Frank Price

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Frank Price
Born Frank Price
(1930-05-17) May 17, 1930 (age 88)
Occupation Hollywood studio head, script writer, editor
Years active 1951–2001
Employer Universal Television, Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures
Known for Early TV format innovations; greenlighting famous films of the 1980s; historic bust of Howard the Duck
Spouse(s)
Children Roy Price
David Price
2 other sons

Frank Price (born May 17, 1930)[1] was a television writer and executive during the 1950s to 1970s, and a Hollywood studio chief in the 1980s. He held a number of executive positions including head of Universal TV in the 1970s; President, and later Chairman and CEO, of Columbia Pictures; and president of Universal Pictures.[2] In the 1960s, he is credited with helping to develop the "made-for-TV movie" and the 90-minute miniseries television formats, including The Virginian (1962–1970).

As studio president, Price oversaw the production and/or greenlit famous films of the 1980s including Out of Africa which won the best-picture Oscar in 1985, as well as Tootsie (1982), Gandhi (1982) and The Karate Kid (1984). He greenlit Howard the Duck (1986) which became one of the worst flops in film history, and resigned from Universal.[3][4] Price saved from obscurity the script for Back to the Future (1985),[5] and made the decision to film other longshots that became blockbusters like Boyz n the Hood (1991)[6] and Ghostbusters (1983).[7] As of 1990, he was responsible for turning out 9 of the top 10 grossing films in Columbia's history.[8]

Early life[edit]

Frank Price was born to William F. Price and Winnifred A. Price on May 17, 1930, in Decatur, Illinois.[9] During the Great Depression, his father moved continually in search of work; prior to college Price lived in eight cities around the country.[9] He attended three years of high school in Flint, Michigan, and spent five years in Glendale, California, where his mother worked as a waitress in the cafeteria of Warner Brothers, exposing the young Price to a film studio and actors.[9] He still has photographs of Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney inscribed "To Frankie".[10]

Price served about one year in the U. S. Navy from 1948–1949, then attended three years of college at Michigan State University from 1949–1951 before transferring to Columbia University on the strength of his writing talent.[9] In New York he dropped out of university to work full-time as a reader in the CBS-TV Story Department.[9]

Career[edit]

Television (1951–1978)[edit]

Price was story editor and writer for CBS-TV in New York from 1951 to 1953 where he worked on series such as Westinghouse Studio One, Suspense and The Web.[9][11][1] He moved to Los Angeles where he was story editor at Columbia Pictures from 1953 to 1957, working on shows like Ford Theater, Father Knows Best, Damon Runyon Theater, Playhouse 90 and Circus Boy.[9][1] In 1957, he was story editor of NBC's Emmy-award winning Matinee Theater.[9] In 1958–1959 he worked for Ziv Television Programs including on the western The Rough Riders.[11]

In 1959, Price joined Universal TV (then Revue Productions) as associate producer and writer where he was mentored by Sid Sheinberg and Lew Wasserman. In 1961, he made the transition from artist to studio executive when he was named vice president of Universal TV, and in 1971 senior vice president.[11] The same year, he was named president and head of Universal TV and vice president, MCA, Inc.[11] During his time at Universal he is credited with helping to develop new television formats the "made-for-TV movie" and the miniseries.[1] He was executive producer of the TV series, The Virginian (1962–70), TV's first 90-minute Western series.[11] Price said "The Virginian played a formative role in my life. I got on-the-job experience running a high-profile show business enterprise, learning to coordinate business and creative endeavors."[12] In 1966, he produced one of the first movies made for television, The Doomsday Flight.[9] Other shows he developed or supervised included The Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica, The Rockford Files, Kojak and Columbo.[13]

Columbia Pictures (1978–1983)[edit]

Whenever I felt overly stressed, I reminded myself that it's easier than writing. It's 'let's put on a show' ... and getting paid to do it.[10]

In 1978, after a 19-year career in television, Price left Universal to become president of Columbia Pictures Productions.[14] "When I left Universal, I didn't know if I could ever become president of Columbia," he once said, "but I didn't want to wake up at the age of 65 and not have taken that chance to run a movie studio."[14] Over the next 5 years, Price greenlit a string of risky but highly successful films including Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Tootsie (1982), Gandhi (1982), and The Karate Kid (1984).[1] For Ghostbusters (1983), "The wisdom in town was that I had made a terrible mistake," Price said, "When the film came on, the reaction was horrible. A studio executive came up and put his arm around me and said, 'Don't worry: we all make mistakes.' I was nauseous ... [but] when the movie came out, it just exploded."[7]

After Columbia was purchased by The Coca-Cola Company in January 1982, Price lost out in a power struggle with Francis T. Vincent, chairman of Columbia Pictures Industries, over how to position Columbia in the new pay-cable TV market.[14] In October 1983, Price resigned from Columbia.[14] In hindsight Columbia would regret the decision – in 1990, Alan J. Levine, then President of Columbia, noted during Price's tenure he was responsible for turning out 9 of the top 10 grossing films in Columbia's history.[8]

Universal (1983–1986)[edit]

In November 1983, Price became chairman of the MCA Motion Picture Group, which included control of the production and distribution of Universal Pictures.[14] He is credited with saving the script for Back to the Future (1985) from obscurity allowing the film to be completed.[5] He greenlit Out of Africa which won the best-picture Oscar in 1985.[4] However in September 1986, Price quit Universal in fallout over the notorious flop of Howard the Duck. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed Howard the Duck as one of the costliest box-office flops of all time.[3] "A duck brought Price down," lamented one producer.[4]

Of his time at Universal, one industry insider said "Price had full carte blanche to put anything into the works at whatever cost. Frank did what he did at Columbia: He bought the big talent. In effect, he was spending a lot of money in an attempt to play it safe."[4]

Columbia Pictures (1990–1991) and independent[edit]

In 1987, Price formed his own studio Price Entertainment.[1] In 1990, after Sony purchased Columbia Pictures, Price was approached to return to Columbia and after a series of short negotiations he was appointed chairman of Columbia Pictures.[8] His company Price Entertainment, Inc. was merged with Columbia in March 1991 with the agreement it would turn out two films a year, produced by Price but without being credited to him.[15]

During his time at Columbia he greenlit Awakenings (1990), Boyz n the Hood (1991),[6] The Prince of Tides (1991), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and Groundhog Day (1993).[9] On being a studio chief, Price considered it one of the world's great jobs:[10]

... the best part of the job was the ability to buy the best – directors, scripts, talent. The worst was spending your day saying 'no' – telling people you don't share their dreams. You're making subjective decisions in a very amorphous realm ... and have to wait 18 to 24 months before you know if you guessed right. Anyone who complains about the stresses is a fool. The pay and the perks are good. You have fun lunches with Streisand and Redford. And it's sort of like being head of a small country. Though I rarely used the plane, I was met at the airport and commanded a certain amount of deference. Things go your way – period.[10]

Price left Columbia on October 4, 1991, at which time Price Entertainment was re-activated and continued an association with Sony Pictures Entertainment with a non-exclusive production deal.[11] Price Entertainment continued making pictures until 2001 including Shadowlands (1993), Circle of Friends (1995) and The Tuskegee Airmen (1995).[9]

Other work[edit]

Price was Chairman of the Board of Councilors for the USC School of Cinema-Television where he assembled a board that including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Bob Zemeckis, David Geffen, among others.[9] Price said the board helps with the school's teaching mission and fund raising, and "it takes an amount of time trying to make sure that's a top school," he said. "And I think it is."[9] Price was also on the Board of Trustees of the University of Southern California.[9][16]

Industry reflections[edit]

Price came from the artistic side of the industry starting out as a script writer. He considered this an advantage later when deciding to make a film, saying "Unwilling to base my decisions on other people's perceptions, I spent a lot of my time reading [scripts]. From what I understand, however, that's the exception rather than the rule."[10] Price was also a serious reader, after his 1987 departure from Universal he devoured books ranging from Das Kapital to Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.[10] Price worked on a novel of his own (never published), he said it was "my version of The Last Tycoon", an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the life of a Hollywood studio manager.[10] "I know that world better than F. Scott Fitzgerald," Price said. "This is a business like no other. Though there may not be any more politics and infighting in Hollywood than elsewhere, the stakes are so much higher. One bad casting decision can ruin a picture."[10]

Personal[edit]

Price married Katherine Crawford on May 15, 1965, an actress known for Riding with Death (1976), A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970) and Gemini Man (1976).[2] Her father was Roy Huggins, who created and produced TV shows like The Fugitive, The Rockford Files and Maverick.[2] Frank and Katherine had four sons including Roy Price (c. 1967) the former president of Amazon.com's media development division, Amazon Studios;[17] David Price, a director of films such as Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice; Frank Price Jr. and Stephen Price.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Frank Price". Hollywood.com. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Tim Appelo (February 2017). "The Amazing Rise of Amazon Studios". Seattle Business Magazine. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Claudia Eller (January 15, 2014). "The costliest box office flops of all time". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d David T. Friendly (September 17, 1986). "Frank Price Quits Universal Pictures". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Mike Fleming Jr. (October 21, 2015). "Blast From The Past On 'Back To The Future': How Frank Price Rescued Robert Zemeckis' Classic From Obscurity". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Sam Kashner (August 4, 2016). "How Boyz n the Hood Beat the Odds to Get Made—and Why It Matters Today". Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Lesley M. M. Blume (June 4, 2014). "The Making of Ghostbusters: How Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and "The Murricane" Built "The Perfect Comedy"". Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Elaine Dutka (March 22, 1990). "Hollywood Veteran Price to Head Film Unit at Columbia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Paul Green (2009). "Ch 21: Frank Price". A History of Television’s The Virginian, 1962–1971. McFarland. pp. 179–183.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Elaine Dutka (December 18, 1994). "The Studio Shuffle : Frank Price". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Frank Price". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  12. ^ Paul Green (2009). "Forward by Frank Price". A History of Television’s The Virginian, 1962–1971. McFarland. pp. 1–4.
  13. ^ Josephine Reed (2011). "A Conversation with Producer Frank Price, part 1". Art Works. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved November 22, 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d e Aljean Harmetz (November 12, 1983). "Frank Price Named To Head MCA's Universal Film Studio". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  15. ^ Frank Price (March 1, 1992). "We Get letters ... : 'Gladiator'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  16. ^ James Lytle (April 22, 1996). "Film producer Frank Price named trustee". USC News. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  17. ^ "Amazon Studios chief resigns after harassment allegations". Reuters. October 18, 2017. Retrieved October 18, 2017.

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