Robert Haggiag, an American based in Rome who produced, co-produced and otherwise bankrolled more than 50 films, including Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Oscar-winner “The Barefoot Contessa,” died March 1 in Rome. He was 95.
Born in Tripoli, Libya, Haggiag started making movies in Italy in the 1940s and during the 1950s partnered with Italian producer Angelo Rizzoli in Rome, where he founded Dear Films. which became an Italian distributor of 20th Century Fox and United Artists films.
Dividing his time between the United States and Italy, the reserved but high-flying Haggiag contributed to shepherding a slew of star- studded pics, including John Huston’s 1954 “Beat The Devil,” toplining Humphrey Bogart, Sahara-set “Legend of the Lost,” which in 1957 paired John Wayne and Sophia Loren, and Anthony Mann’s 1961 epic “El Cid,” in which Loren played opposite Charlton Heston.
In 1968, capturing that year’s experimental mood, Haggiag personally produced the sexy spoof “Candy,” based on scribe Terry Southern’s “Candide” sendup, about a girl who descends from outer space to wreak sexual havoc on earth.
“We’re going to have the opening in the Sistine Chapel. It’s a secret, because the Pope hasn’t given his approval yet,” Haggiag joked that year to “The New York Times,” in a rare interview.
A prolific producer, Haggiag gradually retreated from moviemaking in the 1970s when a freeze on government subsidies combined with political turmoil made it tough going for international productions in Italy.
He had previously also mounted several important local productions such as Pietro Germi’s sophisticated comedy “Signore e Signori” (“The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians”) which scooped the 1965 Cannes fest Grand Prize and won him a best producer David di Donatello, Italy’s top industry honor.
Mankiewicz’s Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner-starrer “The Barefoot Contessa,” co-produced by Haggiag with Rizzoli, and winner of a best supporting actor nod in 1954 for Edmond O’Brien, was shot in Rome’s famed Cinecitta Studios, which remained close to his heart.
When the Italian government partly privatized Cinecitta in 1998, Haggiag’s Dear Films quietly snapped up an 11% stake in the studios and he became a board member.
In the latter part of his life Haggiag kept a hand in showbiz by also exec-producing Ken Russel’s “Lady Chatterly” BBC telepic in 1993, among other projects. In 2006 he made his first foray into legit by co-producing Christopher Hampton’s play “Embers,” toplining Jeremy Irons, on the London stage.
Haggiag is survived by his wife Mirella, and sons Simone, a producer, Jacopo and Michael, a producer.
— Nick Vivarelli