November 11, 2010 / 12:26 PM / 7 years ago

Legendary movie producer Dino De Laurentiis dies at 91

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar-winning Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis, a master movie showman who brought some 500 films to the big screen including "La Strada," "Serpico," and "Three Days of the Condor," has died at age 91.

The producer of Italian classics such as Federico Fellini's "La Strada," for which he won an Oscar, and Hollywood fare such as "Barbarella" and a "King Kong" remake, died at his Beverly Hills home late on Wednesday night, surrounded by his family.

De Laurentiis was known as much for movies including another foreign language Academy Award winner, "The Nights of Cabiria," as he was for business ventures such as building the Dinocitta production studio outside Rome in 1964. And as many a producer had done before him, he enjoyed some spectacular successes, as well as highly public failures.

His granddaughter Giada, a chef who hosts a show on the U.S. Food Network TV channel, called him a "true inspiration."

"He was my biggest champion in life and a constant source for wisdom and advice. I will miss him dearly," Giada De Laurentiis said.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been determined.

In California, actor-turned-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to whom De Laurentiis gave his first big break when casting him in "Conan the Barbarian," issued a statement calling the producer "a great entrepreneur, genius and salesman."

"Maria (Schwarzenegger's wife) and I join millions of people around the world in sending our thoughts and prayers to Dino's friends and family as we remember a life lived to its fullest," Schwarzenegger said.

PASTA MAKER'S SON

De Laurentiis was born on August 8, 1919 in Torre Annunziata, near Naples, and his father had expected him to work for the family's pasta business, but the young man had ambitions of his own and as a teenager, ran off to Rome to study acting.

By his early 20s, he had produced his first film, "L'Amore Canta," and founded his first company, Real Cine in Italy.

Following World War II, he became a leading producer in the Italian movie industry with films such as "Bitter Rice," which starred his first wife, Silvana Mangano.

But it was "La Strada" ("The Road"), the tale of a young woman who is sold to a gypsy entertainer -- played by Anthony Quinn -- under whom she endures much hardship, that gave De Laurentiis a taste of Hollywood glamour when it won the 1956 foreign language film Oscar.

A year later, he again claimed Oscar glory with "The Nights of Cabiria," also directed by Fellini, which tells of the travails of a young prostitute in Rome.

Leveraging his newfound fame as a producer, De Laurentiis raised millions to build the Dinocitta (Dino City) film studio on the outskirts of Rome in the mid-1960s, only to see it go bankrupt within a few years.

While Dinocitta would prove to be one of several business ventures that turned sour, De Laurentiis never gave up his hunger for success and by the early 1970s, he found himself taking up residence in the United States and cranking out Hollywood movies, one after another.

Action films such as 1973's "Serpico," which earned Al Pacino an Oscar nomination in the lead role of whistle-blowing cop Frank Serpico, "Death Wish" and "Three Days of the Condor" found success. But there were many flops like 1984's "Dune."

De Laurentiis was behind the "King Kong" remake of 1976, the killer whale film "Orca," several adaptations of Stephen King's novels, and most recently "Hannibal," the 2001 sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs."

In 2000, Oscar organizers at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave De Laurentiis their Irving G. Thalberg Award that honors creative producers. In 2003, the Venice film festival honored him with their lifetime achievement award.

He is survived by his wife, Martha Schumacher, and their two daughters, as well as three daughters from his marriage to Mangano. A son, Federico, died in a plane crash in 1981.

Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and Silvia Aloisi in Rome; Editing by Anthony Boadle

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