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David Brown

David Brown

Born on July 28, 1916 in New York City, Brown was raised by his father, Edward, and his mother, Lillian, and graduated from both Stanford University and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Brown went right to work as a journalist, working as an apprentice reporter and copy editor for The San Francisco News and The Wall Street Journal. He also wrote for magazines like Collier's, Harper's and The Saturday Evening Post, while working as a stringer for The New York Times. Brown moved up to editorial director for the Milk Research Council in New York while advancing from associate editor to executive editor and finally editor-in-chief for Liberty magazine. But with the world at war, Brown was called to serve his country and became a 1st lieutenant with U.S. Army military intelligence during World War II. Upon his return to the States, he resumed his journalism career as the editorial director for the national educational campaign for the American Medical Association before joining Cosmopolitan magazine as a managing editor, where he met his soon-to-be famous wife, Helen Gurley, whom he married in 1959.In 1951, producing legend Darryl F. Zanuck hired Brown as the managing editor of the story department at 20th Century Fox, thus starting his Hollywood career. Over the course of the decade, Brown moved up to head the scenario department at Fox, eventually becoming the vice president of creative operations and later a producer. Brown left 20th Century to become the editorial vice president of New American Library of New Literature, Inc., before making his return to the studio to head up the story operations department. In 1967, Brown was made the vice president of story operations and was promoted to executive vice president before leaving for Warner Bros. where he became a member of the board of directors. During his time at Fox, Brown befriended Richard Zanuck, the son of studio head Darryl F., and eventually left the studio with him in 1971 to form the Zanuck/Brown Co., which in the ensuing two decades produced some of Hollywood's most notable films. The pair's first film was "The Sting" (1973), which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford as a pair of grifters who con an Irish mob boss (Robert Shaw) as a means of exacting revenge for a murdered friend. The film was a massive success - one of the biggest hits of the decade - and earned seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.From there, Brown and Zanuck went on to producer Steven Spielberg's directorial debut, "The Sugarland Express" (1974), as well as the Clint Eastwood action thriller "The Eiger Sanction" (1974) and Don Siegel's spy thriller "The Black Windmill" (1974), starring Michael Caine and Donald Pleasance. Reteaming with Spielberg, Brown and Zanuck famously produced Hollywood's first $100 million blockbuster, "Jaws" (1975), one of the most financially successful and influential movies of all time. After producing the biographical drama, "MacArthur" (1977), which starred Gregory Peck as the controversial general, the duo went back to the well with the underwhelming "Jaws 2" (1978). They continued to disappoint with the forgettable thriller "The Island" (1980) and the misfire John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd comedy "Neighbors" (1981), before scoring another critical and commercial hit with "The Verdict" (1982), which starred Paul Newman as an alcoholic attorney who seeks redemption by taking on a difficult-to-win medical malpractice case. The film earned five Academy Awards nominations including one for Best Picture. Following Arthur Penn's competent spy thriller, "Target" (1985), with Gene Hackman and Matt Dillon, Brown and Zanuck teamed with Ron Howard on the hugely successful "Cocoon" (1985), a sci-fi themed drama about a group of senior citizens rejuvenated by the arrival of aliens.After producing the sequel, "Cocoon: The Return" (1988), Brown and Zanuck disbanded their company, though he would serve as the executive producer of the new Zanuck Company's first production, "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), which won the Oscar for Best Picture. Brown went on to found his own production company, The Manhattan Project Ltd. in 1988, which produced Aaron Sorkin's searing military courtroom drama, "A Few Good Men" (1992). He also served as a producer on Robert Altman's highly praised Hollywood satire, "The Player" (1992), though he stumbled a bit with "The Cemetery Club" (1993), "Watch It" (1993) and "Canadian Bacon" (1994). Turning to summer blockbusters, Brown enjoyed commercial success with "The Saint" (1997) and "Deep Impact" (1998), but ventured back to critically acclaimed films like "Angela's Ashes" (1999) and "Chocolat" (2000), which earned him another Oscar nod for Best Picture. Around this time, Brown began producing Broadway musicals including "Sweet Smell of Success: The Musical" (2002) and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (2005), while keeping his feet firmly planted in film with "Along Came a Spider" (2001), "Framed" (2003) and "Flyboys" (2006). Spending his last years working sporadically and spending time with his wife and family, Brown eventually succumbed to renal failure on Feb. 1, 2010 at 93 years old, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most prolific producers of the latter 20th century.By Shawn Dwyer