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Debra Hill, 54; Pioneering Woman in Hollywood, Co-Produced “Halloween”

Times Staff Writer

Debra Hill, a pioneering female motion picture producer who established herself in Hollywood’s consciousness when she co-wrote and co-produced the classic horror film “Halloween,” died Monday. She was 54.

Hill died in Los Angeles of cancer, said her friend, Barbara Ligeti.

The producer had continued to work throughout her 13-month struggle with the disease, Ligeti said.

Hill’s impressive output included not only “Halloween” and several of its sequels, but “The Fog,” “The Dead Zone,” “Clue,” “Escape from New York” and 15 years later its reprise, “Escape from L.A.,” “The Fisher King” and “Crazy in Alabama.”

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Director John Carpenter, Hill’s mentor and co-producer and co-writer on “Halloween” and other projects, praised her Monday as “a real pioneer in this business.”

“Unlike many producers, she came from the crew ranks,” he told Associated Press. “She had experienced the ins and the outs and had a thorough understanding of what it took to make a picture.... She had a passion for not just movies about women or women’s ideas, but films for everybody -- horror films, action films, comedies.”

Made for $300,000, the original “Halloween,” starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a baby-sitter terrorized by a psychopath, grossed more than $60 million internationally, setting a world record for independent movies at that time.

Although Hill, Carpenter and Curtis often joked that they saw little of the enormous profits, the film -- and its sequels -- firmly secured major careers for all of them.

Born in Haddonfield, N.J., the daughter of an art director for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road” pictures, Hill grew up in Philadelphia and made her way to Hollywood where she went to work in the studio trenches.

“Thirteen films I worked on before I met John,” she told The Times in 1982. “I was a gofer, assistant editor, script supervisor, assistant director.”

She met Carpenter in 1975, moved in with him and worked as script supervisor on his “Assault on Precinct 13,” which attracted the financing for their “Halloween.”

Carpenter encouraged her to write, noting that writing was the best way for a woman to get into directing or producing.

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He provided further help by sharing writing and producing duties on “Halloween.”

“One review said the most notable thing about the movie,” Hill told Entertainment Weekly in a 1997 article looking back on the seminal film, “was that it was produced by a woman, because it shows she has the tacky taste of a male chauvinist pig. I just laughed.”

Moving away from Carpenter into her own projects with 1983’s “The Dead Zone” from a Stephen King story, Hill joined Lynda Obst to form Hill/Obst Productions in 1985, and worked with her on “Adventures in Babysitting,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and later “The Fisher King,” starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.

In 1988, Hill signed a contract with Walt Disney Pictures for her Debra Hill Productions and produced the feature “Gross Anatomy,” starring Matthew Modine in 1989, short films for Disney theme parks and an NBC special for Disneyland’s 35th anniversary.

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Hill had also produced programs for cable television, including HBO’s “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” starring Daryl Hannah.

Honored in 2003 by Women in Film, the veteran producer said: “I hope some day there won’t be a need for Women in Film. That it will be People in Film. That it will be equal pay, equal rights and equal job opportunities for everybody.”

She is survived by her parents, Jilda and Frank Hill of Cherry Hill, N.J., and her brother, Robert, of Jacksonville, Fla.

A rosary is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 505 N. Bedford Drive, Beverly Hills, with funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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Instead of flowers, memorial donations can be sent to one of two organizations that support parents of adult children with cancer -- Our House, 1950 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 255, Los Angeles, CA 90025, or Friends in Deed, 594 Broadway, Suite 706, New York, N.Y. 10012.


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