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Laura Ziskin, 'Spider-Man' producer and Hollywood trailblazer, dies at 61

June 12, 2011 | 10:55 pm

Laura Ziskin, a veteran film producer who counted the "Spider-Man" franchise among her many credits and was one of the most influential women in recent Hollywood history, has died 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."


Laura Ziskin on the red carpet of the Stand up to Cancer event [Video]

Laura Ziskin will receive Producers Guild of America Visionary award

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011

— Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling

 Photo: Laura Ziskin before the 2007 Academy Awards. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (12)

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What a wonderful lady....May her memory be Eternal......

The first rule of FIGHT CLUB is you thank Laura Ziskin for believing in the project and the team. This ground breaking film on masculinity exists because of Laura. Films are willed into existence and Laura had a will of steel. Your films are with us for the rest of time, Laura. It was a honor working with you. Ross Grayson Bell (producer FIGHT CLUB)

may your star never dim, and may your legacy be an inspiration to aspiring women everywhere.

my thoughts on Laura Ziskin, who succumbed to cancer today, & predicted women's cultural influence via cinema...

I am saddened Hollywood Producer Laura Ziskin succumbs to cancer today.
She was one of the women i have long looked up to in this business, since i worked with her on PRETTY WOMAN for the late Steve Reuther (recently died cancer june 5th, 2010).
She was partners with writer/producer Bob Garland,
one of the uncredited writers brought in by her on the film, and i was brought in by Reuther as the writer’s assistant during filming.
Laura’s comments in the book WOMEN WHO RUN THE SHOW: “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,” are a brilliant foreshadowing of what is already starting to occur; i think sooner, rather than later, her prophetic statement will become an actuality… i’ve been aiming toward it for a long time, and i’m beginning to feel it.

Thanks Laura Ziskin, Your Promising Words are Forever Etched on Women Filmmakers’ Dreams, Hopes & Heartfelt Truths~snb

G-d bless Laura Ziskin.

Long befoe Laura there were other women who made their impact felt on the movies. Ida Lupino directed much. Women writers even in the silent era were prevalent.

The important thing, Laura, was not that you espouse your personal view, but that you entertain the audience with a good story.

Bye bye megalo, bye bye

Whenever I hear of, or read about another death due to breast cancer, I wonder if maybe this will move the powerful Komen people to focus on metastatic breast cancer, instead of prevention or early treatment. While those issues are certainly important, women got that message. All that's really required now is public service maintenance. What Komen and the other research-oriented organizations fail to respond to is this: you don't die of breast cancer, you die of metastatic breast cancer. Granted, there are a growing number of organizations that focus on metastatic breast cancer, but they don't have anywhere near the clout or fund-raising capabilities of the bigger groups, and the bigger groups don't want to turn their considerable influence on something as depressing as dying. I cringe when I hear medical professionals talk about "cancer" and "cure" in the same sentence. There is no cure for cancer. If they mean it when they say they're working for a cure, they have to pay more attention and devote the majority of their dollars to the women - and men, who are stage 4 and fighting for their lives.

Here she is giving a speech. What an amazing person. Bless her.

Very sad. My heart goes out to her family.

omg what a loss!

The Amazing Spider-Man' will be spectacular. Seeing a "In Memory of..." during the end credits always sends chills down my spine. Especially when it's a good movie. R.I.P.

The world has recognized Ms. Ziskin as an amazing woman. The causes she believed in and worked so hard for have truly left us grateful for having had her in our lives. God bless you Ms. Ziskin...Thank you. Laura Duffin


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