Class of 1940
Marvin Mirisch started out selling popcorn to hundreds of movie theaters, then became a vital part of one of the most successful independent production companies in Hollywood during the 1960s. He and two of his brothers — Harold and Walter — formed Mirisch Co. in 1957, helping to shift motion pictures from a studio-dominated system to one that provided directors with more creative freedom than they were accustomed to getting. In a 17-year period, the Mirisches turned out 68 films, earning a total of 79 Academy Award nominations. It was Marvin Mirisch who negotiated the deals, many with United Artists. Mirisch kept a low profile and handled much of the detail work so necessary to filmmaking, from logistics to legal and accounting matters. His brother Walter was generally regarded as the producer and Harold as the front man who cultivated relationships. Marvin was the negotiator.
Working with some of the finest directors in the business, the Mirisches won 23 Oscars, including Best Picture accolades for “The Apartment,” directed by Billy Wilder; “West Side Story,” directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise; and “In the Heat of the Night,” directed by Norman Jewison. Other films from the Mirisches during that time were “Some Like It Hot,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther,” “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
In his autobiography, Wilder said, “All the Mirisch Company asks me is the name of a picture, a vague outline of the story and who’s going to be in it. The rest is up to me. You can’t get any more freedom than that.”
Following the death of Harold Mirisch in 1968, Marvin and Walter moved to Universal Pictures, where they worked on such films as “Midway” and “Same Time, Next Year.” Marvin also was executive producer of “Dracula” in 1979 and “Romantic Comedy” in 1983. He was executive producer of the animated “Pink Panther” animated cartoons in the early 1990s.
Mirisch was born in New York on March 19, 1918, the third of four sons. After graduating from City College, he joined all his brothers in Milwaukee, later working with Irving, the eldest brother. They started the Theatre Candy Co., which supplied popcorn and other refreshments to 800 movie houses. Marvin moved to Los Angeles in 1953, where Walter and Harold were working for Monogram Pictures. Monogram eventually became Allied Artists. Before starting their own company, the Mirisches independently packaged two movies directed by John Houston (“Moulin Rouge” in 1952 and “Moby Dick” in 1956) and helped produce William Wyler’s “Friendly Persuasion” in 1956 and Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon” in 1957.
Mirisch was active in the industry, serving on the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and chairing the motion picture division of the United Jewish Welfare Fund.He died on Nov. 17, 2002 at the age of 84. A couple of days later, his brother Walter, referring to the deal with United Artists that required the Mirisches to make at least four films a year, told The New York Times, “The only way you could do that was with interpersonal relationships with the people who were doing it and the people who were financing it.” Marvin’s contribution, he said, was “critical.”