Laura Ziskin, 'Spider-Man' producer and Hollywood trailblazer, dies at 61
Ziskin, who was working on the reboot of "The Amazing Spider-Man" at the time of her death, had fought a seven-year battle with breast cancer. In 2008, she founded a nonprofit that has to-date raised more than $200 million to fight the disease.
Although she was not well known among average film fans, Ziskin had a profound impact on what contemporary moviegoers watched at the multiplex. Over a three-decade career, she produced or oversaw a wide range of films, including the 1987 Cold War thriller "No Way Out," the 1990 Richard Gere-Julia Roberts romantic comedy "Pretty Woman" and 1997's James L. Brooks' Oscar-contending dramedy "As Good As It Gets."
By far her most significant filmic legacy is "Spider-Man"; she produced all three released movies in the blockbuster franchise. "The Amazing Spider-Man," a reboot of the comicbook series starring Andrew Garfield that is set to be released next year, was her most recent effort in that vein. One person close to the production noted she was extremely involved even as her cancer began to spread in recent months.
Although Ziskin had been based at the Sony Pictures lot for years, during the 1990s she also headed a division at 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000, that was responsible for the kind of serious dramas Hollywood studios rarely make these days, including "Courage Under Fire," "Fight Club" and "The Thin Red Line."
Ziskin also produced two Oscar telecasts, in 2002 and 2007. Her first effort was notable for landing Woody Allen, famously averse to awards-show hoopla. She was the first woman to produce the telecast on her own.
Outside the film world she was best known for her efforts in helping to found Stand Up to Cancer, a research initiative she founded with Katie Couric, former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing and others. The organization, which held several high-profile Hollywood telethons (her comments to The Times from the red carpet at last summer's event can be seen here), drew on the star power of the media and entertainment world to raise money for cancer research. (For more on her life and legacy, please see The Times' obituary here.)
At the Producers Guild Awards this past January, Ziskin's voice was weak when she received the group’s visionary award. She spoke about cancer’s destructive effect on families and the importance of encouraging cancer researchers to collaborate on their work. "In my world the hero always defeats the villain, the boy always gets the girl, and cancer is no more," she said.
But perhaps her most lasting impact will lie with how she was able to penetrate the inner circle of A-list producers, for decades considered an all-boys club. In Mollie Gregory's 2002 book about women and Hollywood, "Women Who Run the Show," Ziskin had one of the most memorable quotes.
"Men have built the cities, made and defined the culture, interpreted the world. At no time in recorded history have women been culture-makers," she said. "Movies are arguably the most influential, important medium in the world. They have a tremendous cultural impact. Because women are now making movies, then women's ideas, philosophy, point of view will seep into that culture. And that's never happened in history. Ever, ever, ever. We can't even see the impact of that yet."
— Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling
Photo: Laura Ziskin before the 2007 Academy Awards. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times