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Prolific director Dino De Laurentiis dies

Dino De Laurentiis wed his first wife, Silvana Mangano, while making
Dino De Laurentiis wed his first wife, Silvana Mangano, while making "Bitter Rice," which she starred in. (1956 photo by Sam Goldstein/International News Photos)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 10:00 PM

Dino De Laurentiis was a prolific Italian-born movie producer of mind-boggling range whose credits spanned the spectrum of quality, from Oscar winners "La Strada" and "Nights of Cabiria" to the exploitation fare of "Barbarella," "Death Wish" and the Madonna vehicle "Body of Evidence."

Mr. De Laurentiis had a role in making, by his estimate, hundreds of films, collaborating with directors including Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, David Lynch, John Huston, Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman and Sam Raimi.

Working largely outside the studio system, Mr. De Laurentiis was an early leader in the concept of international co-productions, in essence raising money by preselling distribution rights around the world. Sharing the cost of a film was especially appealing to U.S. studios, which had started to crumble in the 1950s under the weight of more independent production.

Mr. De Laurentiis, 91, who died of undisclosed causes Nov. 10 at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., became one of the world's leading producers in a career spanning seven decades. He was always balancing three balls in the air: high art, down-market scintillation and middle-of-the-road commerce, like the taut spy drama "Three Days of the Condor" (1975) with Robert Redford.

Mr. De Laurentiis was a creative force and a consummate dealmaker, an espresso-and-cigarette-fortified whirlwind of diminutive stature who cajoled, charmed and hustled to get movies made.

About 10 years ago, when he couldn't land his first choices as director and star for a sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," he characteristically shrugged it off. "The pope dies, you get another pope," he explained.

This unflappable approach proved immensely profitable to Mr. De Laurentiis, but it also led to mixed artistic success.

For every "La Strada" (1954), "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) and "Serpico" (1973) - widely regarded as superior dramas - there was also "Barbarella" (1968) with an underdressed Jane Fonda, "Conan the Barbarian" (1982) with a grunting Arnold Schwarzenegger and "Death Wish" (1974) with Charles Bronson as a vigilante.

In one year alone, 1977, he produced "The Serpent's Egg," quite possibly the most depressing of Bergman's dramas, and "Orca," with Richard Harris hunting down a killer whale.

Mr. De Laurentiis launched his career with "Bitter Rice" (1949), a powerful story of love and ruin set in the Po Valley rice fields, but settled into a run of ponderous, epic-scale productions, including "War and Peace" (1956), "Barabbas" (1962), "The Bible" (1966), "Dune" (1984) and the risible remake of "King Kong" (1976) with Jessica Lange.

"Making movies is all about instinct," Mr. De Laurentiis told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "Nobody taught Picasso how to paint - he learned for himself. And nobody can teach you to be a producer. You can learn the mechanics, but you can't learn what's right about a script or a director or an actor. That comes from instinct and intuition. It comes from inside you."

One of seven children, Agostino De Laurentiis was born Aug. 8, 1919, in Torre Annunziata, a town near Naples. His father was a miller and noodle manufacturer, and he resisted efforts to stay in the family business. He was drawn to movies.


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