Joe Wizan dies at 76; former 20th Century Fox executive, independent producer

Joe Wizan, a former head of 20th Century Fox’s motion picture division and an independent producer of films such as “Jeremiah Johnson” and "… And Justice for All,” has died. He was 76.

Wizan, a longtime resident of Malibu, died Monday at an assisted-living facility in Westlake Village of complications from a long illness, said his wife, Melanie.

In a career that began in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency in the late 1950s, Wizan went from being a successful talent agent to becoming an independent producer in 1970.

Among his credits as a producer or executive producer are “Junior Bonner,” “The Last American Hero,” “Audrey Rose” and “Along Came a Spider.”


Wizan, who briefly served as president of CBS Theatrical Films, was named president of 20th Century Fox Productions in 1983.

“Whatever he was doing, he always did it with great enthusiasm,” producer Alan Ladd Jr., a longtime friend, told The Times on Thursday. “He loved film, and he made some very good films.”

During his 18-month tenure at Fox, Wizan green-lighted hits such as “Romancing the Stone,” “Cocoon,” “Bachelor Party,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Jewel of the Nile” — although “Cocoon” and “Jewel of the Nile” were released under subsequent Fox leadership.

The most notable miss was “Rhinestone,” starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone.


“Nobody knows what a picture is going to do until you get it done,” Wizan told The Times in 1986 after returning to independent production. “It’s like playing poker. The good poker players know which hands to throw out. The good production people know which movies not to make.”

Overall, The Times reported, “Wizan says he threw out more bad hands than good ones” during his time at Fox. Of the 13 or 14 movies he put into production, Wizan said five made money. “One out of three,” he said, “is pretty good.”

Wizan said he left Fox halfway through his three-year contract because he wasn’t green-lighting enough projects to fill the studio’s needs.

Even on his darkest days, Wizan said, he never regretted having a career in film.


“It’s a real roller-coaster ride, this business,” he said, “but if you love movies, you’re crazy not to love the work.”

Wizan was born Jan. 7, 1935, in Monterrey, Mexico, and grew up in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. He attended UCLA and served in the Army National Guard in the 1950s before joining William Morris.

He was a vice president specializing in film packaging at Creative Management Associates before launching a production company in 1970.

“It’s a cliche, but it is really applicable to Joe: He definitely did it his way,” said Todd Black, a producer and former partner of Wizan’s. “He was fiercely loyal to his clients when he was an agent, and he was fiercely loyal to his colleagues, both when he was running Fox and when he was a producer.


“He was pretty low-key, but he was extremely confident. And he was fearless; no one scared him.”

In 1999, Wizan created and began hosting a radio talk show on KRLA-AM (1110) called “Inside the Movies,” which later became “The A List.”

In addition to his wife of 11 years, Wizan is survived by his children, Steven Wizan and Robin Wizan; a sister, Paulette Blumenthal; two stepchildren, Tyler Trivette and Colby Trivette; two grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.

Services will be private.