Bernard Schwartz, 85; Producer of Loretta Lynn Biopic

Times Staff Writer

Bernard Schwartz, a film producer who prided himself on showcasing stories that demonstrated what he called "triumph of the human spirit," such as "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Sweet Dreams," has died. He was 85.

Schwartz died Friday in Los Angeles of complications after a stroke.

Although he produced a score of successful motion pictures and television programs from the 1950s through the 1980s, Schwartz was best known for his biopic of country singing star Loretta Lynn in the 1980 "Coal Miner's Daughter."

The film earned him a Golden Globe Award for best musical or comedy, a Country Music Assn. award for best picture and an Academy Award nomination for best picture.

Sissy Spacek, then a little-known actress whom Schwartz fought to cast over studio executives' cries for a bigger name, earned an Oscar for her portrayal of Lynn. Other actors in the film, Tommy Lee Jones as Lynn's husband and Beverly D'Angelo, who played country singer Patsy Cline, also were nominated for Oscars.

After that film's success, Universal executives asked Schwartz, "Hey, is there a story in this Cline woman?"

Schwartz decided to find out and went off to Tennessee, where Cline had died in the crash of a small plane in 1963 at age 30, and to her hometown of Winchester, W.Va. Lacking any biography to work from, he amassed 800 pages of interviews and information.

"I have to know the 80% of the iceberg that's underwater," he told the Washington Post in 1985 at the release of his resulting film "Sweet Dreams," named for one of Cline's hit songs. Unlike Spacek, who sang Lynn's songs, star Jessica Lange lip-synced Cline's own recorded music.

That film, although well received and especially lauded for its reprise of Cline's music, never became as popular as the earlier "Coal Miner's Daughter," which sparked a spate of biopics. It was Schwartz's last major film.

Schwartz went on to produce the 1986 television special for country singer Amy Grant titled "Headin' Home for the Holidays," and worked with Priscilla Presley to produce the 1988 television miniseries "Elvis and Me."

Born in Manhattan to Hungarian immigrant parents, Schwartz appeared in Broadway shows as a boy.

He served as a medic in Gen. George Patton's Third Army during World War II and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, Schwartz worked in various jobs until 1957, when industrialist and filmmaker Howard Hughes and his lawyer Greg Bautzer enticed him into motion pictures. Schwartz relocated to Hollywood and produced the television series about supernatural phenomena, "Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond," starring host John Newland from 1959 to 1961 and later syndicated.

Schwartz switched to science fiction for the 1959 film "Journey to the Center of the Earth," based on Jules Verne's novel and starring James Mason and Pat Boone. Until he became ill several months ago, Schwartz had been working with producer Dick Zanuck on a contemporary remake of the film.

Among Schwartz's 1960s efforts were the films "Global Affair," starring Bob Hope, and "Rage," with Glenn Ford, and the television series "The Wackiest Ship in the Army," starring Jack Warden and Gary Collins.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Universal hired Schwartz to produce films starring football hero Fred Williamson, including "That Man Bolt" and "Bucktown."

In the 1980s, fueled by the success of "Coal Miner's Daughter," Schwartz produced the 1981 thriller "Roadgames," starring Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis, and then stepped into the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock. Building on Hitchcock's classic 1960 "Psycho," Schwartz produced what he clearly called a sequel rather than a remake with his 1983 "Psycho II," again starring Anthony Perkins as wacky Norman Bates.

"We knew we'd be bringing down the wrath of every Hitchcock fan on our heads. They'd never forgive us," Schwartz told The Times in 1982. "So the only thing to do was try to come up with an intelligent thriller which showed what might have happened to those characters in 'Psycho' who were still around."

Critics and moviegoers concluded that Schwartz had accomplished his goal, with film historian Leonard Maltin pronouncing it a "surprisingly good sequel." (By contrast, Maltin panned the subsequent "Psycho III" and "Psycho IV," which Schwartz had nothing to do with, as "pointless" and "enough already.")

Schwartz is survived by his wife of 50 years, Suzanne; two sons, Mark and Robert; and one grandson.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Hillside Memorial Park, Los Angeles. Instead of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 129 words Type of Material: Correction Bernard Schwartz obituary -- An obituary in Monday's California section for Bernard Schwartz, producer of the 1980 film "Coal Miner's Daughter," incorrectly stated that Tommy Lee Jones and Beverly D'Angelo had been nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in that film. They were nominated for Golden Globes but not Oscars. The article also stated that Schwartz fought to cast Sissy Spacek as title character Loretta Lynn although Spacek was a "little-known actress." Spacek, who won an Oscar for the role, had been nominated for an Academy Award in 1977 for her work in the film "Carrie." In discussing Schwartz's film "Sweet Dreams," which is about singer Patsy Cline, the article incorrectly stated that Cline was born in Winchester, W.Va. The town is located in the state of Virginia.
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