Peter Zinner, whose decades-long career as a film editor included the first two “Godfather” films and an Oscar for 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” has died. He was 88.
Zinner died Tuesday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica of complications from an almost five-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his daughter Katina Zinner said.
“He was a humble guy. If anyone wasn’t full of the Hollywood junk, it was my dad,” she told The Associated Press. “He lived life to the fullest. He was passionate on every level. We were the best of friends.”
Born in 1919 in Vienna, Peter Zinner, who was Jewish, escaped the Nazis with his family and moved to the Philippines in 1938. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1940 and “always wanted to be in film,” said his daughter.
Zinner earned his living as a taxi driver and playing piano in silent movie theaters before landing a position as an apprentice film editor at 20th Century Fox in the early 1940s.
That led to music editing positions including at MGM.
In 1960, he quit MGM and started his own company with two other film editors, his daughter said.
It was Zinner’s film editing work on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 groundbreaking mob drama “The Godfather” that earned him an Academy Award nomination with coeditor William Reynolds.
“Peter Zinner made a great contribution to ‘The Godfather,'” Coppola said in an e-mail to The AP through his publicist. “Working on the editing of the final (baptism) sequence, Peter had the inspiration to add the organ music that pulled the sequence together.”
“He was a fine collaborator, as was Bill Reynolds, and I will always remember them with fondness and gratitude,” Coppola added.
Zinner’s other notable movie editing credits included 1967’s “In Cold Blood,” 1974’s “The Godfather: Part II” and 1976’s “A Star Is Born.”
He snagged a film editing Oscar for Vietnam War flick and best picture winner “The Deer Hunter.” He later picked up an Oscar nomination for 1982’s romantic drama “An Officer and a Gentlemen.”
“He was in tears, winning the Oscar. He was absolutely moved. I don’t think he ever thought he’d be up there,” Katina Zinner said. “‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Deer Hunter,’ he thought they were both timeless pieces.”
Director and screenwriter Frank Pierson, a longtime friend of Zinner’s, said Zinner was “the absolute top echelon of film editors.”
The pair worked on Pierson’s “A Star is Born,” among other movies.
“He had a great sense of story and a great musical sense of rhythm,” Pierson said. “Film is as much a musical medium, in terms of pace and pitch and emotional tone.”
As a person, “he had a wonderful sense of humor,” Pierson said, adding that Zinner could be also be “gruff and impatient.” Katina said her father loved fast sports cars.
Zinner also won Emmy awards in editing for ABC’s “War and Remembrance” in 1989 and HBO’s “Citizen Cohn” in 1993.
He appeared only once as an actor, playing an admiral in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October,” and directed one movie, 1981’s “The Salamander,” a political thriller set in Italy with Anthony Quinn.
Last year, Zinner collaborated with his daughter, also a film editor, on the documentary “Running With Arnold” about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Zinner is survived by his wife Christa, 87, a German-born artist whom he married in 1959; his daughter Katina, 46; and stepson Dr. Nicolas Nelken, 52.