Ray Stark, a legendary Hollywood film producer, talent agent and deal maker who made over 125 films including such classics as “Funny Girl,” “The Way We Were” and “Night of the Iguana” has died, his former publicist said Sunday. He was 88.
Stark, who discovered Barbra Streisand at a New York nightclub and persuaded a reluctant Columbia Pictures to award the singer her Oscar-winning role in “Funny Girl,” died in his sleep early Saturday morning after a long illness, said publicist and longtime friend Warren Cowan.
Stark also produced the hit Broadway musical “Funny Girl,” which starred Streisand as well. Both the Broadway musical and film depicted the life of Stark’s mother-in-law, vaudeville and radio comedienne Fanny Brice. Stark was married to Brice’s daughter, Frances Brice, for 53 years until her death in 1992.
During an illustrious career spanning six decades, Stark produced films for all of the major studios and worked with Neil Simon to bring 11 of his scripts to the screen, including ”The Sunshine Boys,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “California Suite,” ”Biloxi Blues” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
Among some of the other hit films produced by Stark’s company, Rastar Productions, were “Steel Magnolias,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” The Electric Horseman,” and “Funny Lady.”
Stark never won an Oscar, but in 1980 he was awarded the most prestigious honor bestowed upon producers by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for a lifetime of achievement in film.
Stark’s films did win Oscars for a number of actors including Streisand, George Burns for “The Sunshine Boys,” Richard Dreyfus for “The Goodbye Girl” and Maggie Smith for ”California Suite.”
“Barbarians at the Gate,” the first film Stark produced for television, won the Emmy for Best Made for TV Movie in 1993 and is among the top five Neilsen-rated films of all time for HBO.
Stark left law school at New York University and a job as a copy boy at the New York Journal American to move to Hollywood in 1938. His first job was writing photo captions for the Warner Bros. publicity department.
In 1940, shortly after his marriage to Brice, Stark became a literary agent. Then after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, Stark became a Hollywood agent for the Famous Artists Agency in 1949, representing such stars as Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Kirk Douglas and Richard Burton.
He resigned his executive position with Famous Artists in 1957 to move into film production. The first films he produced were “The World of Suzie Wong” in 1960, and Tennessee Williams’ ”Night of the Iguana,” starring Richard Burton in 1961.
In the late 1970s, Stark purchased a controlling interest in Columbia Pictures. He became a significant shareholder of Coca Cola Co. when the soft drink company acquired Columbia in 1982.
Stark donated millions of dollars to a variety of charities including the University of Southern California Film School, the UCLA Television and Film School, the American Film Institute, the UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Hospital.
A respected art collector, Stark served on the board of trustees at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which will receive much of his renowned art collection.
Stark is survived by a daughter and granddaughter. He had a son who died of a drug overdose in 1970.