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Dino De Laurentiis was a film producer who over his 60-year career produced more than 600 films, from King Kong to Serpico to Flash Gordon.
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He even built a huge production facility, Dinocittà, near Rome for his work in the early 1960s. Parts of The Bible . . . In the Beginning (1966) were filmed there, which was directed by John Huston. Featuring a huge cast of film stars, the film had such actors as George C. Scott, Richard Harris, Ava Gardner,
and Peter O’Toole portraying biblical figures. Another big success for De Laurentiis during this period was Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1968). Always interested in a diverse mix of films, he also produced the science fiction cult classic, Barbarella (1968), featuring Jane Fonda as a futuristic sex kitten. It was directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim.
In the early 1970s, De Laurentiis moved to the United States. During this decade, he worked on a lot of suspense and action films while still supporting a number of more artistic endeavors. De Laurentiis served as executive producer on Sidney Lumet’s gritty drama, Serpico (1973), which starred Al Pacino as a cop who stands up against police corruption. Helping bring several of Charles Bronson’s action films to the big screen, he worked on such films as The Valachi Papers (1972). De Laurentiis reteamed with Fellini on Casanova (1977) and worked with Ingmar Bergman on The Serpent’s Egg (1977). One of his most ambitious projects of the time was remaking the 1933 classic action adventure film, King Kong (1976) with Jessica Lange. Lange played the object of affection for the enormous ape, a role that made Fay Wray famous in the original. The response to the remake was decidedly mixed.
Returning to science fiction, De Laurentiis produced several adaptations in the early 1980s. In 1980, the modern take of the classic hero, Flash Gordon, made to the big screen, but was not a box office success. A few years later Dune (1984), the first film version of the popular science fiction series by Frank Herbert, was released. Directed by David Lynch, the big budget fantastical tale failed to make much of an impression on moviegoers.
Around this time, De Laurentiis experienced a series of personal tragedies. His only son, Federico, died in a plane crash in 1981. He had been working on a film in Alaska, following his father’s footsteps as a producer. Two years later, Dino and his wife Silvana separated. (They were in the midst of divorce proceedings when Silvana died in 1989.) Around that same time, he established the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG). But several box office flops, most notably the over-the-top epic Tai-Pan (1986), put a strain on his business. De Laurentiis resigned from DEG in 1988.
Down, but not out, De Laurentiis continued to producing. Working on television projects, he brought an adaptation of Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back (1991) to CBS and the biblical story of Solomon and Sheba (1995) for the Showtime cable network. Back on the big screen, De Laurentiis was behind the crime drama, Body of Evidence (1993), starring Madonna, and the thriller Unforgettable (1996) with Ray Liotta.
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