John Woolf; Producer of ‘African Queen’


Sir John Woolf, British film producer of such memorable movies as “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and the Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning musical “Oliver!,” has died. He was 86.

Woolf, a member of an entertainment business family, died Monday at his London home.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 10, 1999 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 10, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 18 Metro Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Sir John Woolf--In a July 1 obituary of British filmmaker Sir John Woolf, The Times reported that Woolf was the producer of “The African Queen.” According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sam Spiegel is listed as the producer of the film, but the production was made in collaboration with Romulus Films, which was owned by Woolf and his brother James.

Over the years, Woolf’s films earned a total of 13 Oscars.

He learned the movie business from his father, C.M. Woolf, a producer and distributor who created General Film Distributions and helped rebuild Britain’s film industry after World War II. From childhood, John Woolf never considered any other career.


Born in Cricklewood, England, he was educated at Eton College and the Institut Montana in Switzerland. He distinguished himself during the war as a director and lieutenant colonel in a British army film unit and earned the U.S. Bronze Star.

Woolf worked in his father’s company and became managing director after his father’s death. In 1948, he and his brother James founded their own production company, Romulus Films, and Remus, its distribution arm.

Woolf proved particularly adept at recognizing potential hits, which he often saw in well-written books. He personally provided half the funding for “The African Queen,” even though a friend scoffed: “Two old people going up and down an African river . . . who’s going to be interested in that? You’ll be bankrupt.”

Directed by John Huston, and filmed in what was then the Belgian Congo, the 1951 film earned Bogart an Academy Award and proved an immediate and durable critical and financial success.

Together, the brothers produced “The African Queen” and other successful 1950s movies, including “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” with James Mason and Ava Gardner, “Moulin Rouge” with Jose Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor, “Richard III” with Laurence Olivier, “Beat the Devil” with Bogart and Gina Lollobrigida and “Room at the Top” with Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret.

On his own, Woolf in 1968 produced “Oliver!,” which won a total of six Oscars. He also produced the adaptations of the Frederick Forsyth bestsellers “The Day of the Jackal” in 1973 and “The Odessa File” with Jon Voight in 1974. Woolf, Forsyth and director Fred Zinnemann all objected to 1997’s “The Jackal,” starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, a remake of their 1973 film. “Universal,” Woolf said bluntly, “is trampling all over our work.”

Woolf was a stickler for bringing in films on or under budget, and on time. He once asked Huston, who directed many Woolf-produced films, when he expected to complete a particular sequence in “Moulin Rouge.” Huston said he thought Tuesday.

“That’s a pity,” replied Woolf. “I’m striking the set after Saturday.”

Huston finished filming Saturday night.

Woolf also created Anglia Television in 1958 and established a drama department that produced more than 100 plays and series for broadcast around the world. Among those were the series “Tales of the Unexpected,” which ran from 1979 to 1982, the long-running series “Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries” and such specials as “Miss Morison’s Ghosts” in 1983 and “Love Song” in 1987.

Married and divorced from Dorothy Vernon and Edna Romney, Woolf is survived by his third wife, Ann Saville, and a son.