Some titans of the entertainment industry are the ones you never see—talents like legendary producer Alan Ladd, Jr, who passed away on March 2, 2022. Unlike those whose contributions are their face or their ability to perform, his unique gift came from the ability to see potential and make it reality. Many films have him to thank for coming to fruition, as his executive role in Hollywood was the voice in the ear of power that, in many ways, changed the course of history.
So rather than mourn his passing, let’s gather here and celebrate his life – the legacy of a man who helped bring the world science fiction classics like Star Wars and Blade Runner, and who facilitated the telling of true stories, like The Right Stuff, that made these modern epics possible. A man not just of the people, but of the audience, he will forever be remembered not for the deals he made, but for the dreams he fostered.
The son of legendary actor and producer, Alan Ladd, Alan Ladd, Jr., was born on October 22, 1937 in Los Angeles, California. A Hollywood legacy from the moment he came into this world, Ladd spent his youth running around studio lots and soundstages, one of his first jobs being that of a movie theater usher during his childhood in Beverly Hills. The job allowed him to see Errol Flynn pictures five and six times in a row. Developing an investment not merely in the idea of performing, but in the formulation of a movie, Ladd’s career path took him down a different road from that of his father. Although he broke into the industry as a stunt man on some of his fahter’s films, such as Santiago and The Deep Six in the Fifties, he continued on in the business as an executive.
Beginning his career as an agent in 1963, while employed by Creative Management Associates, Ladd had a client list consisting of luminaries like Judy Garland, Warren Beatty, and contemporary from high school, Robert Redford. Five years later, he moved to London, and into independent production. While in England, Ladd went on to produce his first nine films in just four years, working with still more legendary talents like Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and countless others. Eventually, in 1973 he was coaxed back to the States by 20th Century Fox, who wanted him to be their Head of Creative Affairs.
By 1976, he had worked his way up to president of the company’s film division, where attending the screening of a little film, not yet released, called American Graffiti caused him to cross paths with a young visionary director by the name of George Lucas.
This would be the historic encounter that transformed Alan Ladd, Jr., into the man who saved Star Wars, and forever changed the face of Hollywood.
From the time he went to Fox president Gordon Stulberg with the project, Ladd was the film’s staunchest advocate. Teaming with Stulberg when the board of directors tried to shut down production, he went to bat for Lucas at every turn. As the production suffered due to innumerable issues, struggling with location issues, story problems, and budgetary disagreements, Ladd fought for it despite the fact that such a project was, at the time, a huge risk for the studio.
His work was rewarded at the first ever public screening of Star Wars in May of 1977, held at the Northpoint Theater in San Francisco. Moved to tears by the audience reaction, and the achievement of film he and Stulberg had championed, Ladd understood that what was happening was going to change everything.
Star Wars went on to become a critically acclaimed hit, the highest grossing film of all time at that point, and spawned a franchise that is still generating massive revenue to this day. Star Wars became the first true blockbuster film of all time, and would have never seen completion if not for the advocacy of Alan Ladd, Jr..
For the rest of his career, Ladd was just that: an advocate, a voice for others, and a trailblazer on many fronts. Not only was he responsible for seeing the production of one of Hollywood’s first ever female-fronted action horror films, Alien, but he gave women a voice in the industry by supporting female-centric films with strong lead characters long before it was fashionable. He was also responsible for hiring some of the earliest female executives in Hollywood, and made human rights history by hiring Ashley Boone as the President of Marketing and Distribution – in the mid-1970’s, making her the first African American to achieve the corporate rank of President in Hollywood. A firm believer in equality across all lines, gender based or racial, Ladd is cited as being the driving force behind human rights awareness in the entertainment industry.
In 1979, Ladd left to form his own company. With him at the helm, The Ladd Company became the production force behind Blade Runner, and when he dissolved the company during the 80’s to head MGM/UA, where among his credits was the fantasy film Willow and the sci-fi comedy classic from the mind of Mel Brooks that spoofed the franchise that made Ladd famous, Spaceballs.
Reforming The Ladd Company in the Nineties, the legendary executive continued producing films like Braveheart, which earned critical acclaim and an Oscar for Best Picture in 1995. He continued making pictures through 2007, with Gone Baby Gone being one of his last ventures in movie production. He died on March 2nd due to kidney failure at the age of eighty four.
While his life may have ended, his legacy lives on. As a man known for breaking the brusque and vulgar Hollywood executive stereotype with his quiet demeanor and geniality, his very personality broke as many molds as his career did. In these strange and haunting times we now live in, his belief in equality and decisive actions taken to support that cause offer more than an example: they offer us hope for the future.
Alan Ladd, Jr., we remember you here and now, meditate on all you stood for, and will never forget you for the masterpieces to which you allowed the world to bear witness.
Rest in peace, sir…and may the Force be with you.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.