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Howard Gottfried, who produced 'Network' and 'Altered States,' dies at 94

Movie producer Howard Gottfried, whose longtime partnership with famed scriptwriter Paddy Chayefsky yielded acclaimed films such as “Network” and “Altered States,” has died at 94.

Gottfried, who had a stroke and died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Friday, was a lawyer by training, but had an eye for daring movies and an affinity for adventuresome writers.

He also had a knack for turning chance meetings into productive relationships.

Gottfried met George C. Scott while handling the actor’s divorce, and later recruited him for the lead role in the award-winning film “The Hospital.”

He ran into Chayefsky at a poker game in New York City, where the two cemented a friendship that carried them through a decade of celebrated films.

And he bumped into actor Willliam Hurt in an elevator. Not immediately recognizing Hurt, Gottfried wondered whether he was an actor. When Hurt allowed that, yes he was, the film producer drafted him for “Altered States.”

“Everyone just loved him,” said Brian Weinstein, Gottfried’s son-in-law. “He was just a lovable person.”

Born Nov. 13, 1923, Gottfried grew up in the Bronx and graduated from City College of New York and NYU Law School. While practicing law, he began dabbling in off-Broadway theater.

A new avenue opened up when he took a job with United Artists, and began overseeing prime-time television fare such as “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Patty Duke Show.” He went on to become a development director for the “Ed Sullivan Show.”

Gottfried switched to a higher gear when he met Chayeksky.

“They just clicked,” his wife, Mary Lynn Gottfried, recalled. “They saw each other every day. Paddy would write. Howard would read what he wrote. And then they’d go to Carnegie Deli and talk about what it all meant.”

It proved to be a defining friendship for both. They teamed up on “The Hospital” and later “Altered States.” But it was “Network” that propelled them into the top ranks of filmmaking.

An eviscerating lampoon of network news, in which anything that drove up ratings was fair game — even a threatened suicide on live TV — the film won four Academy Awards and was nominated for best film.

Critics saluted the movie for capturing the cynicism and anger in America on the heels of Watergate and the Vietnam War and Peter Finch’s angry rant as news personality Howard Beale — “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” — became an American catchphrase.

Chayefsky, possibly as an inside joke or a sign of affection for his friend, borrowed Gottfried’s first name for Finch’s character. Chayefsky, who won three Academy Awards for his screenplays, died of cancer in 1981.

Gottfried later produced Brian De Palma’s film “Body Double” and “Torch Song Trilogy” with Anne Bancroft and Harvey Fierstein.

Throughout his career, Gottfried had a special connection with writers, his son-in-law said.

“He was a writer’s partner,” Weinstein said. “He had an artist’s flair and just loved to tell different stories.”

Until just weeks before his death, Gottfried and his wife continued to attend Academy film screenings.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughter Norah Weinstein and son-in-law Brian Weinstein; daughter Elizabeth Colling and son-in-law Stephane Colling; and four grandchildren, Sloane, Graham, Celeste and Paloma.

steve.marble@latimes.com

Twitter: @stephenmarble

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