Frank Yablans, the president of Paramount Pictures during the fertile early ’70s era that produced films including “The Godfather” and “Chinatown,” died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his son, ICM Partners agent Eddy Yablans. He was 79.
Renowned for a hearty sense of humor and temperamental outbursts, Yablans was later COO of MGM/United Artists and co-wrote the screenplay for “Mommie Dearest,” which he also produced.
Born in Brooklyn, Frank Yablans was brother of producer Irwin Yablans. He got his start in showbiz working for Warner Bros., Disney and Filmways, and in the late 1960s became exec VP of sales at Paramount, where he worked on marketing the hit film “Love Story.”
The success of the tearjerker led to his being named president of the studio in 1971; he held the post until 1975. Yablans was a pioneer in advocating wide openings on films like “The Godfather,” which opened on 350 screens across the country rather than just on a few screens in New York and Los Angeles, which was the custom at the time.
During that period, the studio had a run of groundbreaking films including “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Goodbye Columbus,” “True Grit,” “Serpico” and “Paper Moon.” The studio’s TV operations started to grow during that period with such hits as “Happy Days.”
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As recounted in former Paramount head of production Robert Evans’ book “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Yablans engaged in an intense fight over deal terms on “Chinatown,” which was one of the factors that led to his dismissal as president of Paramount. Evans had negotiated a piece of the gross of that film (while still head of production), and Yablans wanted to share 50-50. He was replaced by Barry Diller.
Kirk Kerkorian brought him on as vice chairman and chief operating officer of MGM from 1983 to 1985, but despite Yablans’ efforts to reduce costs by combining the historic studio with United Artists, the studio continued to face financial trouble.
He produced numerous films independently, including “Congo,” “Silver Streak” and “The Other Side of Midnight.” He also co-wrote “North Dallas Forty.”
He later founded Promenade Pictures to produce faith-based family entertainment such as the “Epic Stories of the Bible” series and was a producer on the “Rome” TV series.
He is survived by three children, four grandchildren and his longtime companion Nadia Pandolfo.
(Peter Bart contributed to this report.)