Kenneth McEldowney

'The River' producer

Florist-turned-producer Ken McEldowney died Jan. 5 in Burbank, Calif., of natural causes. He was 97.

McEldowney was a popular Beverly Hills florist who supplied the first Academy Awards show in 1929 as well as providing flowers for the funerals of Jean Harlow, Irving Thalberg and Al Jolson. He introduced a flower-by-wire service that became the backbone of FTD as well as the first drive-through flower shop at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Beverly Drive.

In 1947, after attending an MGM preview with his first wife, studio publicist Melvina Pumphrey McEldowney, she asked him what he thought of the film. “It was junk,” he reportedly replied, and his wife dared him to go ahead and make a better picture.

Taking the dare, he hired French director Jean Renoir to direct Rumer Godden’s colonial India novel “The River.” It was the first Technicolor movie made in India, and marked the first use of magnetic sound recording for location shooting. The pic was principally funded by Indian maharajahs. Renoir insisted Godden collaborate on the script.

The neophyte producer retained the nearly bankrupt United Artists to distribute the film as a roadshow attraction, demanding reserved-seat ticket prices. “The River” was a critical and financial success in 1951, playing 34 weeks at New York’s Paris Theater. It won the International Award at the Venice Film Festival and appeared on many of the year’s top-10 lists.

Although he won the dare, he never made another film. McEldowney had a successful career in Los Angeles real estate and was instrumental in helping to obtain starting funds for the Los Angeles Rapid Transit District.

At the time of his death, McEldowney was completing a series of interviews for a forthcoming book on the film’s production, “Making the River Flow,” as well as commentary for a special-edition DVD.

He is survived by a son.

Services will be held Saturday at the Little Church of the Flowers, Forest Lawn, Glendale.

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