Martin Ransohoff, 'Cincinnati Kid' Producer and Founder of Filmways TV, Dies at 90

Martin Ransohoff September 1965 - One Time Use Only - Getty - H 2017
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He was the man behind such projects as 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' 'Green Acres,' 'Save the Tiger' and 'Silver Streak.'

Martin Ransohoff, the co-founder of Filmways Television who went on to produce such acclaimed features as The Cincinnati Kid — on which he fired director Sam Peckinpah — Save the Tiger and Jagged Edge, has died. He was 90.

Ransohoff, whose credits also include Arthur Hiller’s The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Silver Streak (1976) and John Sturges’ Ice Station Zebra (1968), died Wednesday morning at his home in Bel-Air, his stepson, Steve Botthof, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The son of a prominent coffee broker, Ransohoff founded Filmways in 1952 with Ed Kasper to make industrial films and TV commercials. Still in his early 30s, he became one of the youngest men to take an entertainment company public when Filmways boarded the American Stock Exchange in 1958.

Filmways became known as the home of such 1960s TV shows as Mister Ed, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and The Addams Family and, through the 1966 acquisition of Heatter-Quigley Productions, the game show The Hollywood Squares.

With the help of fellow Filmways executive (and future MGM, Warner Bros. and Sony studio head John Calley), Ransohoff burst into the movie business with a fair amount of bluster.

“From now on, this is a business for the independents who can supply the most quality product with the most economy. The major studios have had it. Now the majors are minors,” he told Budd Schulberg in a 1963 story for Life magazine.

Filmways’ first film was Boys’ Night Out (1962), a romantic comedy starring Kim Novak and James Garner, followed by The Wheeler Dealers (1963), which was directed by Hiller and starred Garner again, this time alongside Lee Remick. (Garner would soon replace William Holden atop The Americanization of Emily, written by Paddy Chayefsky.)

Just a few days into filming The Cincinnati Kid, the 1965 New Orleans-set drama about a high-stakes poker game that starred Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margret and Karl Malden, Ransohoff got a look at Peckinpah’s dailies (the director wanted to make the movie in black and white, for one thing) and decided to oust him.

“It was dour, it was gray and bleak,” Ransohoff said of Peckinpah’s work in David Weddle’s 1994 book If They Move … Kill ’Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. “Here I was trying to make an upscale movie. This movie was supposed to be a popsicle.

“MGM had a very clear vision, we knew what we wanted to make, and they were paying me and relying on me to make it, and I didn’t think Sam was making it. Shutting down meant losing $500,000. We had an all-star cast and no director. Believe me, it was not done lightly. I was really disappointed because I had really gone out on a hook for Sam. It was very embarrassing for me.”

Norman Jewison came on to direct, and the film was a critical hit.

Save the Tiger (1973), written by Steve Shagan (who then turned his screenplay into a novel), starred Jack Lemmon as a disillusioned Beverly Hills garment executive who suffers a midlife crisis. The performance netted him his second Academy Award, and Shagan and supporting actor Jack Gilford also received Oscar nominations.

The driven Ransohoff had another hit years later with the Joe Eszterhas-penned courtroom thriller Jagged Edge (1985), toplined by Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges and Robert Loggia, who earned an Oscar nom for portraying a foul-mouthed gumshoe.

In his 2004 novel Hollywood Animal, Eszterhas wrote how Close barred Ransohoff from the filming of her nude scene in Jagged Edge and that the producer took revenge by relentlessly talking about her “fat ass.”

Ransohoff also was known for shepherding the career of actress Sharon Tate. After she had auditioned for the role of Billie Jo Bradley (which wound up going to Meredith MacRae) on Petticoat Junction, he placed her on The Beverly Hillbillies as bank secretary Janet Trego.

When Ransohoff produced The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), he introduced Tate to director Roman Polanski, who cast her in the film. She and Polanski married in January 1968; less than two years later, at age 26, she was murdered in her Los Angeles home by members of the Manson Family.

Ransohoff was born in New Orleans and graduated from Colgate University in 1949. He went into advertising with Young & Rubicam on Madison Avenue before jumping into the television business. In the late 1950s, Filmways acquired Richard Donner’s New York-based TV production company and brought the future Lethal Weapon director to Los Angeles.

Ransohoff cashed out at Filmways in 1972.

His producer résumé also includes Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s The Sandpiper (1965), for which Ransohoff provided the story; Tony Richardson’s version of Hamlet (1969); Eye of the Devil (1966), starring David Niven (and Tate); Castle Keep (1969), directed by Sydney Pollack; Catch-22 (1970), adapted by Buck Henry; The White Dawn (1974); Hiller’s Nightwing (1979); Class (1983), starring Rob Lowe and Jacqueline Bissett; Switching Channels (1988); Guilty as Sin (1993); and Turbulence (1997).

Ransohoff also was seen onscreen in an uncredited role in Filmways’ The Loved One (1965), the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s scathing novel about Hollywood.

In addition to his stepson, Ransohoff is survived by his wife, Joan Marie; sons Peter, Kurt and Steve; stepdaughter Erica; and 10 grandchildren.

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.