David Brown, a film and theatre producer who helped bring to screen two of the 1970s’ biggest hits, Jaws and The Sting, has died. He was 93.
Brown, who was the husband of longtime Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, died Monday at his Manhattan home following a long illness, according to the Hearst Corporation, which owns Cosmopolitan.
Brown came to Hollywood in 1953, in the waning years of the studio system, and remained active into the 21st century. As a producer, he was nominated for the best picture Oscar four times, for Jaws, 1975; The Verdict, 1982; A Few Good Men, 1992; and Chocolat, 2000.
“Yes, I’ve survived,” he told The New York Times in 1999, when he was 83. “At a certain age you become cool, not cold. I kind of represent the new and old Hollywood.”
In 1991, he and his former partner, Richard D. Zanuck, won the Irving G. Thalberg award, given at the Academy Awards for a producing career of consistent high quality. “It’s a tough business. It has a lot of heartbreak in it,” Brown said at the time.
He also earned a spot in popular culture history for encouraging his wife to write her groundbreaking 1962 book, Sex and the Single Girl, that led to her fabled career at Cosmopolitan magazine, which Brown himself had worked at years earlier.
“David Brown was a force in the entertainment, literary and journalism worlds,” Frank A. Bennack, Jr., vice chairman and chief executive officer of Hearst Corporation, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are very lucky at Hearst to have worked with him and his legendary wife, Helen, for many years. His expansive body of work will be enjoyed by people around the world for many centuries to come. He will be greatly missed.”
David Brown was credited with writing some of the formerly staid magazine’s sizzling cover lines during his wife’s 32 years at the helm: “The startling truth about sex addicts.” “How to be very good in bed.” “The terrible danger of a perfect sex partner.”
“The extraordinary thing about Helen is that she’s so unpredictable,” he told The New York Times in 1995. “I’ve never had a boring moment with her.” For her part, she once told the newspaper that “I look after him like a geisha girl.”
Brown began his Hollywood career as a story editor at 20th Century Fox after years as a journalist, magazine editor and short story writer. He brought Elvis Presley to the big screen for the first time in Love Me Tender, and was credited with talking George C. Scott into playing Patton, according to Hearst.
He became a close ally of Zanuck, the son of Darryl F. Zanuck, the mogul who reigned over Fox from the 1930s until age and changing audience tastes brought him down in the early 1970s. Brown worked with the younger Zanuck when he followed in his father’s footsteps as the studio’s production chief.
Under pressure from the board of directors, Darryl Zanuck fired his son in 1970 in an effort to save his own job, but the maneuver failed and he soon followed him out the door. Brown lost his job along with Richard Zanuck and recalled it as the lowest point of his career. “We were fired from Fox and had to dictate from the back of our cars because they wouldn’t let us in our offices,” Brown said in a 2006 Associated Press interview.
But they weren’t down for long. The pair formed Zanuck-Brown Productions, which helped produce The Sting in 1973; Steven Spielberg’s first big-screen feature, The Sugarland Express, in 1974; and the Spielberg blockbuster Jaws in 1975.
Other Zanuck and Brown films included MacArthur, The Verdict and Cocoon. In addition, Brown was executive producer on the 1989 film Driving Miss Daisy, produced by Zanuck and his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. In 1976, Zanuck and Brown announced a much-publicized deal with the estate of novelist Margaret Mitchell to produce a sequel to Gone With the Wind. A novel and script were written continuing the story, but the project never materialized on film.
At 90, David Brown put out a book called Brown’s Guide to the Good Life Without Tears, Fears or Boredom. In it, he stressed the importance of good manners and included a chapter called “The Care and Feeding of a Famous Wife.”
That, of course, was Gurley Brown. They married in 1959, when he was 43 and twice divorced and she was 37 and a top advertising copywriter in Los Angeles.
A native New Yorker, Brown started his career as a reporter after graduating from Stanford University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. In addition to his journalism work, Brown wrote scores of short stories and rose to managing editor of Cosmopolitan before conquering Hollywood.
A public funeral was scheduled for Thursday at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan.