Ezra Swerdlow, Producer on 'The First Wives Club' and 'Zombieland,' Dies at 64

Courtesy of ICM Partners
Ezra Swerdlow was production manager on 1984's 'The Muppets Take Manhattan.'

An expert on filming in New York, he also worked on 'The King of Comedy,' 'Broadway Danny Rose' and 'The Equalizer.'

Ezra Swerdlow, the crackerjack, New York-bred producer and production manager who worked on such movies as The King of Comedy, The First Wives Club and Zombieland, has died. He was 64.

Swerdlow died Jan. 23 in Boston after a struggle with pancreatic cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a spokesman at ICM Partners announced.

More recently, Swerdlow served as an executive producer on the Smurfs movies released in 2011 and 2013, on 21 Jump Street (2012) and on a pair of films directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Equalizer (2014) and The Southpaw (2015).

Although he briefly moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, when he worked with Mel Brooks on Spaceballs (1987) and later Life Stinks (1991), Swerdlow was a New York production guy through and through, an expert at how to navigate a film shoot in the city.

He came up at the tail end of the golden age of 1970s New York moviemaking and received his first industry credit when he served as Woody Allen's unit manager on Stardust Memories (1980).

"I went over to 130 West 57th [in New York City] … to the Rollins and Joffe production office, which was really at that point one of the core centers of New York production," Swerdlow said in a March interview for the DGA's website. "There were a couple of different teams. And Michael [Peyser] and Bobby [Greenhut] were one really extraordinary team doing Woody's films, there was teams doing Sidney Lumet's films, there were teams doing Martin Scorsese's films, and it was a great era. A great era in New York that I kind of stumbled into."

Swerdlow went on to collaborate with Allen again on Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Radio Days (1987).

His résumé also included David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992), Frank Oz's The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale (1995), James Mangold's Cop Land (1997), Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog (1997), Chris Rock's Head of State (2003) and the Philadelphia Eagles movie Invincible (2006).

Swerdlow also received an Emmy nomination in 2011 for producing the HBO telefilm Too Big to Fail, directed by Curtis Hanson.

Raised on Long Island in Great Neck, New York, Swerdlow attended Hampshire College and studied political theory at Rutgers University, where he seemed on a trajectory to become a historian; his mother, Amy, was the head of the Women's History department at Sarah Lawrence College.

In summer 1979, Swerdlow was hired by a friend as a location scout on Stardust Memories. That led to gigs as an assistant unit production manager on Arthur (1981), a unit manager on Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982) and a production manager on Mike Nichols' Heartburn (1986).

He was both a unit production manager and executive producer on The First Wives Club (1996), directed by Hugh Wilson, and Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland (2009).

Survivors include his wife, Lindsey, whom he met at Hampshire College; son Nick; daughter-in-law Caroline; siblings Joan, Lisa and Tommy; and brother-in-law Rob.

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