Studio exec and producer Ned Tanen, who served as president of Universal and Paramount and produced three popular Brat Pack films in the 1980s, died Monday of natural causes in Santa Monica. He was 77.
The versatile producer was remembered as having a dry wit and deep love for movies. Tanen started as an agent, then launched record label Uni Records before becoming a producer and studio topper for Universal and Paramount during the years they turned out influential films from “American Graffiti” to “The Deer Hunter” and “Top Gun.”
“He was an inspiration to a whole generation of us,” said former Paramount chair Sherry Lansing, who worked with Tanen on films including “The Accused” and “Fatal Attraction.” “I would always think about what he would do. He could always spot the talent — his instincts were so good,” she said.
Born in Los Angeles, Tanen graduated from UCLA and served with the U.S. Air Force.
After starting as an MCA agent in 1954, Tanen founded the MCA-owned Uni Records in 1967. The label helped launch the careers of artists including the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Olivia Newton-John, Neil Diamond and Elton John and merged with Decca Records to form MCA Records.
Tanen then moved into film production. He acted as production supervisor on Milos Forman’s “Taking Off,” and in 1975 he started overseeing features for Universal. In 1976 he became president of U’s theatrical motion pictures division.
“He had a wicked sense of the absurd parts of the business. He forced us to take risks while he always had our backs and the man had courage,” said producer and former Universal production prexy Sean Daniel.
Among the films he developed and greenlit at Universal were “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Melvin and Howard” and “Missing,” helping to introduce filmmakers including George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Costa-Gavras.
“Ned was someone who spawned a generation of young filmmakers. He was the kind of guy who doesn’t exist today — he was someone of great quality,” said producer Albert S. Ruddy, a longtime friend and associate.
During Tanen’s time as an independent producer, his Channel Prods. label produced the Brat Pack trilogy of John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” plus Joel Schumacher’s “St. Elmo’s Fire.”
“He launched so many people’s careers,” said Schumacher, whose first two features as a director, “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” and “DC Cab,” were greenlit by Tanen. Schumacher recalled that no one wanted to make “St. Elmo’s Fire,” but Tanen got Columbia to do it.
“He believed in you, and he would put his money where his mouth was,” Schumacher said, describing Tanen’s sense of humor as “wry, dark and ironic.”
In 1984 Tanen joined Paramount as president of the motion picture group, where films made under his tenure included “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “The Untouchables.”
He retired from Par in 1988 to become a consultant with the studio, and in 1992 he signed a producing agreement with Sony Pictures Entertainment. His later producing credits include “Mary Reilly,” “Cops and Robbersons” and “Guarding Tess.”
Tanen is survived by his partner, Donna Dubrow; two daughters; and three grandchildren.