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Subject: Marvin Mirisch, film producer

Los Angeles
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Date Posted: November 20, 2002 9:36:32 EDT

Marvin Mirisch, the quietest of a team of three brothers who helped steer movie production from a studio-dominated system to an independent approach that gave directors creative freedom, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 84 and suffered a heart attack, according to his son Don.

At its peak in the 1960's, the Mirisch Company was Hollywood's preeminent independent production company, known for recruiting top directors. The results included 68 movies for United Artists, three of which won Academy Awards for best picture: "The Apartment," "West Side Story" and "In the Heat of the Night."

Billy Wilder, the director, said in "The Bright Side of Billy Wilder, Primarily" (Doubleday, 1970): "All the Mirisch Company asks me is the name of a picture, a vague outline of the story and who's going to be in it. The rest is up to me. You can't get any more freedom than that."

Business Week in 1962 said: "Unlike the majors, the Mirisches don't burden themselves with bricks and mortars. They rent space by the week and sound stages by the day. The overhead stays low." The result, that magazine article added, was that creative producers were left with the time to create.

The Mirisch brothers' power in the industry was not suggested by their low-key approach; they stayed in the shadows of their stars and star directors.

Marvin, who was quiet by nature, coordinated logistics, negotiated the details of business deals and oversaw the legal and accounting operations, according to Tino Balio's "United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry" (University of Wisconsin, 1987).

Harold, who died in 1968, was the most gregarious, cultivating relationships with the industry's rich and famous and putting together major deals.

Walter produced movies himself, sometimes without credit, and oversaw the creative development of movies produced by others.

The three would often trade roles, however, and Marvin produced a handful of movies, mainly late in his career, including "Dracula" in 1979.

Marvin Elliot Mirisch was born in New York City on March 19, 1918, one of four sons of Max Mirisch and Josephine Urbach Mirisch. He graduated from City College of New York in 1940 and moved to Milwaukee, where he started the Theater Candy Company with his oldest brother, Irving. It grew to serve 800 theaters in the Midwest.

His two other brothers, Harold and Walter, were executives at Monogram Pictures, and Marvin joined them in 1952. Monogram produced low-budget features like "The Little Rascals" and "The Bowery Boys." But in 1946, Steve Broidy, owner of Monogram, created a subsidiary, Allied Artists, to make better-quality movies. Allied signed directors like John Huston, William Wyler and Mr. Wilder by offering liberal stock options.

Allied lost money on several higher-quality films and decided not to produce expensive ones. The Mirisches then formed their own company and signed a deal with United Artists to produce a minimum of four pictures a year, beginning on Sept. 1, 1957.

In an interview yesterday, Walter marveled that he and his brothers could produce that many movies a year.

"The only way you could do that was with interpersonal relationships with the people who were doing it and the people who were financing it," he said. He characterized Marvin's contribution as "critical."

The Mirisch films included "The Magnificent Seven," which spawned three sequels and a television series; "The Great Escape" (1963); "The Pink Panther" (1964); and "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966).Their long relationship with United Artists ended with the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1972.

In addition to producing "Dracula," Marvin was executive producer of "Romantic Comedy" in 1982 and of a new "Pink Panther" cartoon series produced by MGM-UA in 1993-94. He was on the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among many activities in the movie industry.

He is survived by his brother Walter; his wife of 60 years, Florene; his son, Don; his daughters Carol Hartmann and Lynn Rogo, all of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren.

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