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Daniel Melnick, the producer who brought gutsy, smart movies like “Straw Dogs,” “Network,” and “Midnight Express” to the big screen, has died at his home in Los Angeles. He was 77.
His son, Peter, tells the Los Angeles Times that Melnick died Tuesday of multiple ailments. He had recently undergone surgery for lung cancer.
Melnick was head of production at MGM and Columbia, where he helped develop the divorce drama “Kramer vs. Kramer” and the nuclear suspense thriller “The China Syndrome.”
Melnick also produced the 1960s spy-spoof television series “Get Smart” that starred Don Adams as bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart.
In addition to his son, Melnick is survived by his daughter, Gabrielle Wilkerson-Melnick, and two grandchildren. Services will be private.
When Dan Melnick is memorialized this Thursday evening, he should be remembered for his extreme moral courage as well as his creative talent.
Single-handedly, Dan broke the back of the political “black-listing” which still persisted in the networks when he took over ABC-TV programming from the late ’50s through early ’60s.
Dan resisted — and fought back — both internal and external pressures to not hire certain talent in all categories. The absurd premise: pressure on advertisers from a very small group of supermarket retailers. This television outgrowth of early ’50s “McCarthyism,” which rocked the movie industry, also led to acute discrimination throughout television.
Dan insisted on only one criterion: talent. Many of those he hired continued to use noms de plume for fear of inciting more backlash. But Dan was undaunted.
At the time, I was an ABC sales counterpart, asked by advertising agencies for full lists of production and talent on all ABC shows. It was a request not easy to ignore, but dismissed nevertheless.
When a “compliance” lawyer from Young & Rubican moved to ABC, he brought that pernicious practice with him. Happily, we insisted that Dan’s hiring would enhance our programs to the point that only results, not politics, mattered.
Dan is remembered for his great creative success at ABC, followed by Talent Associates, head of production at MGM and then Columbia and subsequently as an independent producer.
His creative achievements are memorialized on film; his courageous political achievements should also be commemorated.
— Ed Bleier (longtime ABC and Warner Bros. executive who now serves on the boards of several public media companies).
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