How David Ellison, Son of Larry Ellison, Scored Big With 'True Grit'

 Kim Kulish/Corbis

In 2009, Skydance reached a four-year co-financing, production and distribution agreement with Paramount. Studio sources indicate it is limited in scope, committing Ellison to co-finance the next Mission: Impossible as well as the Jack Ryan reboot and possible Top Gun remake (assuming the latter two fall within certain budget parameters). But sources say it is up to Paramount whether to offer Ellison a role in financing its other projects.

"We've had a great start to our relationship with Skydance and are deeply proud of how well True Grit has performed," says Adam Goodman, president of the Paramount Film Group. "David is building a quality company with smart people, and we look forward to a mutually beneficial working relationship for years to come."

Skydance has also agreed to partner on My Mother's Curse, a comedy pairing Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, and is planning to make four to six movies a year, including some moderately budgeted projects.

So with abundant backing from his father, Ellison is determined to prove he can make it on his own.

Thanks to Larry, David started flying planes when he was 13.

David's parents divorced when he was 3, and his father wasn't greatly involved when he was growing up. But flying was something the two could share. In Mike Wilson's book The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison, Jobs says the elder Ellison decided that flying would teach his son responsibility. Larry Ellison is quoted as saying that his son derived so much confidence from flying that he sometimes found himself thinking, "That's enough self-esteem for one day."

Those who know David Ellison say that if he has turned out to be a polite, disciplined young man, his mother, Barb, deserves a lot of credit. One of four women who have been married to and divorced from Larry Ellison, she raised David and his sister, Megan, also now financing movies, on a horse farm in the Northern California community of Woodside -- one of the wealthiest small towns in the country. In 2006, David told the San Francisco Chronicle that his mother kept him grounded, keeping him on an allowance of $5 a week, assigning him chores. Larry's lifestyle created challenges for Barb: Once, when Larry wanted to fly with David to Seattle to test out a flight simulator at Boeing, Barb said no because David hadn't finished his homework. Instilling a sense of humility in her son was difficult enough just living in moneyed Woodside, she told Wilson, and Larry was in the stratosphere even by local standards.

Barb wasn't thrilled when David, as a teenager, took up a new sport: aerobatics. Once again, she had Larry to thank. "David had an airplane that his father didn't like," says his aerobatics instructor, Wayne Handley. "His father didn't have a lot of confidence in it." This dubious aircraft, as Handley recalls, was a Lancair "home-built" plane named Dreamcatcher - a tiny white aircraft with turquoise and purple stripes and, according to Handley, a woman painted on the underbelly. "To pry this airplane out of David's hands, Larry bought him a top-of-the-line aerobatic airplane out of Germany, the Extra 300," Handley says. The stunt plane can roll 360 degrees in less than a second.

David met Handley through his father, who had backed the pilot in building what was dubbed the Oracle Turbo Raven. The unique plane could perform astonishing stunts, at least before a crash in 1999. ("I broke it and broke my butt," Handley says.) After Handley was sidelined by injuries, an aerobatic flier named Sean Tucker was blessed with Oracle's sponsorship, and, in 2003, he invited David, then 20, to perform with the Stars of Tomorrow aerobatic team at the country's largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts, which takes place each summer in Oshkosh, Wis. David's best friend, Nick Nilmeyer, was also on the team, and the two made up stunt moves called the "Nick-o-lator" and the "Dave-o-lator."

Did people in the flying community think young Ellison got that invitation because he was his father's son? "Yes," Handley says bluntly. "But he justified it all. He did a great job. David pulled off a flight at Oshkosh that really impressed everybody." But the danger of flying was brought home forcefully in 2006, when Nilmeyer was killed in a crash during a routine flight. For Ellison, the loss was agony. "They were so much fun together," Handley says. "They were a delight to be around." Ellison had himself tattooed with Nilmeyer's flying logo, and he has periodically written on a Facebook page dedicated to his friend's memory. In September 2008: "Nick, we just had a killer party down in the bu for labor day. You were badly missed. I love you brother."

But even before Nilmeyer's crash, Handley says Ellison was no daredevil. "Everything he did in aerobatics was well disciplined," he says. Like those who have met Ellison in Hollywood, Handley says his former student's determination is one of his striking traits. "He wants to succeed," Handley says. "He really wants to prove to the world that he is his own man."

At first it appeared David would try to emulate Larry. After finishing high school, he enrolled in Pepperdine University, planning to major in business. But he disliked the subject matter and transferred to USC, where he focused on film and television production. During his senior year, he took what has turned out to be a protracted detour when he got the role in Flyboys. (USC says David is "an ungraduated alum," but he says he intends to earn his degree.)

CONTINUED on next page

comments powered by Disqus