April 21, 1932|
New York City, United States
|Died||October 13, 2009
Los Angeles, United States
|Occupation||Film producer, studio executive|
|Notable work(s)||All That Jazz
Daniel Melnick (April 21, 1932 – October 13, 2009) was an American film producer and movie studio executive who started working in Hollywood as a teenager in television and then became the producer of such films as All That Jazz, Altered States and Straw Dogs. Melnick's films won more than 20 Academy Awards out of some 80 nominations.
Early life and education
Melnick was born on April 21, 1932, in New York City, to Benjamin Melnick, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who was killed in a car crash when Melnick was a child. His mother, Celia, remarried, and Melnick attended the High School of Performing Arts. After high school, Melnick attended New York University. He served in the United States Army during the 1950s, where he produced entertainment for troops while stationed at New Jersey's Fort Dix and in Oklahoma.
Television, film and theater
After relocating to Hollywood as a 19-year-old, he became CBS Television's youngest producer, and then shortly thereafter was hired by ABC, where he worked on the development of such programs as The Flintstones and The Fugitive. Melnick became an independent producer, forming a company with David Susskind that produced the Emmy Award-winning TV productions aired on CBS, with Ages of Man starring John Gielgud in 1966, which included readings from William Shakespeare's works ranging from Romeo and Juliet to Richard II, with critic Jack Gould of The New York Times calling it "a viewing occasion to be treasured". In 1967 they presented Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, starring Lee J. Cobb, a production that Jack Gould of The Times described as one "that will stand as the supreme understanding of the tragedy of Willy Loman." They also produced the secret agent satire Get Smart that ran from 1965 to 1970 on CBS and NBC, as well as the police drama N.Y.P.D. that ran on ABC from 1967–69. The firm, Talent Associates, was bought out by Norton Simon, Inc. in August 1968 for an undisclosed price, with the commitment that the unit would operate independently and the principals would stay on in senior positions to manage the company.
Together with Joseph E. Levine of Embassy Pictures, Susskind and Melnick produced the Broadway theatre musical comedy Kelly, by Eddie Lawrence and Mark Charlap. Promotion for the play included an event on the Brooklyn Bridge with a series of chorus girls. The play, a story about the 1886 incident of Steve Brodie who (claimed to have) jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived, opened on February 16, 1965. The play lasted only one performance on Broadway, which was later described by Melnick's son as "not his favorite moment in history", but nonetheless one he wore with grace.
The 1971 psychological thriller Straw Dogs was his first feature film. He was hired by MGM, where his films included the 1975 Neil Simon comedy The Sunshine Boys, the 1976 production of Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay for Network, directed by Sidney Lumet, a satire of television production that was credited with boosting the studio's financial performance. he also mined the studio's archives to create the That's Entertainment! series of compilation films. He was hired by Columbia Pictures as its president in June 1978 to replace David Begelman, who had resigned in the wake of an embezzlement scandal. There he oversaw the development of the 1978 picture Midnight Express and the 1979 films Kramer vs. Kramer and The China Syndrome.
In 1980, he moved to 20th Century Fox where he completed Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, with Fox paying for filming that Columbia would not finance. That same year he produced Altered States with Warner Brothers, an adaptation of a Chayefsky novel that Columbia was unwilling to fund. Melnick's later films included the Steve Martin 1987 comedy Roxanne, an adaption of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, and the 1999 action comedy Blue Streak (1999), which was his final film credit.
He married Linda Rodgers, the daughter of Richard Rodgers and his wife, Dorothy Feiner, in February 1955 at the Manhattan home of her parents. Their son, Peter Rodgers Melnick, became a composer. After he and Linda Rodgers divorced in 1971, Daniel Melnick fathered a daughter.
Melnick was known for personal elegance and refined tastes in art, dress, and architecture. A thinker, he often offered sage advice, once telling a young assistant that "the best contracts are written not in the thrall of a new marriage but with the possibility of a divorce in mind."
He once said to the same assistant that, when facing a business dilemma, he would sometimes ask himself what the 17th-century French statesman Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, whose genius for intrigue he admired, might do in a similar situation.
During Melnick's days on the 20th Century-Fox lot, some of his staffers got to affectionately referring to him (albeit privately) as Mel Nick. The inspiration for the name arose when deliverymen arrived in front of the unmarked Indieprod building with a wardrobe box of clothes from Ralph Lauren – on which someone had scrawled in large letters MEL and below it NICK. Not knowing who he was or where to find him, one shouted loudly, "We're looking for a Mel Nick! There a Mel Nick around here?"
In regard to producing films, Melnick once reminded one of his assistants, who he thought was working too hard, that "this business is supposed to be fun."
Melnick died at the age of 77 on October 13, 2009, at his home in Los Angeles of lung cancer. He was survived by a son, a daughter, and two grandchildren.
- Martin, Douglas. "Daniel Melnick, Hollywood Producer, Dies at 77", The New York Times, October 16, 2009. October 18, 2009.
- Nelson, Valerie J. "Daniel Melnick dies at 77; film and TV producer helped launch 'Get Smart,' 'Network,' 'Kramer vs. Kramer'", Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2009. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Gould, Jack. "TV: Gielgud Excels in Shakespeare; C.B.S. Gives Adaptation of 'Ages of Man' Readings Range From Romeo to Richard II", The New York Times, January 24, 1966. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Gould, Jack. "TV: 'Death of a Salesman'; New Interpretation Tops Stage Version-- Miss Dunnock and Cobb Repeat Roles", 'The New York Times, May 9, 1966. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Dallos, Robert E. "Susskind Concern Bought by Norton Simon, Inc.; Talent Associates Agrees to Become Subsidiary – Plans Expansion ", The New York Times, August 20, 1968. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Zolotow, Sam. "NEW GROUP PLANS TO PUT ON 'KELLY'; Levine, Susskind, Melnick Will Produce Musical", The New York Times, April 17, 1964. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Staff. "City Lends the Brooklyn Bridge To Show Girls and Press Agent; City Lends the Brooklyn Bridge To Show Girls and Press Agent", The New York Times, October 28, 1964. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Staff. "'Kelly' Opens Here February 16", The New York Times, December 17, 1964. Accessed October 18, 2009.
- Staff. "LINDA RODGERS BECOMES BRIDE; Daughter of Composer Wed to Dan Melnick of Army in Home of Her Parents", the New York Times, February 20, 1955. Accessed October 18, 209.