft, and he has had his name on numerous mega-selling video games including the Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series.
Clancy in later years wrote his books with the help of co-authors, but the star of this former insurance agent and military buff was really launched after it was revealed that President Reagan was a fan of his military thrillers. Paramount launched a franchise based on his signature character, CIA analyst Jack Ryan, with the 1990 Alec Baldwin-starrer The Hunt For Red October.
Clancy’s relationship with the studio and its filmmakers often became contentious, after Paramount chief Brandon Tartikoff bounced Baldwin when he wanted to delay while doing A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway. Tartikoff had just had a movie with Harrison Ford fall apart called Night Ride Down, but they were eager to work together, and the change was made. While Ford took the series through two Phil Noyce-directed screen blockbusters — Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger — Clancy often bristled about how his work was handled, and I think he never warmed to Ford’s portrayal. That was especially true in Patriot Games, where Clancy grew incensed for, among other things, a scene in which an IRA backer delivers info on the culprits who tried to kill his wife. It came in a package with a doll, and Ryan’s child was seen playing with the doll. Clancy hated that. Paramount also owns the series based on a spinoff character, Clark, a mercenary who first appeared in the form of Willem Dafoe in Clear And Present Danger, and who headlined the novel Without Remorse. The studio has tried numerous times over the years to turn that book into a feature and is still trying. Ben Affleck took over the Ryan character in The Sum Of All Fears, and under producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian and Mace Neufeld, the series was revived with the Kenneth Branagh-directed Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, with Chris Pine playing a young Ryan, and Kevin Costner playing his CIA mentor. That film, which was based on Clancy-created characters but an original storyline by Adam Cozad, is in post-production and is set for a December 25 release date, and Paramount has high hopes it will reignite the series. Clancy also has a new novel due out that same month, Command Authority.
Clancy also surprised Hollywood when he left his longtime agent, WMA’s Robert Gottlieb, to instead have Michael Ovitz make his deals. It created a contentious relationship for Ovitz with that agency, and his AMG would eventually hit the wall after he poached Robin Williams from CAA. Ovitz continued to rep Clancy, a devoted Conservative who was always part of the political conversation when it came to issues from terrorism to war and the military. During his heyday, I cannot think of an author who was more fun to cover than Clancy, because of his willingness to express his opinion on how his work was treated by Hollywood at a time when many authors were content to take the big checks and keep quiet.