Raymond Wagner, Producer and Former Studio Exec, Dies at 85

Ray Wagner - P 2014

Ray Wagner - P 2014

UPDATE: He produced such films as "Turner & Hooch," shepherded "Network" and "The Goodbye Girl" at MGM and hired future studio head Sherry Lansing as a script reader for $5 an hour.

Raymond Wagner, an executive at MGM and Universal who produced several notable films and hired future studio head Sherry Lansing to read scripts for $5 an hour in the 1970s, has died. He was 85.

Wagner, who produced such films as director Richard Lester's Petulia (1968) and the Tom Hanks cop comedy Turner & Hooch (1989), died March 12 of natural causes in Westwood, a family spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.

In the early 1960s, Wagner headed television pilots for Universal Studios, where he produced the Don Siegel-directed The Hanged Man (1964), starring Robert Culp. It is believed to be the second-ever "made for TV movie" to air in the U.S. 

Later, Wagner formed the short-lived Wagner-Altman Co. with director Robert Altman when both exited Universal.

After their split, Wagner produced his first feature film, Petulia (1968), from A Hard Day's Night director Lester. It starred Julie Christie as a woman who pursues a soon to be divorced physician (George C. Scott).

Wagner followed that by producing Loving (1970), directed by Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back) and starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint.

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Lansing, then a struggling actress, had a small role in that film. On the set, "they had some script problems," she recalled in a 2006 interview. "I very quietly suggested a change, and Wagner said, 'God, you're smart. If you ever want to do anything but act …'"

A couple of years later, Lansing contacted Wagner and was hired to read scripts for $5 an hour. In 1975, she was named head of the MGM story department when Wagner served as vp production at MGM, and later, of course, she would lead 20th Century Fox and Paramount.

As a studio executive at MGM, Warner teamed with Dan Melnick and Frank Rosenfelt to shepherd such films as Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Logan's Run (1976), Network (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Coma (1978), The Champ (1979) and Fame (1980).

Wagner later worked as an independent producer and did the Chuck Norris films Code of Silence (1985) and Hero and the Terror (1988); Rent-a-Cop (1987) with Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli; Turner & Hooch (1989); Run (1991) starring Patrick Dempsey; and Snow Day (2000) with Chevy Chase

Early in his career, Wagner, a native of College Point, N.Y., headed the radio and television offices of Young & Rubicam in New York and Hollywood, working with such clients as General Mills, American Tobacco, Ford, Hunt Foods, Union Oil, Revlon and Kaiser Aluminum. His original jingles, some arranged by Pete King and Nelson Riddle, became popular when DJs began requesting permission to play them on air.  

As a director of commercials, he worked with Fred Astaire, Charles Laughton, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson.

Wagner also produced the Charles Gordone play No Place to Be Somebody, which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1970.

Survivors include his wife Christine and children Jamison, Christian and Cort.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4