Tobey Maguire, Sally Field Pay Tribute to Laura Ziskin at Memorial Service
Laura Ziskin, who died from complications of cancer on June 12, didn’t want a memorial that was somber and dreary, her daughter Julia Barry told the late producer’s many friends and colleagues who gathered to celebrate her life Tuesday evening at Sony Pictures.
"It should be fun and fabulous and it should be a celebration,” Barry said, and that’s just how the memorial celebration played out.
Sony’s Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal opened up Sound Stage 15, which was decorated like a huge, welcoming living room, so that the film industry could pause to remember Ziskin. It was a fitting location since Ziskin had spent many hours in the space where the sets once stood for the Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper that figures in the Spider-Man movies she produced. Video screens around the room displayed vibrant images of Ziskin from throughout her career, while the guests -- a high-powered mix of executives, producers, agents and stars -- mingled, sipping on cocktails and Pellegrino, all speaking warmly of Ziskin.
Delta Goodrem, the Australian singer-songwriter, got the formal program underway by offering up a song. Welcoming the guests, Barry wanted to make one thing clear: “My mom did not lose a seven-year battle with cancer. After her diagnosis, she brought even more effort, ambition, purpose and love to her life than ever before. She refused to let the disease define her,” she said.
"There was no pretense with her, no bullshit. The only thing she ever hid behind was a chic pair of sunglasses,” Barry recalled, explaining that was only because she was “too busy to take them off.”
In the days since her mother’s death, Barry said she frequently asked herself, “What would Laura do?,” and that became the mantra for the event. “Her lasting legacy,” she said, “will be how we answer that question with action.” One immediate answer: Use the occasion to solicit donations for Stand Up to Cancer, the organization that Ziskin co-founded, and that is just what Barry did.
Sally Field contributed a warm reminiscence of her first meeting with a pregnant Ziskin when the actress was putting together a production company in the early ‘80s, remembering how, housed in a basement office in the old Columbia Pictures building on the Warner Bros. lot, they “laughed and laughed and laughed” together as they went about assembling their first movie, 1985’s Murphy’s Romance.
Emma Stone, who’ll be appearing in Ziskin’s last film, next year’s The Amazing Spider-Man, recalled how the producer would wrangle stars to appear on behalf of the TV benefits she produced on behalf of Stand Up to Cancer. “Laura always said it was her job to make cancer entertaining, and indeed she did. Laura understood that comedy was important even in the face of something grave like cancer.”
While Stone’s remarks drew laughter, Tobey Maguire, who starred in the first three Spider-Man movies, had the crowd misty-eyed as he read a letter from a young cancer researcher who testified about how Ziskin’s efforts have changed the whole field of cancer research, although the changes came too late to save her.
Returning to the sound stage where he had had spent so much time with Ziskin, Spider-Man director Sam Raimi spoke of the producer’s creative talents. “She knew a good story,” he said. “Working with the right writer she could make it great, and then her passion would turn it into something even better.” Whenever he got stuck on a problem, he related that Ziskin would say to him, “The water is always muddiest before it clears.” When he asked what that meant, she explained, “No matter how bleak it seemed sometimes creatively, the answers we seek are around the next corner if we keep diligently working on solutions and remain truthful to ourselves.”
Writer Alvin Sargent, Ziskin’s husband, came last and reminded their friends of his wife’s tenacity. She would often say to him, “I want what I want,” he called. For example, producing the Academy Awards in 2002, she kept saying she wanted Woody Allen to appear, even though Sargent told her that Allen doesn’t even touch the Oscars he wins. But Ziskin persevered, and Allen did appear.
Ziskin wasn’t fearless, though, Sargent observed, saying, “She was fearful, but fear is what gave her the challenge. Fear and action seemed to be good companions for her.”
And just so her friends could take some of her spirit with them, as the party broke up and guests began to depart, each was handed a baseball cap that bore the slogan, “What Would Laura Do?”