Frank Yablans, a longtime film executive and screenwriter who held top posts at Paramount Pictures and MGM/UA, died early Thursday of natural causes at his Los Angeles home. He was 79.
His son Eddy, an agent at ICM Partners, confirmed his death.
Born Aug. 27, 1935, and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his father was a cab driver, Yablans worked up the studio ranks from a salesman traversing theaters across the Midwest to a marketing executive. He became president of Paramount Pictures in 1971 when he was in his mid-30s. His marketing work on the 1970 Arthur Hiller-directed romance “Love Story” is often cited as the impetus for his promotion to studio head at such a young age.
He reportedly signed an eight-year contract that paid him $225,000 per year, plus 1.5% of gross profits, and presided over the studio during a time in which it released the first two installments of “The Godfather,” “Serpico,” “Paper Moon,” “Chinatown” and “Day of the Locust,” among others.
Yablans and Paramount parted ways in 1975.
Yablans was known for his candid interviews and while at Paramount earned a reputation as a populist. “The film-going audience are all Jewish eaters — they only go where the food is good,” he told The Times in 1971, four months into his tenure as Paramount president.
Yablans later became an independent producer. He had a string of hits on his own, including the 1976 Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor action-comedy “Silver Streak,” for which he was credited as executive producer.
Among his other career highlights at the time were the 1977 Brian De Palma film “The Fury,” and he earned co-writing credits on films such as “Mommie Dearest” and “North Dallas Forty.”
In 1983, Yablans assumed control of a struggling MGM/UA. His tenure as vice chairman and chief operating officer was relatively short-lived, as Yablans left the still-tumultuous studio in 1985.
Before joining MGM/UA, Yablans joked in interviews about the hard-to-define power dynamics of Hollywood.
“When I read the press, I smile a lot,” Yablans told The Times in 1982. “I think the press — with few exceptions — knows very little about how power really works. So I read and smile. The problem is, it’s only 10% of any interview that gets remembered. … Usually it’s the wrong 10%.”
Later in his career, Yablans was an executive producer on the 1995 action film “Congo,” a Frank Marshall-directed adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel, and a co-producer on the HBO series “Rome.”
In the early 2000s he founded Promenade Pictures, a company specializing in family entertainment. The company in 2007 released the animated film “The Ten Commandments,” featuring the voice work of Ben Kingsley, Christian Slater and others.
He is survived by three children — Robert, Sharon and Eddy — as well as four grandchildren and his longtime companion, Nadia Pandolfo.