Oscar winner Ronald Schwary, ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘Tootsie’ producer, dies at 76

Film producer Robert Schwary
Ronald Schwary arrives for the Dallas Film Society Honors at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival.
(Cooper Neill / Getty Images)

Producer Ronald L. Schwary, the Oscar-winning producer behind Robert Redford’s 1980 film “Ordinary People” and the Oscar-nominated movies “Tootsie” and “Scent of a Woman,” has died at his home in West Hollywood.

For the record:

3:21 p.m. July 12, 2020Ronald L. Schwary died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, not at his home. The obituary also incorrectly states that the 1996 movie “The Mirror Has Two Faces” was Barbra Streisand’s directing debut. Streisand had previously directed “Yentl” in 1983 and “The Prince of Tides” in 1991.

Schwary died July 2 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center due to complications related to his health condition, his son Neil Schwary told The Times Friday. The producer struggled with a rare neurological autonomic disorder that forced him into retirement in 2015. He was 76.

Schwary jump-started his career in 1978 when director Sydney Pollack hired him as an associate producer and production manager on “The Electric Horseman,” the rodeo romance starring Redford, Jane Fonda and Willie Nelson. Impressing Redford, Schwary was later tagged as the sole producer on the star’s directorial debut “Ordinary People,” the family drama starring Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton that won four Academy Awards, including best director.

His other producing credits included Paul Newman‘s newspaper drama “Absence of Malice,” the fantasy romance “Meet Joe Black,” the Oscar-nominated World War II drama “A Soldier’s Story” and the TV series “Tour of Duty,” “Now and Again” and “Medium.”

He also produced the Rolling Stones 1982 concert film documentary “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and served as an executive producer on the Barbra Streisand-directed film, “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

He was known to make cameos in his films and has acting credits for “Sabrina,” “Cops and Robbersons,” "*batteries not included” and “Tootsie.”


In the final scene of “Christine,” Antonio Campos’ 2016 drama about the short life and tragic death of a Florida-based TV news reporter named Christine Chubbuck, a woman returns home after a terrible day at work, scoops herself some ice cream and throws on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Though “Tootsie” and “Scent of a Woman” were both nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes for best picture, Schwary was not recognized in those nominations because he wasn’t formally credited as a producer on the projects. A dispute with Columbia Pictures limited the number of producers that could be credited on a film, his family said. He was offered a co-producer credit on “Tootsie,” Pollack’s cross-dressing 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, but declined because he already had a producer accolade on his resume for “Ordinary People.” He was billed as an executive producer on “Scent of a Woman,” but the film academy only recognized those billed solely as producers on projects, his son said.

“Schwary had a larger-than-life personality and a gregarious smile. He had an unmatched sense of humor and was famous for his endless work stories, jokes and pranks, always laughing at himself. He was an epic storyteller. People gravitated towards him,” his son said.

Born May 23, 1944, in The Dalles, Ore., Schwary was the second oldest of five children. His father Mitchell was a wholesaler-turned-real estate broker and his mother was a housewife. Growing up, his favorite pastime was taking a bus to a pair of double features on Saturdays and saving the ticket stubs and film magazines as mementos, his family said.

After graduating high school, Schwary enrolled at the University of Oregon but pivoted and headed down to Los Angeles to attend USC, where he began connecting to the entertainment industry.

A producer agreed to pay $1,000 to neighbors inconvenienced by filming. When 20 sacks of coins arrived, they were not amused.

At USC, he lived among football players and became the team’s assistant student manager with future attorney Robert Kardashian and worked alongside John McKay, the school’s longtime football coach.

Schwary graduated from USC in 1967 and befriended John Wayne, a USC alum, who helped him get into the Directors Guild of America, got him work as a stand-in for Hoffman in “The Graduate” and as an extra in “Planet of the Apes.” Schwary worked as an assistant director in the 1970s and eventually became a production manager.

Schwary was married to Emmy-nominated hairstylist Susan Carol Schwary from 1971 to 1994. The couple had two sons , Brian and Neil, both now in the film industry. He married Karen Feldman in 2009, but they separated in 2014.

Schwary is survived by his sons; a grandson, Mars; brothers Mitchell Jr., Dennis and Gary; and a sister, Carol.