The Man Who Greenlit ‘Star Wars’

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The Most Important Movie Mogul You’ve Never Heard Of

Forbes.com
Jude Brennan Contributor
There was a notable omission in Tuesday’s announcement of the Star Wars VII cast. Overlooked in the chest beating of creative involvement in the upcoming sequel was any mention of George Lucas, the creator of the 34-year-old Star Wars franchise.

He joins another mogul who is often overlooked when people talk about Star Wars: Alan Ladd Jr.  He is the former Fox executive who greenlit the 1977 blockbuster. At the time, Ladd alone had Lucas’ back, fighting for the picture throughout the 10-week production, all the way to release as the board and others in the executive suite wanted to dump it. Not only did Star Wars draw critical raves and was an unstoppable box office phenomenon, after its release the beleaguered studio’s stock shot up a breathtaking 1,400 percent and saved a drowning Fox.

The force was truly with Lucas and Ladd.

But that is just part of Ladd’s unsurpassed legacy. (Yes, his father is that Alan Ladd.) The three-time studio head (once Fox; twice MGM), Oscar winning producer and former talent agent guided the careers of such luminaries as Judy Garland, Natalie Wood and Robert Redford. Later in life he championed stars like  Brad Pitt ,Reese Witherspoon,  and Mel Gibson.  In his different capacities as a studio head or producer, Ladd, now 76,  has produced or greenlit 150 films that were nominated for various Academy Awards, including 50 winners. He has always been a champion of strong female characters including  Terms of Endearment, Moonstruck and Alien where he supported the main character switching from a man to a woman.

At the risk of Ladd’s unmatched legacy becoming a vanishing footnote, his daughter producer/screenwriter Amanda Ladd-Jones has produced Laddie – The Documentary, now being partially financed through the Kickstarter crowd-funding platform. She is still looking for $31,360 to complete the film. Funding closes May 15. Here’s a trailer of the documentary so far:

“I started this in 2009 as a way of recognizing my father and his impact on modern cinema because I couldn’t live with the thought that the quiet, self-effacing nature he is known for and made him unlike other Hollywood executives, would be the very reason he was forgotten,” she says.

Fans will enjoy the behind the scenes drama revealed in making Star Wars. From the moment Lucas and Ladd met after a screening of Lucas’ American Graffiti, Ladd knew he wanted to be in the Lucas business. Universal wanted to dump American Graffitiuntil Ladd offered to let Fox take it off Universal’s hands. Universal released it and it was a hit.

As Indiewire columnist Anne Thompson astutely noted the Tuesday oversight of a Lucas mention: Lucas “was one of the first Hollywood players to interact directly with his fan base” – a base that helped make Star Wars the enviable franchise it is today and something those who will now enjoy the spoils of his franchise labors should remember.

That goes for Ladd too.

Before American Grafitti was released and Lucas’ future was looking grim, he asked Ladd to let him make his dream project, what he then described as a space opera. He handed Ladd the script: The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as Taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga 1, Star Wars. This is the original, the one Ladd said “yes” to and the only script on display in Ladd’s office to date.

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Recalls Lucas:  “The only meeting I had with Laddie about the script… he said, ‘Look it doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever, but I trust you. Go ahead and make it.’ That was just honest. I mean it was a crazy movie. Now you can see it, know what it is but before you could see it, there wasn’t anything like it. You couldn’t explain it. You know… it was like this furry dog driving a space ship. I mean, what is that?”
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I got a glimpse of Amanda Ladd-Jones’ documentary footage and it tells the real story of how Lucas scored a never-before and never-again landmark licensing rights deal that turned Star Wars into an empire.

Basically Lucas forfeited his promised $1 million director’s fee because he wanted to keep the rights to that first script which would eventually become three films in the franchise. Before it hit theaters, the studio thought it would tank and wanted to launch with a very limited marketing budget if at all. Ladd was able to secure some marketing resources and release the film, allowing Lucas to keep the rights to his long story and all that was to come from it.

As it turns out, this character is pro forma for Laddie, who simply loves artists. He has the heart and vision of one.

When Ladd won the Oscar for Braveheart, Donner said that night: “A lot of us wanted him to stand (at the podium) for a moment longer and let us applaud him for finally getting something he deserves. There are snakes in this business and then there’s Alan Ladd Jr.”

Ladd certainly made his share of big mistakes but the footnote on his career should never be a vanishing one.  If you are only as good as your last picture, there are plenty of lasts to judge him by.

Thank you forbes.com
Jude Brennan Contributor
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Cheers
Will

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