February 25, 2020

David Picker, Former Studio Chief, 87

As an independent producer and executive at United Artists, Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures, David Picker left his mark on American culture. Picker, who died of colon cancer on April 20 at age 87, greenlit the Beatles’ first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” (1964) and recommended Richard Lester direct it. He also helped shepherd Ian Fleming’s British superspy James Bond onto the screen. Ingmar Bergman, Bob Fosse, Billy Wilder, Paddy Chayefsky, Bernardo Bertolucci, Woody Allen and Steve Martin are among the filmmakers Picker worked with throughout his 60-year career.

Picker was born into filmmaking. His grandfather David War-field was a partner with Marcus Loew in Loew’s theater chain; his father, Eugene, was president of Loew’s and introduced the wide release of movies. His uncle Arnold was an executive at United Artists and Picker’s sister, Jean Picker Firstenberg, was the president and CEO of the American Film Institute for years.

Picker joined the marketing depart-ment at United Artists in 1953. In less than a decade, he was president of the studio. He oversaw the production of two best picture winners: 1963’s “Tom Jones” and 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy,” which is the first and to date, only, X-rated film to be so honored.

Picker moved to Paramount in the late ’70s. Among the pictures under his watch were “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and 1980 best picture-winner “Ordinary People.” At Columbia, he oversaw best picture-winner “The Last Emperor” (1988) and legendary flop “Ishtar” (1987). Known for modesty and sly humor, in his 2013 memoir “Musts, Maybes and Nevers: A Book About the Movies,” he wrote, “If I had turned down every picture I greenlit, and greenlit every picture I turned down, I’d have the same number of hits and flops.”

Picker is survived by his wife, Sandra Jetton Picker, sister Jean, daughters Caryn and Pam, and a grandson.