Studio Chief Daniel Melnick Dies at 77

At MGM and Columbia, he was responsible for hits like “Goodbye Girl,” “China Syndrome” and “Total Recall.”

Last Updated: July 30, 2010 @ 7:04 PM

Former MGM chief Daniel Melnick died Tuesday in Los Angeles at 77. He had been struggling with lung cancer.

In a career that spanned decades, Melnick produced both Oscar-winning prestige pictures such as "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Network," as well as the action movies "Total Recall" and "The Quick and the Dead."

Melnick worked extensively at Columbia, ABC, and MGM. It was at the latter, where he worked from 1972-76, that he left perhaps his most indelible mark, rising from a vice president of production to eventually become worldwide head of production.

Melnick presided over something of an artistic renaissance at the studio, which regained some of its former luster with a string of critically acclaimed hits such as "The Sunshine Boys" and "The Goodbye Girl."

When he moved to Columbia to hold a similar post in 1977, he oversaw a series of ripped from the headlines dramas such as "…And Justice for All" and "The China Syndrome."

He became president of Columbia when he predecessor David Begelman's got caught up in an embezzlement scandal, but left the studio in 1978 to become an independent producer.

The late 1980's and 1990's were something of a fallow period for the veteran producer. Aside from the box office hits "Roxanne" and "Total Recall," Melnick productions like "Air America" and "Punchline" failed to connect with audiences or critics. It seemed as though a producer, once so adept at tapping into the popular zeitgeist in the 1970s had lost his touch.

Melnick's last executive producer credit was for "Blue Streak," the 1999 Martin Lawrence action comedy.

Although best known for his film work, Melnick also worked extensively in television. At CBS and later NBC, he oversaw the popular comedy "Get Smart" from 1965 to 1969. He also produced the acclaimed, albeit short lived drama "East Side/West Side" (1963-1964), which was heralded for its then daring look at inner city issues like urban poverty and prostitution.

He received Emmy awards for producing 1966's "Ages of Man," which was drawn from a John Gielguld stage show, and for a 1967 a version of "Death of a Salesman" with Lee J. Cobb. After serving as the youngest staff producer in CBS' history, Melnick jumped to ABC in to become the vice president in charge of programming, where he was responsible for "The Fugitive" and "The Flintstones."

Born in New York on April 21, 1932, Melnick attended New York University from 1952-54. He left college without receiving a degree to become a television producer during the medium's 1950's "golden age."

He is survived by a son, Peter, a theatrical composer. A previous marriage to Linda Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers, ended in divorce in 1971.

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