John E. Horton, 87; Movies’ Longtime Link to Pentagon
John E. Horton, the go-to man for Hollywood producers needing a submarine, an F-14 Tomcat or the latest combat weaponry from the Pentagon, died June 4 of liver failure at his home on Seabrook Island, S.C. He was 87.
Producers of “Top Gun,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “In the Line of Fire” all relied on Horton to secure the Pentagon’s cooperation and stamp of approval on their scripts as well as to help ease the way through the logistical labyrinth. The film industry consultant was Hollywood’s man in Washington for nearly 50 years.
He was the go-between on hundreds of movies, including “The Glenn Miller Story,” the “Airport” movies, “The Winds of War,” “MacArthur,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “A Few Good Men” and a number of movies featuring his next-door neighbor in Los Angeles, soldier-turned-actor Audie Murphy.
In a family memoir, he described “Top Gun” as “one of the most personally satisfying projects in which I was ever involved.”
He recalled that nurturing the movie toward completion involved placating the admiral who commanded the Navy’s “Top Gun” school at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. With the script close to its final draft, the admiral threatened to derail the project because he didn’t like the character with whom Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) falls in love. As written, she was a San Diego physical fitness expert.
Horton arranged for producer Jerry Bruckheimer to meet with the admiral in San Diego, but it was the admiral himself who came up with a solution. He told Bruckheimer about an attractive, intelligent young woman on his Top Gun staff whose job was to critique the pilots. Their flying fate was in her hands. Bruckheimer quickly realized that she should be the model for Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, the winsome Kelly McGillis character.
John Ernest Horton was born in Davenport, Iowa, and grew up in Kansas City, Mo. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri in 1939.
During World War II, he served in the Army in northern Italy and was awarded a Bronze Star. He was recalled to active duty in 1948 and served as chief of motion pictures for the Army Department. He also served as a military aide to the White House during the Truman administration.
Horton carved out his liaison role after working in Hollywood for a few years in the late 1950s. He was based in Washington for most of his career, working with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and 20th Century Fox studios. His son said Horton never really retired.
Survivors include three children and three grandchildren.