Heartland Film Festival: ‘Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies’ – The story of the man who saved ‘Star Wars’
There are some movies so famous that everyone knows their name. Star Wars. Blade Runner. Alien.Police Academy. Young Frankenstein. These films are easily recognizable due to their success, even if you haven’t seen them. Strangely these films all have something else in common other than fame: they all largely owe their success to Alan Ladd Jr. Heartland Film Festival is about appreciating movies, so what better movie to do so than with Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, a celebratory look at one of film’s most influential executives.
“Who is Alan Ladd Jr.?” you may be asking, and this is a fair question. He isn’t an actor or director in the spotlight; instead he works behind the scenes helping to get movies made. He has worked as an agent, producer, president of Twentieth Century Fox, Chairman and CEO of Pathe Entertainment, and founder of the Ladd Company. Even more impressive, according to the film’s official website, his filmography consists of 164 films, 150 Academy Award nominations, and 50 Academy Award wins. So basically Alan Ladd Jr. has had a major hand in the crafting movie masterpieces, but most people have never heard of him. He was not just a Hollywood mover and shaker; he was also a husband and father.
Enter Alan Ladd’s daughter, Amanda Ladd Jones to remedy the issue with her film detailing the career and impact of her father, Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies.
The film begins with Amanda interviewing San Diego Comic Con attendees asking who Alan Ladd Jr. is. Unsurprisingly, most attendees, even avid Star Wars fans, are unable to answer her question. This perfectly demonstrates her point: her father did had an almost incomprehensible impact on cinema, but he is hardly credited for his contribution.
After this brief demonstration, the film goes into more detail about Amanda’s father. As the son of actor Alan Ladd, Alan Ladd Jr. (affectionately called “Laddie” for short) has never been a stranger to the film industry. In 1963 Laddie began his career as an agent working on behalf of big stars like Robert Redford, Judy Garland and others, later moving to London to produce films in 1969. After producing nine films, Laddie returned to America and was offered the position of Head of Creative Affairs at 20th Century Fox, which he accepted.
It is during this time that Ladd helped director George Lucas get his vision for Star Wars off the ground. After studies were unimpressed with Lucas’ first film, American Graffiti, studios denied Lucas’ script for A New Hope. Luckily for all of us, Ladd saw great potential in George Lucas’ vision and funded the project. Even after the first internal screening of A New Hope, the studio executives thought the project would crash and burn, but Ladd continued to back the project. Now with his own reputation at stake, the pressure on both Ladd and Lucas for Star Wars to succeed was extremely high.
Of course, Star Wars became the single most profitable film franchise of all time as well as a cultural landmark.
In addition to George Lucas, another famed filmmaker that Laddie helped was Mel Brooks. While serving as the Head of Creative Affairs, Laddie decided that 20th Century Fox should pick up Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein for distribution. Other members of Fox’s executive structure were hesitant because of the lack of color in the film, but Laddie saw the potential in the film and more importantly in Brooks as an artist.
Eventually, Laddie became the president of Fox. During his tenure, films such as the infamous Alienwere created. Alien director Ridley Scott also benefitted from Laddie’s input. Scott has initially envisioned Sigourney Weaver’s character as a male, but Ladd convinced him to make the protagonist a female. Considering that female leads, especially in action or horror films, were almost non-existent, this demonstrates Ladd’s dedication in including women on screen. Not only did he respect women enough to put them on screen, but he continued this inclusive attitude off-screen by giving women powerful roles such as producers.
Despite his success, Laddie left Fox to start his own production company, The Ladd Company in 1979. The Ladd Company is responsible for such films as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. The Ladd Company would later go on to produce hits such as Braveheart and Thelma & Louise.
Later in 1985 Ladd joined MGM/UA. Once again, he rose to the top ranks as Chairman and CEO of MGM Pathe Communications. Later, Ladd returned to The Ladd Company to work independently.
While not celebrated by the masses, Ladd is widely respected within the film industry. Throughout the film various celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, and George Lucas praise Ladd for his work. For his accomplishments, Ladd was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
While Ladd’s work is fascinating, Amanda manages to brilliantly make the film a personal piece about acceptance. While her film undoubtedly celebrates her father, she does simultaneously criticize him for being too absorbed in his work throughout her childhood. This never comes off as disrespectful but the understandable perspective of a child longing for her father’s attention. Amanda spent her first 20 years wishing her father was around to be a father to her, but as she got older she realized how her father had done so much for his family. It is telling then, that as Laddie accepted the Academy Award for Braveheart he only gave thanks for one thing.
Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is an important glance at this very influential man. We own Laddie for so many great pieces of cinema, but Amanda’s film is the only real glimpse many of us have had of Alan Ladd Jr. Considering his importance, this is a crime.
Thank you Alan Ladd Jr. for your work, and more importantly, thank you Amanda for sharing your father’s story with the world.
Featured image from Variety
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