John Patrick Veitch, the former president of worldwide production for Columbia Pictures from 1979 to 1983, died Tuesday from pancreatic cancer. He was 78.
“He was one of the really fine people in our industry,” said Sony Pictures president and CEO John Calley. “An honorable, truly decent, utterly professional man of the highest purpose. He knew his business thoroughly. He had no dark agendas. He was just a fine man (who) tried to make things work. He was not a dark person. He was an affirmative and positive person.”
Veitch had come to Hollywood after World War II. While hospitalized for a leg wound, he met Alan and Sue Ladd, who encouraged him to enter the film business as an actor.
Veitch began his acting career appearing in “Stalag 17” and “From Here to Eternity” but soon went into production. He first worked as a location manager, then quickly rose to become assistant director and production manager with various directors, including George Stevens, Billy Wilder, John Ford and Stanley Kramer.
“He gave up trying to be an actor,” said Veitch’s brother-in-law, Alan Ladd, Jr. “He had a natural talent as an executive.” Veitch signed with Columbia in 1961 as exec assistant production manager. In 1968 he was elevated to senior veep, and over the years, he served under at least a dozen different management changes at the studio.
While at Columbia, he supervised over 300 features including “Tootsie,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“John Veitch was a center support for the entire ‘Close Encounters’ endeavor,” said Steven Spielberg. “He, along with us, survived five administrations at Columbia Pictures. He was a sensible sounding board for all the creative production decisions that had to be made over the six months of shooting. I honor him and am deeply saddened.”
In 1987, Veitch set up John Veitch Productions at Columbia, where he produced “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Fast Forward,” “Suspect,” “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” and “Fly Away Home.” He was named co-chairman of LG Pictures, a division of Lions Gate Entertainment, in 1987. Veitch was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ executive branch for 30 years.
Veitch is survived by his wife of 42 years, Carol Lee; his son Jonathan, daughter Jonna and four grandchildren.
Services will be held Friday, Dec. 11, at 10 a.m. at Los Angeles’ St. Paul the Apostle Church, 10750 Ohio Ave.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the church’s outreach program for the homeless.
“This is a man people consider the great white knight of the film business,” said Veitch’s brother-in-law, David Ladd. “He had integrity, honor and honesty. You could trust him with your life, with your movie, with anything.”