Richard Shepherd, Producer of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' Dies at 86

Richard Shepherd Director's Chair - P 2014

Richard Shepherd Director's Chair - P 2014

He also headed production at Warner Bros. and MGM, worked as an agent at MCA and the forerunner of ICM and founded the Artists Agency.

Richard Shepherd, who produced the Blake Edwards classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, served as head of production at MGM and Warner Bros. and then founded the Artists Agency, has died. He was 86.

Shepherd died Tuesday night at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness, his wife Patricia told The Hollywood Reporter. Survivors also include a son, TV producer-writer Scott Shepherd (Equalizer, Miami Vice, The Dead Zone).

During his six-decade career in the entertainment industry, Shepherd also produced The Hanging Tree (1959), starring Gary Cooper in one of his final films and George C. Scott in his first; Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind (1960), with Marlon Brando and Joanne Woodward; and Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976), starring Tiffany’s star Audrey Hepburn and Sean Connery.

Shepherd started out as an independent film producer and, working with Martin Jurow, did Hanging Tree, Fugitive Kind, Love in a Goldfish Bowl (1961) starring Fabian and then Tiffany’s, their final collaboration.

When Paramount’s head of production wanted the song “Moon River” replaced, “Marty and I both said, ‘Over our dead bodies,’ ” Shepherd recalled in an audio commentary for an anniversary DVD edition of Tiffany’s.

The Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer tune, of course, won the Oscar for best song in 1962.

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“It’s a very tough industry, and the stakes are very high,” Shepherd told The New York Times in 1977 when he was at MGM. “You rely on your gut feeling; I think the first requisite is that you have to have a story in which there is someone the audience can care about, somebody they want to root for.

“They pay ballplayers a lot of money for hitting .333; I’d pay anybody a lot of money if they could be right 33.3 percent of the time in this business.”

Shepherd later founded the Artists Agency and represented a myriad of stars over the years, including Marilyn Monroe, Rex Harrison and Richard Harris.

Born June 4, 1927, in Kansas City, Mo., Shepherd attended Stanford in the 1940s and excelled on the golf team. He was hired by MCA legend Lew Wasserman right out of college and became an agent for the company in the Midwest.

After a stint in the U.S. Army -- where he covered stories for Stars and Stripes in occupied Germany after World War II – Shepherd went back to work for MCA in New York, then turned to producing with Jurow.

In the '60s, Shepherd returned to the agency world as one of the first partners at CMA, which quickly became the most powerful agency in the world with a client roster that boasted Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby and others. He stayed at CMA (which eventually became ICM) for nearly a decade.

In 1970, Shepherd was named head of production at Warner Bros., where he oversaw such blockbusters as The Exorcist (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974). For the Robin Hood-Maid Marian romance Robin and Marian, he lured Hepburn back to acting after a decade away.

Shepherd then took the reins at MGM in 1976, developing a slate of films that included The Champ (1979), Fame (1980), Clash of the Titans (1981) and Shoot the Moon (1982).

Upon leaving MGM, he produced the erotic vampire tale The Hunger (1983), director Tony Scott’s first feature, starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie, and the Tom Hanks-John Candy comedy Volunteers (1985).

Shepherd then spent two decades as a partner at the Artists Agency, where he represented numerous actors and screenwriters well into his 70s.

Richard and Patricia were married for 34 years and had a son, Christopher. His former wife was Judith Goetz, who was producer-executive William Goetz’s daughter and Louis B. Mayer’s granddaughter; together, they had children Scott, Tony (the former head of casting for Spelling Productions, who now produces shows for the Disney theme park in Florida) and Victoria. Survivors also include his grandchildren Barrett and Hunter.

A memorial will be announced by the family. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4