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Dino DeLaurentiis 1919–2010

On Monday I attended the funeral ceremony of the great film producer, Dino DeLaurentiis. It was held at the most famous Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. It was a classy, classically Italian event that included wonderful vocal renditions of Ave Maria and O Sole Mio.

Director David Lynch (Dino produced both Dune and Blue Velvet for David) gave a very sweet, Lynchian eulogy. Director Baz Luhrmann, who apparently worked on an ill-fated Alexander the Great project with Dino, offered heartfelt memories of how Dino gave Baz lessons in how to seamlessly blend film making, family and food in his rich life.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who made at least four films with Dino) delivered some very humorous remembrances of Dino. One was a story I had heard before — but differently.

The version told to me by John Milius went like this:

Dino was not so sure about Arnold playing Conan. Dino asked for a private meeting with Arnold to ascertain for himself Arnold’s viability. Arnold journeyed to Dino’s Beverly Hills business and walked into Dino’s office. There was nothing in Dino’s office except for a gigantic slab of a desk that nearly took up the entire width of the room. Dino, a man short in stature, stood behind his desk, backlit by a huge window.

Arnold assessed the situation, then asked, “Why such a big, big desk…for such a little, little man?”

Dino immediately had Arnold thrown out of his office and then called John Milius to inform John that Arnold was no longer Conan. It took every ounce of Milius’ begging and pleading to convince Dino to let Arnold stay on the film.

That was John’s version. Arnold’s version went something like this:

Arnold’s agent had snagged Arnold a chance to meet Dino DeLaurentiis in hopes that Dino would cast Arnold in Flash Gordon.

Arnold journeyed to Dino’s Beverly Hills business and walked into Dino’s office. There was nothing in Dino’s office except for a gigantic slab of a desk that nearly took up the entire width of the room. Dino, a man short in stature, stood behind his desk, backlit by a huge window.

Arnold assessed the situation, then asked, “Why such a big, big desk…for such a little, little man?”

Dino (in a thick Italian accent) angrily shouted, “You have-a dah accent! You cannot-ah be in-ah Flash Gordon!”

Dino immediately had Arnold thrown out of his office. Arnold’s agent was furious with Arnold. “It took me FOUR MONTHS to set up this meeting, a meeting that you totally blew in just a minute and a half! Schwarzenegger, you IDIOT! Mark my words, Arnold: You will never amount to ANYTHING!”

I don’t know which to believe — they’re both good show biz tales.

I worked on six DeLaurentiis-produced films (Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Red Sonja, Dune, Leviathan and Date With An Angel). Subsequently, I’ve been involved in about 40 more features. I honestly didn’t appreciate Dino DeLaurentiis and the way he made films at that time. I had close friends who absolutely hated the guy. One of them stopped talking to me after he heard I was working for Dino. The mention of the Dino DeLaurentiis name always evoked a variety of strong reactions and opinions when mentioned in show biz circles.

Although I had strong opinions of what I wanted in the films I made, I was very green to film making. Dino’s daughter (and producer), Raffaela, stood up for me and saved my ass on Conan the Destroyer after I naively and brazenly came to the first meeting and handed everyone present a copy of my (unasked-for) rewrite of the Conan the Destroyer screenplay(!). Director Richard Fleischer wanted my head after that meeting, demanding I be fired. Raffy came to my defense: “Beeell (that’s how she pronounced my name) is just a boy, Richard. He is passionate. He is talented. He is enthusiastic. He just wants to make a good movie. It will all be fine.”

Thanks to Raffy, I stayed on. I think if it had been Dino at that meeting, he would have laughed and said the same thing.

Most of my work on other films made me deeply appreciate the DeLaurentiis film making experience. I soon began to long for that feeling of family that was so much a part of Dino’s and his daughter Raffy’s film crews. We were an international family, a group of talented individuals I loved and adored. We ate together, worked together and laughed together. I can’t begin to express how much love I still have for that group of amazing people.

I met Dino himself a few times. He was always this gruff, bigger-than-life character that I found both funny and fascinating. I loved his sense of humor about himself and the world (I loved that the bronze lion that stood in front of his offices was brought to the funeral and that guests were invited to follow Dino’s tradition of rubbing the lion’s well-polished balls for good luck!). Whether I agreed with him or not, Dino always had a strong vision of what he wanted. Later, working with directors and producers who had no idea as to what they wanted, Dino gained even more respect in my eyes.

If Dino and his family liked you, they did extraordinary things for you. They liked me and admired my talent, enthusiasm and energy. I could see that they were amused that I was trying to learn Italian. I never realized until later that, unknown to me, they were secretly grooming me to become a production designer. They offered me some extraordinary opportunities very early in my film career (like arranging for me to production design half of Conan the Destroyer).

Dino produced hundreds of films. Some were good, some were bad, and some were great. Good, bad or great, Dino got films made. That’s a rarity in today’s show biz world. Getting films produced was just part of Dino’s rapacious appetite for life. The man worked hard, played hard, adored his family and rarely took “No” for an answer. He, more than almost anyone I know, lived life to the absolute fullest.

A guy like Dino DeLaurentiis comes around once in a lifetime. I’m glad I was there for part of it.

Ciao, Dino — and Grazie!

8 thoughts on “Dino DeLaurentiis 1919–2010

  1. Hey Bill on your next self published sketch book series… can you make the whole book a cross-section of your various movie design works (from posters to production and conceptual designs)?… Definitely have enough material for it 🙂

    Hey THE WALKING DEAD… pretty decent TV series so far.

    All the best to you, Bill


  2. Hi John,
    I have enough of that material for several large books just on my film design work. I would like a book like that to be in color.

    I kept all of the art from all of my films. That clause, while costing me some film work, has been in every contract of mine since my first film.

    You might notice in going through my sketchbooks that occasionally my film designs pop up here and there.

    I enjoy Walking Dead but I’m waiting for it to become must-see TV, like Deadwood, for example. The talent on board (like Frank Darabont) is certainly capable of that quality.

  3. Bill

    Sounds good, yes I did see some of your film work, through your sketch book series and also the great feature that CCOMIS JOURNAL did on you… I have to tell you that IDW has been doing some of the finest books on artists… P CRAIG RUSSELL, TONY HARRIS to name a few… good content and very well designed.

    I agree with you on DEADWOOD… to bad they couldn’t give that show more
    of chance.

    Be well, Bill, have a great Thanksgiving, and keep up the great work.


  4. …Then again, John Fleskes isn’t too shabby when it comes to putting out great art books.

  5. that is easily one thing that was true about dino delaurentiis, he always got a movie made, good, great or bad, they were made. truly a one of a kind man in hollywood. No one else i think would be audacious enough to remake king kong when he did. I think peter jackson’s film was better, but you can’t out-do the original.

  6. I think Dino De Laurentiis was brilliant and wish I could’ve worked with him too. I liked most of his films, even the failures which were usually just a much fun as the hits. The one thing you can’t say about any of his film’s is that they were boring. Well maybe one exception – Maximum Overdrive!

  7. “Brilliant” in many ways…yes. I really liked the guy — but as a filmmaker? You liked most of his movies? Orca? Shark Boy of Bora Bora? I believe it was Dino’s decision not to let David Lynch finish and release his long cut of Dune — a real tragedy.

    I could go on…

  8. I wish I’d met DIno De Laurentiis.

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