George Litto, Former Talent Agent and Producer of Brian De Palma Films, Dies at 88

Courtesy of Andria Litto
George Litto

He collaborated often with Robert Altman and with screenwriters affected by the blacklist. Later, he revitalized Filmways as its chairman.

George Litto, a former talent agent who represented the likes of Robert Altman, Dalton Trumbo and Waldo Salt before producing the Brian De Palma films ObsessionDressed to Kill and Blow Out, has died. He was 88.

Litto died April 29 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from aortic stenosis, his daughter Andria Litto announced.

Litto packaged creative elements for M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975), all directed by Altman, and Hang 'Em High (1968) and Play Misty for Me (1971), both starring Clint Eastwood, as well as other notable films like Cast a Giant Shadow (1966); Midnight Cowboy (1969); Planet of the Apes (1968); Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969); Fiddler on the Roof (1971); and Papillon (1973).

He also negotiated distribution deals for independent films, among them the Altman-directed That Cold Day in the Park (1969) and Images (1972); Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) — he gave the filmmaker $50,000 to finish his groundbreaking movie, his daughter said — Where Does It Hurt? (1972), starring Peter Sellers; and The Lords of Flatbush (1974).

Litto repped Altman on M*A*S*H after the director had been fired from directing TV movies for Kraft Suspense Theatre (he had said in an interview that the plots were "as bland as their cheese"). Altman told Litto he didn't want to do television anymore, anyway, and his agent said that wasn't a problem: "No one will hire you," he told the director.

At the end of his agency tenure, Litto represented De Palma, selling his horror-slasher film Sisters (1972) for distribution. He then mortgaged his house to finance De Palma's Obsession (1976), his daughter said, before also producing two classic films from the director, Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981).

While producing Blow Out, Litto was recruited by Filmways to become chairman of the board. He restructured the ailing company, and it was acquired by Orion Pictures in 1982. He then signed a deal with Fox as an independent producer and produced Kansas (1988), starring Matt Dillon, and Night Game (1989), starring Roy Scheider.

A native of Philadelphia, Litto attended Temple University and received a bachelor's degree in business. He started out in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency in New York in 1954; nine months later, he became an agent booking summer stock theater. His got his first client, Mae West, to star in the play Come on Up (Ring Twice).

Litto worked for a few boutique agencies in Los Angeles before opening The George Litto Agency in 1965, and he made a specialty out of representing writers, many of whom were affected by the blacklist. They included Salt (Oscar winner for Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home), Trumbo (Papillon), Ring Lardner Jr. (M*A*S*H), Leonard Freeman (Hawaii Five-0), Michael Wilson (Planet of the Apes), Abraham Polonsky (Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here), Joseph Loesy (The Boy With Green Hair) and Arnold Perl (Malcolm X).

Litto's producing credits also included Altman's Thieves Like Us (1974), Drive-In (1976) and Over the Edge (1979), written by Tim Hunter, son of his blacklisted client, Ian Hunter.

In January 1998, he launched George Litto Pictures and negotiated a $100 million line of credit with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank to finance and produce films. The first to emerge from that deal was The Crew (2000), starring Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds.

In 2004, GLP and Rose Freeman (Leonard's widow) entered into a deal with Warner Bros. to develop and produce a film based on Hawaii Five-0. The project was delayed because of the WGA strike in 2007-08, but out of that came the rebooted CBS series that debuted in 2010.

Litto negotiated a settlement in 2015 that restored the rights to the Freeman estate in return for a profit participation in the new series.

Survivors include his two daughters, Andria — who manages the rights to his film library — and Carla, and his ex-wife, Jacqueline. A private memorial service is planned, with his ashes spread off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean.