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In Memorium:
Dino De Laurentiis, 91, Italian film producer, entrepreneur

November 12, 2010

Dino De Laurentiis, the high-flying Italian film producer and entrepreneur whose movies ranged from some of Federico Fellini's earliest works to "Serpico," "Death Wish" and the 1976 remake of "King Kong," died Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Raffaella.

De Laurentiis' career dated to prewar Italy, and the hundreds of films he produced covered a range of styles and genres.

His filmography includes major titles of the early Italian New Wave, including the international success "Bitter Rice" (1949), whose star, Silvana Mangano, became his first wife; two important films by Fellini, "La Strada" (1954) and "Nights of Cabiria" (1957), which both won Academy Awards; and the film that many critics regard as David Lynch's best work, "Blue Velvet" (1986). In 2001, De Laurentiis was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.

But De Laurentiis never turned his nose up at unabashed popular entertainment like Sergio Corbucci's "Goliath and the Vampires" (1961), Roger Vadim's "Barbarella" (1968) and Richard Fleischer's "Mandingo" (1975) several of which hold up better today than some of De Laurentiis' more respectable productions.

De Laurentiis lured Anthony Quinn to Rome for "La Strada" and shortly after that cast Kirk Douglas in the title role of "Ulysses," a spectacular that was directed by Italian film veteran Mario Camerini (with an uncredited assist from director Advertisement and cinematographer Mario Bava) and that De Laurentiis sold to Paramount. The formula proved to be a profitable one, allowing De Laurentiis to pay grandiose salaries to his imported stars while cutting costs by using local technicians.

Actors like Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda ("War and Peace," 1956), Anthony Perkins ("This Angry Age," 1958), Vera Miles and Van Heflin ("5 Branded Women," 1960) and Charles Laughton ("Under Ten Flags," 1960) made their way to Italy, where they often performed with other international stars.

At the same time, De Laurentiis continued making films for the home market. He had a close relationship with legendary Italian clown Toto (for whom he produced the 1952 "Toto a Colori," one of the first Italian feature films shot entirely in color) and Alberto Sordi, a rotund comic whose portrayals of middle-class Romans struggling to stay ahead of the game became a projection of the national identity. His success, aided by the government subsidies that had been created to encourage postwar production in Italy, eventually allowed him to build his own studio, which he named Dinocitta.

De Laurentiis' empire began to crumble in 1965, when Italy's Socialist government passed new regulations that put severe restrictions on what could be called an Italian movie.

With his subsidies in doubt, his contract with Sordi coming to an end and a continuing legal battle with Fellini over unmade projects, De Laurentiis closed Dinocitta in 1972 and the next year moved to New York, where he opened an office.

In New York, De Laurentiis initiated a series of well-known productions, including "Serpico" (1973); "Death Wish" (1974); "Three Days of the Condor" (1975); John Wayne's final film, "The Shootist" (1976); and John Guillermin's big-budget remake of "King Kong" (1976).

But the successes alternated with failures, like "King of the Gypsies" (1978) and "Hurricane" (1979), and soon De Laurentiis was founding and closing production companies with dizzying speed, often selling the rights to his old films to secure the financing for his new ones.

Still, he persisted through the 1980s and '90s, thanks chiefly to a relationship with Stephen King, many of whose books were filmed by De Laurentiis, and his ownership of Thomas Harris' first novel in the Hannibal Lecter series, "Red Dragon." De Laurentiis filmed the Harris novel twice: first in 1986 as "Manhunter," with Brian Cox in the role of the cannibalistic serial killer, and then under the novel's original title in 2002, with Anthony Hopkins back for another turn in the role after becoming a star playing Lecter in the nonDe Laurentiis "Silence of the Lambs."

De Laurentiis had four children with Mangano: Veronica, Raffaella, Federico and Francesca. Federico De Laurentiis died in a plane crash in 1981. After Mangano's death in 1989, De Laurentiis married American-born producer Martha Schumacher, with whom he had two daughters, Carolyna and Dina.

In addition to his wife and daughters, he is survived by three sisters; five grandchildren, including the chef and Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis; and two great-grandchildren.

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