Schwary, an Oregon native, broke into the entertainment business through his friendship with John Wayne while working as a manager of the USC football team. Wayne paid $218 for Schwary to take the Assistant Directors Training Program test to become a DGA Trainee. He didn’t pass the first time, so Wayne assisted Schwary in getting work as a stand-in for Dustin Hoffman on “The Graduate” and as an extra in “Planet of the Apes.
Schwary passed the DGA test on his next attempt, which led to the start of his career as an assistant director in the early 1970s. He began working with Jerry Lewis, Elvis, Peter Fonda, Ann-Margret, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau and eventually became a production manager with the assistance of director Bob Butler, and producer Ray Stark.
Schwary was hired by Redford as the sole producer on “Ordinary People” after Schwary had worked as an associate producer and production manager on Redford’s 1978 drama “The Electric Horseman.”
“Ordinary People,” based on the Judith Guest novel, starred Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch. Besides Schwary’s award, the film won Oscars for Redford in his directorial debut, Hutton for supporting actor and Alvin Sargent for adapted screenplay. It also won the New York Film Critics Award and the National Board of Review Best Picture Award.
Schwary was an executive producer on Sydney Pollack’s “Absence of Malice” and worked with Pollack on “Tootsie,” producing and portraying the character Phil Weintraub in the comedy. He then produced the Rolling Stones documentary “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
Schwary then partnered with director Norman Jewison to produce 1984’s “A Soldier’s Story,” starring Adolph Caesar and Denzel Washington, adapted from Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, “A Soldier’s Play.” Schwary, Jewison and Patrick Palmer were nominated for the Oscar Best Picture award, won by “Amadeus.”
In 1986, Schwary produced “Batteries Not Included,” starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. In 1989, Schwary teamed with Pollack and Redford as executive producer of “Havana.” He went on to executive produce “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” “Sabrina” and “Scent of a Woman,” “Meet Joe Black” and “Random Hearts,” his final film.
Schwary worked in a producing capacity on six films with Pollack: “The Electric Horseman,” “Absence of Malice,” “Havana,” “Sabrina,” “Random Hearts” and “Tootsie.”
Schwary’s TV producing credits included the first season of the Vietnam war series, “Tour of Duty” along with “Now and Again,” and “Medium.” He was forced into retirement in 2015 after struggling for years with a rare neurological autonomic disorder.
Schwary worked extensively in production with his sons, Brian and Neil. Besides his sons, he’s survived by brothers Mitchell Jr., Dennis, Gary; his sister, Carol; and his grandson, Mars.
(Pictured, Ronald Schwary with Kelly Preston on the set of “Medium.”)