Hollywood film executive David Picker died in his New York home Saturday at age 87 after complications with colon cancer. He was known for producing iconic films such as A Hard Day’s Night, The Jerk, winning rights to turn Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and developing and releasing Midnight Cowboy and watching it turn into the first X-rated film to win Best Picture.
For over 40 years, Picker was an executive producer and served as the President and CEO for United Artists, Paramount, Lorimar and Columbia Pictures. Many of today’s top Hollywood luminaries worked for him as an assistant including Tom Rothman, Mark Gordon, Larry Mark, Bonnie Arnold, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Larry Kramer, and Jonathan Demme.
He was adept at identifying and cultivating new talent and enticing renown European writers and directors to bring their talents to work in the US, working with cinematic legends such as Billy Wilder, Bob Fosse, Herb Gardner, Paddy Chayefsky, John Schlesinger, Norman Lear and Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Satyricon,Truffaut, Louis Malle and Sergio Leone.
Picker was born in New York City on May 14, 1931. A true New Yorker, Picker loved the Yankees, the Giants, the Knicks and the Rangers… and he particularly loved the old New York movie palaces. Even more than New York, Picker had movies in his blood, three generations worth. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was partnered with Marcus Loew of Loew’s Theatres. A young Picker and his father would often travel throughout the city’s five boroughs to check on the theaters and see what was playing and how the grosses were.
His storied career in film would begin in 1956 when he worked in advertising and publicity at United Artists. He quickly rose in the ranks, becoming the assistant to the president and then managing United Artists Records. He would go on to bring the film Tom Jones to the company in 1963. It received four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
He became CEO of United Artists in 1970. It is then when he struck a deal with Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli for the James Bond series — one of the most successful franchises in history. He also signed the Beatles to a three-picture deal and helped oversee the releases of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. He is also credited with bringing iconic films such as Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris to United Artists as well as bringing Woody Allen to the company. He also brought acclaimed European filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Louis Malle, and Sergio Leone to United Artists.
After leaving United Artists, Picker would go on to start Two Roads Productions in 1973 which would produce films like the Academy Award-nominated Lenny and Juggernaut. He would then take on the role of President of Motion Pictures at Paramount where he brought to the screen the time honored Tom Jones, which was the first deal he made at UA as a young executive. It won the best picture Oscar and he accepted it at the Academy Awards for director Tony Richardson. Other films Picker made at Paramount include Lenny, Grease, Saturday Night Fever, the four Oscar-winner Ordinary People, and The Jerk. That film cracked Steve Martin as a film star, and Picker would continue to be part of his rise.
Picker left his post at Paramount and partnered with Steve Martin for numerous titles in the ’80s including Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains. He also became the President of Feature Films at Lorimar Productions and then Columbia Pictures. He added numerous films to his resume including Being There, School Daze, Punch Line and True Believer.
He continued produce in the ’80s and ’90s working independently and with studios. He worked with Harry Belafonte on Beat Street and produced Stella starring Bette Midler. His other studio credits include The Saint of Fort Washington (1993) and The Crucible (1996).
Picker’s legacy would continue as he became president of Hallmark Entertainment Productions Worldwide in 1997. He also served as chairman of The Producers Guild of America for the East from 2004-2008. In 2008 he was honored with the Charles Fitzsimmons Award by the PGA. He also wrote a memoir about his career in the film industry titled Musts, Maybes and Nevers, which was released in 2013. The book looks back on his career during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when he ran the four aforementioned studios.
Besides his wife, Sandra Jetton Picker, Picker is survived by his daughters Caryn Picker and Pam Picker, a grandson Asher Picker Schonfeld and his sister Jean Picker Firstenberg.
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