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Movie Studio Chief Behind 'Top Gun,' 'E.T.'

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Associated Press
Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ned Tanen, 77, a former Universal Pictures and Paramount chairman who greenlighted a string of hits that included "Top Gun" and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," died Jan. 5 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Tanen's entertainment career began with MCA in 1954. He became a talent agent, packaged television shows and then founded MCA's Uni Records, which helped launch stars such as Neil Diamond, Elton John and Olivia Newton-John.

In the 1970s, he moved to MCA's movie division, Universal Pictures, where he was involved in "American Graffiti," a low-budget movie by then-unknown director George Lucas.

He was president of Universal from 1976 to 1982, a tenure marked by Oscar-winning successes such as "Coal Miner's Daughter," "E.T." and "On Golden Pond."

He quit at the height of his success, telling the Wall Street Journal he was tired of playing the "Hollywood game" and wanted to concentrate on the creative side of movies.

Mr. Tanen went independent. He was producer or executive producer of three movies in the 1980s that portrayed the angst of white youth: "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club," both by director John Hughes, and Joel Schumacher's "St. Elmo's Fire."

The young actors in those movies included Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. "He launched so many people's careers," Schumacher said.

In 1984, Mr. Tanen rejoined the studio establishment as president and chief operating officer of Paramount's Motion Picture Group. During his four years there, Paramount had hits including "Top Gun." He returned to producing in the 1990s.

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