'Godfather' Producer Remembers Frank Yablans: "The Smartest Guy in the Room"

Frank Yablans - P 2014

Frank Yablans - P 2014

The former Paramount president died Nov. 27 at age 79

This story first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There have been many colorful studio presidents, but Frank Yablans who died at age 79 on Nov. 27 in his L.A. home — practically was a peacock.

"He was outrageous, aggressive, opinionated, sardonic in the extreme," says Al Ruddy, who produced The Godfather for Paramount when Yablans oversaw the studio. "But Frank was always the smartest guy in the room." Yablans, whose son is ICM agent Eddy Yablans, started in sales at Paramount; he was named president after his marketing of Love Story helped make it 1970's highest-grossing movie. His 1971-75 tenure was a golden era for the studio, which produced Chinatown, Paper Moon, Serpico and that groundbreaking serial about a certain Italian family.

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"Frank wanted to cut 30 minutes out of The Godfather," recalls Ruddy. "He said, 'I don't care how great it is, cut 30 minutes!' " Robert Evans, then Paramount production chief, pushed back, and Yablans not only released the longer version but made the film the first true wide release, sending out 1,000 prints. "He was a genius about distribution," says Ruddy. "There were lines around the block for that movie."