Daniel Melnick, a producer and studio chief who was widely respected as a bold risk taker, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 77 and had recently undergone surgery for lung cancer.
Known for his biting wit and keen intelligence, Melnick came out of the television business and built a strong reputation as a film innovator. While studio chief at MGM, he presided over such hits as “Network,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “The Sunshine Boys,” and he served as exec producer of “That’s Entertainment,” one of the major hits of the Lion’s later era.
A compendium of MGM hits of the past, “That’s Entertainment” was crafted by Jack Haley Jr. and Melnick in an atmosphere of secrecy. Jim Aubrey, president of MGM, was oblivious of the project as was Leo’s owner, Kirk Kerkorian.
Moving on to Columbia, Melnick fostered such notable pics as “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “California Suite” and “Midnight Express,” among others.
“He was an extraordinary producer who was never afraid to take risks,” said former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing. “Not only was he a good friend, but he always brought a perspective and rich sense of humor to everything he was involved in.”
Melnick graduated from NYU and began his career in entertainment when he was 20, becoming the youngest staff producer at CBS in 1954. During his time there, Melnick and partner David Susskind co-exec produced the TV series “East Side/West Side” and “N.Y.P.D.” He and Susskind won Emmys for their production of “Death of a Salesman” and “Ages of Man.”
After leaving CBS, Melnick became VP of programming at ABC. He then became a partner for eight years at Talent Associates, where he developed numerous film, TV and stage productions, including the long-running Don Adams laffer “Get Smart” and “Straw Dogs.”
In 1972, Melnick joined MGM. He became head of production in 1974. Over the next three years, Melnick was responsible for a run of hits at the studio.
Melnick later formed and headed IndieProd, which produced pics such as “Blue Streak,” and “L.A. Story.” He also served as exec producer on “All That Jazz,” “Altered States” and “Footloose.”
Melnick is survived by a son, Peter, a theatrical composer.