David Brown, Oscar-nominated producer, husband of Helen Gurley Brown, dies in NY

By Polly Anderson, AP
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

David Brown, Oscar-nominated producer, dies in NY

NEW YORK — David Brown, a film and theater producer who helped bring to the screen two of the 1970s’ biggest hits, “Jaws” and “The Sting,” has died. He was 93.

Brown, who was the husband of longtime Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, died Monday at his Manhattan home following a long illness, according to the Hearst Corp., which owns Cosmopolitan.

Brown came to Hollywood in 1953, in the waning years of the studio system, and remained active into the 21st century. As a producer, he was nominated for the best picture Oscar four times, for “Jaws,” 1975; “The Verdict,” 1982; “A Few Good Men,” 1992; and “Chocolat,” 2000.

“Yes, I’ve survived,” he told The New York Times in 1999, when he was 83. “At a certain age you become cool, not cold. I kind of represent the new and old Hollywood.”

In 1991, he and his former partner, Richard D. Zanuck, won the Irving G. Thalberg award, given at the Academy Awards for a producing career of consistent high quality.

“It’s a tough business. It has a lot of heartbreak in it,” Brown said at the time.

He also earned a spot in popular culture history for encouraging his wife to write her groundbreaking 1962 book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” that led to her fabled career at Cosmopolitan magazine, which Brown himself had worked at years earlier.

“I owe him everything” Helen Gurley Brown told Success Magazine in 2008. “(Without him,) I wouldn’t be who I am or achieved what I did.”

David Brown was credited with writing some of the formerly staid magazine’s sizzling cover lines during his wife’s 32 years at the helm: “The startling truth about sex addicts.” ”How to be very good in bed.” ”The terrible danger of a perfect sex partner.”

“The extraordinary thing about Helen is that she’s so unpredictable,” he told The New York Times in 1995. “I’ve never had a boring moment with her.” For her part, she once told the newspaper that “I look after him like a geisha girl.”

Brown began his Hollywood career as a story editor at 20th Century Fox after years as a journalist, magazine editor and short story writer.

“David Brown was a force in the entertainment, literary and journalism worlds,” Frank A. Bennack, Jr., vice chairman and chief executive officer of Hearst Corporation, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are very lucky at Hearst to have worked with him and his legendary wife, Helen, for many years. His expansive body of work will be enjoyed by people around the world for many centuries to come. He will be greatly missed.”

He brought Elvis Presley to the big screen for the first time in “Love Me Tender,” and was credited with talking George C. Scott into playing “Patton,” according to Hearst.

He became a close ally of Zanuck, the son of Darryl F. Zanuck, the mogul who reigned over Fox from the 1930s until age and changing audience tastes brought him down in the early 1970s. Brown worked with the younger Zanuck when he followed in his father’s footsteps as the studio’s production chief.

Under pressure from the board of directors, Darryl Zanuck fired his son in 1970 in an effort to save his own job, but the maneuver failed and he soon followed him out the door.

Brown lost his job along with Richard Zanuck and recalled it as the lowest point of his career. “We were fired from Fox and had to dictate from the back of our cars because they wouldn’t let us in our offices,” Brown said in a 2006 Associated Press interview.

But they weren’t down for long. The pair formed Zanuck-Brown Productions, which helped produce “The Sting” in 1973; Steven Spielberg’s first big-screen feature, “The Sugarland Express,” in 1974; and the Spielberg blockbuster “Jaws” in 1975.

“Steven was awesome,” Brown recalled. “Instead of first shooting a few inserts as directors frequently do in the first couple of days, he had difficult shots. There was nothing, nothing too difficult for him.”

Other Zanuck and Brown films included “MacArthur,” ”The Verdict” and “Cocoon.” In addition, Brown was executive producer on the 1989 film “Driving Miss Daisy,” produced by Zanuck and his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. (As executive producer, Brown did not take home a best picture Oscar, as the Zanucks did, just as the Zanuck-Brown team did not share in the best picture award for “The Sting.”)

In 1976, Zanuck and Brown announced a much-publicized deal with the estate of novelist Margaret Mitchell to produce a sequel to “Gone With the Wind.” A novel and script were written continuing the story, but the project never materialized on film.

“The story covered eight years after the (original) film,” Brown told The Washington Post in 1986. “We got them (Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler) together again — and apart.”

Zanuck and Brown split amicably in 1988. “We still talk on the phone every day,” Brown said in 2006.

Among the films Brown produced without Zanuck: “The Player,” ”The Saint,” ”Angela’s Ashes,” ”Chocolat” and three films with Morgan Freeman — “Deep Impact,” ”Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider.”

His Broadway production credits include two musicals based on movies, the 2002 “The Sweet Smell of Success” and the 2005 “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Both were nominated for Tony awards in the best musical category. He also produced the 1989 one-man show “Tru,” the 1989 drama “A Few Good Men,” later made into a film, and a 1990 comedy, “The Cemetery Club.”

At 90, David Brown put out a book called “Brown’s Guide to the Good Life Without Tears, Fears or Boredom.” In it, he stressed the importance of good manners (”Always acknowledge a gift. … Treat everyone equally”) and included a chapter called “The Care and Feeding of a Famous Wife.”

That, of course, was Gurley Brown. They married in 1959, when he was 43 and twice divorced and she was 37 and a top advertising copywriter in Los Angeles.

He encouraged her to write a book, which she wrote on weekends, and suggested the title, “Sex and the Single Girl.” They moved to New York after the book became one of the top sellers of 1962. Moviemakers bought it for a then-very-hefty $200,000, not for the nonexistent plot, but for its provocative title. The resulting film starred Natalie Wood as Gurley Brown.

In 1965, the Browns pitched a women’s magazine idea to Hearst, which turned it down, but hired Gurley Brown to run Cosmopolitan instead. She made it the best-selling women’s magazine in the world, with circulation peaking at 3 million. She stepped aside as editor in 1997 but remained involved with Hearst Corp., overseeing the magazine’s foreign editions.

A native New Yorker, Brown started his career as a reporter after graduating from Stanford University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. In addition to his journalism work, Brown wrote scores of short stories and rose to managing editor of Cosmopolitan before conquering Hollywood.

A public funeral was scheduled for Thursday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan.

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