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Laura Ellen Ziskin[1] (March 3, 1950 – June 12, 2011)[2] was an American film producer, known as the executive producer of the romantic comedy Pretty Woman (1990) and as the first woman to produce the Academy Awards telecast alone, producing the 74th Academy Awards (2002) and the 79th Academy Awards (2007).

Laura Ziskin
Laura Ziskin.jpg
Laura Ellen Ziskin

(1950-03-03)March 3, 1950
DiedJune 12, 2011(2011-06-12) (aged 61)
EducationUSC School of Cinematic Arts
OccupationFilm producer
Years active1976–2011

Early life and educationEdit

Ziskin was born and raised in a Jewish family[3][4] in the San Fernando Valley, California, the daughter of Jay Ziskin and Elaine Edelman.[5] Her father was a psychologist and lawyer who died of prostate cancer, aged 77, on June 14, 1997.[6]

After graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1973,[5] Ziskin began by writing material for game shows, then became the personal assistant of Jon Peters. Ziskin quickly became a development executive, moving into feature films with Jon Peters' production company where she worked on the remake of A Star Is Born (1976), starring Barbra Streisand. She was the associate producer of The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).


Fogwood Films and as an independent producerEdit

Ziskin formed Fogwood Films with partner Sally Field in 1984, and produced Murphy's Romance (1985).[7] As an independent producer, Ziskin produced the thriller No Way Out (1987) for Orion Pictures.[8] Ziskin and partner Ian Sander produced two films featuring Dennis Quaid, the 1988 remake of D.O.A.[9] and Taylor Hackford's Everybody's All-American (also 1988).[10]

Touchstone PicturesEdit

Ziskin's largest success came with the release of the comedy Pretty Woman (1990), starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, on which Ziskin served as executive produced for Touchstone Pictures.[11] Her next project was difficult for Ziskin. On What About Bob? (1991), Ziskin and star Bill Murray had spirited disagreements during production.[12] Both that film and The Doctor (also 1991)[13] were not as strong at the box-office as Pretty Woman.[14] A switch to Columbia resulted in Stephen Frears' Hero (1992), a loose remake of Meet John Doe (1941), for which Ziskin both produced and supplied the story.[15] Ziskin directed her first short film Oh, What a Day! 1914, which was released in 1994, [16] and produced the Nicole Kidman tour-de-force To Die For (1995), under the banner of Laura Ziskin Productions.[17]

Fox 2000Edit

By the time that last film was in release, Ziskin had been appointed president of Fox 2000, one of several offshoots 20th Century Fox developed to speed up their production and distribution. Since the formation of Fox 2000, Ziskin rounded up an impressive number of directors and writers. Among those released were Edward Zwick's Gulf War drama Courage Under Fire (1996) and the romantic comedy One Fine Day (also 1996) and Pat O'Connor's Inventing the Abbotts (1997) and the big-budget disaster film Volcano (also 1997). Ziskin and Tom Rothman helped develop the script for The English Patient (1996) before studio head Bill Mechanic returned the rights to director Anthony Minghella, who then got it produced and distributed through Miramax.[18]

Ziskin executive produced As Good as It Gets (1997). The film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and three acting nods, and its stars, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, took home the leading role Oscars in the acting categories.

Columbia PicturesEdit

After nearly five years in the same job, Ziskin resigned from Fox 2000 in November 1999 and within a month had a production deal at Columbia Pictures. After being tapped to serve as the first solo female producer of an Academy Awards telecast in 2002, Ziskin returned to the big screen with the highly anticipated feature version of Spider-Man (2002). The film was released in early May to widespread acclaim from critics, went on to break box office records, and became the highest-grossing film of its year. The success of the film led to two sequels, Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007). In 2002, Ziskin was also awarded the Crystal Award by Women in Film for her efforts at expanding the role of women in the entertainment industry.[19]

Breast cancer activismEdit

In February 2004, Ziskin was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, a disease doctors had repeatedly missed previously because of the diffuse type of cancer she had.[20]

On May 28, 2008, Ziskin, along with Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Noreen Fraser Foundation and Ellen Ziffren, announced the creation of the charitable organization Stand Up To Cancer.


Ziskin died of breast cancer at her home in Santa Monica, California, on June 12, 2011, aged 61.[2][21] Her final films were the franchise reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Butler (2013). She died a few months after filming ended on The Amazing Spider-Man but three weeks before filming began on The Butler.[22] In 2012, the Athena Film Festival created an award to be given in her honor: The Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually to a woman in the film industry whose leadership demonstrates vision and courage and sets a standard for other women to emulate.[23]

Personal lifeEdit

When she was about 27, Ziskin married writer Julian Barry, relocating to Connecticut to help him raise his three children from a previous marriage. The couple later had a daughter, Julia Barry.[5][24] Ziskin was married to writer Alvin Sargent from 2010 until her death in 2011 from complications of breast cancer.[5]

Filmography as producer and executive producerEdit


  1. ^ Gale Research Company (2002). Contemporary theatre, film, and television, p. 388. Gale Research Co., ISBN 978-0-7876-5112-1
  2. ^ a b Aljean Harmetz (June 13, 2011). "Laura Ziskin, Producer of 'Spider-Man' and 'Pretty Woman,' Dies at 61". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Hyman, Paula; Moore, Deborah Dash (1997). Volume 1 of Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, p. 448. American Jewish Historical Society/Taylor & Francis, ISBN 978-0-415-91934-0
  4. ^ Jewish Journal: "Goodbye to Laura Ziskin: ‘A mother in a man’s world’" BY DANIELLE BERRIN June 29, 2011
  5. ^ a b c d Zeitchik, Steven; Nicole Sperling (June 14, 2011). "Laura Ziskin dies at 61; 'Spider-Man' producer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  6. ^ Staff report (June 21, 1997). "Jay H. Ziskin; Psychologist and Lawyer". Los Angeles Times. June 21, 1997.
  7. ^ Miller, Gabriel (2000). The films of Martin Ritt: fanfare for the common man. Univ. Press of Mississippi, ISBN 978-1-57806-277-5
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (August 14, 1987). Film: 'No Way Out,' Washington Drama. New York Times
  9. ^ James, Caryn (March 18, 1988). Film; 'D.O.A.,' Racing Death. The New York Times
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 4, 1988). Film; The Glory Fades in 'Everybody's All-American.' The New York Times
  11. ^ Benson, Sheila (March 23, 1990). 'Pretty Woman': Roberts' Legs, a Cold Heart. Los Angeles Times
  12. ^ Brownfield, Paul (February 29, 2004). THE ICONOCLAST; What about Bill?; Murray doesn't play the game – which might be how he keeps his craft fresh. Los Angeles Times
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 24, 1991). Film; William Hurt as Doctor Whose Spirit Heals When He Falls Ill. New York Times
  14. ^ Fox, David J. (September 4, 1991). [The Long, Not-So-Hot Summer Industry Hopes Year-End Films Revive Sagging Box Office.] Los Angeles Times
  15. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 2, 1992). A Reluctant 'Hero.' Los Angeles Times
  16. ^ Schick, Elizabeth A. (1997). Current Biography Yearbook, 1997. HW Wilson Co, ISBN 978-0-8242-0938-4
  17. ^ Quigley, Eileen S. (2006). International Television & Video Almanac. Quigley Pub. Co., ISBN 978-0-900610-78-3
  18. ^ Waxman, Sharon (2005). Rebels on the backlot: six maverick directors and how they conquered the Hollywood studio system, p. 257. HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-054017-3
  19. ^ McDonald, Kathy A. (September 20, 2002). Laura Ziskin: self-starting 'Spider-Man' producer stays real, seeks perfection. Variety
  20. ^ Waxman, Sharon (January 7, 2007). She's Producing as Fast as She Can. The New York Times
  21. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (June 12, 2011). "Producer Laura Ziskin dies at 61". Variety.
  22. ^ Finke, Nikki (August 18, 2013). "Oprah's PR Blitz Helps 'The Butler' Open #1 With $25M: Soft Box Office As 'Kick Ass 2' Falls, 'Jobs' Biopic Dies, 'Paranoia' Bombs".
  23. ^ The Laura Siskin Lifetime Achievement Award – Athena Film Festival "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 18, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ Schick, Elizabeth A. (1997). Current Biography Yearbook. HW Wilson Co., ISBN 978-0-8242-0938-4

External linksEdit