Feature

Dino De Laurentiis, 1919–2010

The film producer who made classics and flops

In 1999, producer Dino De Laurentiis snapped up the movie rights to Hannibal, Thomas Harris’ sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. But three key players from the hit film version of Silence—actress Jodie Foster, director Jonathan Demme, and scriptwriter Ted Talley—declined to work on the sequel. Undaunted, De Laurentiis recruited a new female lead, director, and screenwriter. “The pope dies,” De Laurentiis explained with a shrug, “you get another pope.”

De Laurentiis “caught the movie bug early,” said The Wall Street Journal. One of six children, he left his hometown of Torre Annunziata, on the Bay of Naples, at 16 to study moviemaking in Rome. At 22, he launched his own production company. His first international success came in 1948, with Bitter Rice. De Laurentiis went on to marry the film’s lead actress, Silvana Mangano, with whom he had four children. They were divorced in 1988.In 1950, De Laurentiis went into partnership with producer Carlo Ponti. They “soon dominated the Italian movie business,” said the Associated Press. De Laurentiis also worked with Federico Fellini, producing two of his early masterpieces, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, which won the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957 and 1958, respectively.

Meanwhile, “the vertically integrated Hollywood studios were breaking up because of a Justice Department anti-monopoly decree,” said The New York Times. De Laurentiis met the studios’ demand for “a steady stream of product” by assembling international casts of stars for epics like Ulysses and War and Peace. In 1971, he moved his operation to the U.S., where he alternated between art-house productions like Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians and blockbusters like John Guillermin’s 1976 remake of King Kong. Critical and commercial successes, including Serpico in 1973 and Blue Velvet in 1986, helped offset flops like King of the Gypsies in 1978.

Critics often derided campy, over-the-top De Laurentiis productions—1968’s Barbarella and 1975’s Mandingo among them—but the producer shrugged off the sneers and jeers. “I have,” he said, “only one boss: the audience.”

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