The visionary studio head was 84.
Many of our favorite films owe a debt, and even their existence, to Alan Ladd Jr. That’s certainly true of Star Wars, which Ladd greenlit and championed as president of Twentieth Century Fox.
On March 2, 2022, Ladd’s family announced that he had passed away peacefully at home. He was 84.
Ladd -- or Laddie, as he was commonly known -- first came to know of George Lucas in 1973, when friends heaped praise upon the director’s still-unreleased American Graffiti. Ladd organized a screening for himself, and came away so impressed that he scheduled a meeting with the young filmmaker. It was during this discussion that Lucas pitched his idea for a space fantasy film called The Star Wars; Ladd, believing in Lucas’ burgeoning talent, quickly made a deal for the screenplay and feature. Though Star Wars, as it would come to be known, had a troubled production and faced doubt and scrutiny from Fox executives, Ladd remained a stalwart supporter of the film and Lucas. Upon release in 1977, Star Wars became the highest grossing film of all time.
“Laddie loved film and believed in filmmakers. He was one of the few executives who bet on the person rather than the project,” said Lucas. “Without Laddie there would be no Star Wars. He didn’t understand what Star Wars was about, but he believed in me and supported my vision. Quiet and thoughtful, he had an independent spirit that gave so many storytellers a chance. He stood up to the studios and went with his gut instinct. Laddie took a great personal and professional risk on Star Wars, and on me, and for that I will be forever grateful.”
Ladd, who also saw success with his own production company, The Ladd Company, and as chairman and CEO of MGM/United Artists, spent a career shepherding some of the biggest and most influential films ever made. Beyond Star Wars and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, his many credits as a producer include Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Willow (1988), Spaceballs (1987), Thelma & Louise (1991), and Gone Baby Gone (2007). His movies received over 50 Academy Awards, with Chariots of Fire (1981) and Braveheart (1995) winning Best Picture. But throughout, Star Wars remained one of his proudest achievements.
In J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, Ladd recounted his experience at the first test screening of their risky film. “I am not very prone to emotions, but when the picture opened up and all of a sudden they just started applauding, the tears started rolling out of my eyes. That has never happened to me,” he said. “Then at the end of the picture, it kept going on, it wasn’t stopping -- and I just never had experienced that kind of a reaction to any movie ever. Finally, when it was over, I had to get up and walk outside because of the tears.”
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