Ronald L. Schwary Dies: Oscar-Winning ‘Ordinary People’ Producer & Sydney Pollack Collaborator Was 76


Ronald Schwary, who won an Oscar as the producer of Ordinary People and whose other major film successes include A Soldier’s StoryAbsence of MaliceScent of a Woman and Tootsie, has died. He was 76. He passed away Thursday in West Hollywood, according to his sons.

Schwary had struggled with a rare neurological autonomic disorder and complications led to his death.

Schwary was the producer on six Sydney Pollack-directed films: The Electric Horseman (1979) and Havana (1990), with Robert Redford; Absence of Malice (1981), starring Paul Newman; Best Picture nominee Tootsie (1982), with Dustin Hoffman; Sabrina (1995), featuring Harrison Ford, and Random Hearts (1999), also starring Ford.

Schwary was also the executive producer on two Martin Brest-directed films: Scent of a Woman (1992), starring Al Pacino; and Meet Joe Black (1998), starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.

Even though the films were nominated for Best Picture, Schwary did not receive a nomination for either Tootsie or Scent of a Woman or because he was not credited as “Producer.”

On Tootsie, there was a dispute between Columbia and the production regarding the number of credited producers. Columbia offered a co-producer credit to Schwary, but he turned it down. Thus, he is uncredited as a producer — though he is credited as an actor on the film.

His body of work also includes *batteries not included (1987), starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), with Barbra Streisand; and Meet Joe Black (1998), starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.

Ordinary People marked Robert Redford’s directorial debut and was also the first feature that Schwary produced himself. It starred Mary Tyler Moore as a suburban mother who struggled with her teenage son (Timothy Hutton) as she coped with the death of her favorite child. Redford, Schwary, Hutton and Alvin Sargent — screenplay adaptation — all won Oscars for the film.

Schwary later had another Best Picture nomination for Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story (1984), starring Howard E. Rollins Jr.

In television, he was the producer of the Vietnam war series Tour of Duty and executive producer alongside Glenn Gordon Caron of Now and Again and the series Medium, starring Patricia Arquette, for seven seasons.

Schwary won a DGA award for outstanding directorial achievement in a comedy series — shared with Gene Reynolds and Wes McAfee — for the 1972 pilot episode of M*A*S*H.  He was an assistant director in the early 1970s. He eventually became a production manager with the assistance of his mentor, the director Bob Butler, and producer Ray Stark.

Born on May 23, 1944, in The Dalles, Oregon, Schwary began his studies at USC as a film major before graduating in 1967 with a business degree.

Survivors include his sons, Brian and Neil; brothers, Mitchell Jr., Dennis and Gary; his sister, Carol; and his grandson, Mars. A private funeral service will be held at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. A memorial to celebrate his life and work will be planned for 2021.

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