Film producer and financier John Heyman, who founded influential British agency International Artists and the World Group Companies, died Friday in New York, his family told Variety via statement. He was 84.
“John Heyman passed away in his sleep today, Friday the 9th of June,” the statement read.
His son, David Heyman, is the producer of the Harry Potter films, among many others.
Heyman’s World Film Sales pioneered the foreign pre-sales of films on a territory by territory basis.
John Heyman produced films including “The Go-Between” (1971), family sci-fi film “D.A.R.Y.L.” (1985) and “The Jesus Film” (1979). He was also an uncredited executive producer on David Lean’s 1984 E.M. Forster adaptation “A Passage to India.”
Over the course of his career he arranged financing of more than $3 billion to co-finance films including “Awakenings” and “The Odessa File” (at Columbia), “Edward Scissorhands,” “Home Alone” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (Fox), “Victor/Victoria” and “Trail of the Pink Panther” (MGM), “Black Rain,” “Chinatown,” “Grease,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Marathon Man,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (Paramount), “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (Warner Bros.) and “The Man Who Would Be King” (Allied Artists).
Heyman’s International Artists Agency, at the time the largest independent artists’ agency outside the U.S., repped top talent including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but in 1961 IAA launched the subsidiary World Film Sales, which ushered in a hugely important innovation for the movie industry when it became the first company to pre-sell and license films territory by territory.
Heyman pioneered structured financing in 1962 because, while vehicles for Elizabeth Taylor were easy to set up, he needed money for films that would feature working actors like Trevor Howard and Jack Hawkins.
World Film Sales was sold to ITC in 1973. Eventually Heyman built up what would be called the World Group of Companies Limited, through which, over the span of more than four decades, he served as producer, co-producer, packager, co-financier, and/or distributor of numerous films that have grossed a total of more than $7 billion.
He also financed or produced plays, including the longest-running “Hamlet” in Broadway starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud. That production was adapted for film and became the first feature Heyman produced in 1964.
The films packaged, financed or produced by World Group received more than 180 Academy Award nominations and 26 Oscars.
World Productions in London became the largest independent producer of television drama in the U.K. and the only company to have had programs airing on all five U.K. terrestrial channels in one year.
Heyman produced some 15 films, including “The Go-Between” and “The Hireling,” which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 and 1973, respectively. The former, directed by Joseph Losey from a clever screenplay by Harold Pinter and starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, was a period drama with much to say about sexual politics and class consciousness in pre-WWI Britain. The latter film, directed by Alan Bridges and starring Sarah Miles and Robert Shaw, was also about class, with the story this time centering on a romance between an aristocrat and her chauffeur.
The Heyman-produced “Privilege” (1967), directed by Peter Watkins, imagined a future Britain in which the masses were controlled through their manipulated adoration of a tortured pop star. Heyman produced two films directed by Losey in 1968: “Boom!,” which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Tennessee Williams’ adaptation of his own play, and “Secret Ceremony,” which starred Taylor and Mia Farrow as two women uncertain if they are mother and daughter.
He produced the Richard Donner-directed, “Lolita”-like film “Twinky,” which starred Charles Bronson as a writer of erotica who becomes involved with a 16-year-old played by Susan George. There was also 1971’s “Hero,” starring and co-directed by Richard Harris, followed by “Black Gunn,” starring Jim Brown, and then “Hitler: The Last Ten Days,” starring Alec Guinness as the Nazi dictator.
In 1990 Heyman co-founded Island World, which produced and licensed film and television programs including “The Cure” (Universal), “Eddie” (Disney), “Juice” (Paramount), “The Sandlot” (Fox), “Toy Soldiers” (TriStar), “Airheads” (Fox) and “The War” (Universal). Polygram purchased Island World in 1994, but Heyman retained control of the London-based production company World Productions Limited, where he teamed with producer Tony Garnett.
The company received a special BAFTA “acknowledging the nurturing of a whole new generation of writers, actors and producers and in bringing new blood and new talent into the industry.” It was sold in 2012.
Heyman also formed the Genesis Project, an academic-based, nondenominational effort to translate the Bible onto film; first out of the gate was 1979’s “The New Media Bible: Book of Genesis.” The project was eventually sold to an evangelical organization.
The Heyman-produced “The Jesus Film” (1979) was an outgrowth of the Genesis Project; the website Christian Spotlight on Film claims that more than 1 billion people have seen “The Jesus Film,” which had been translated into 406 languages.
He most recently served as executive producer on “Elie Wiesel in Concert: Memories and Melodies of My Childhood” in 2012.
John Bertjoachim Heyman was born in in Leipzig to parents who were Jews; the family fled Nazi Germany in 1933. His father was an economist and broadcaster who worked as a journalist in the U.K.
Heyman studied at Oxford, did two years of National Service and returned to Oxford to study law. Success as a contestant led to a gig as a question writer for the hit ITV quiz show “Double Your Money” while he still a student. He began to sell various concepts to British television and devoted himself to full-time work in show business by 1955; by age 22 he was public relations chief at Associated Television, one of the two founder companies of the new ITV, and was working on five of the network’s TV programs, including several of its most successful ones.
In 1959, Heyman formed the International Artists Agency, which represented actors Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Laurence Harvey and Trevor Howard as well as Shirley Bassey, Andre Previn and Burt Bacharach.
In 1961 the agency formed the subsidiary World Film Sales, which became the first company to pre-sell and license pictures on a territory-by-territory basis.
His first wife Norma Heyman, a former actress, produced films including 2005’s “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” starring Judi Dench, and 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” which was Oscar nominated for best picture.
He is survived by second wife Nizza, whom he married in 1982, and five children: producer David; Lil; Gabrielle, an executive at Zynga; Dahlia, a vice president at World Film Group; and Daniel.
Funeral service will be on Sunday the 11th in New York City.
(Pictured: John Heyman, left, and his son David Heyman)