Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Joseph Edward Levine in Boston, Massachusetts, 9 September 1905. Career: 1940s—exhibitor of foreign films; 1960s—moved into production. Died: In Greenwich, Connecticut, 21 July 1987.
La ciociara ( Two Women ) (De Sica)
The Carpetbaggers (Dmytryk); La Noia ( The Empty Canvas ) (Damiani); Otto e mezzo ( 8 1/2 ) (Fellini); Le Mépris ( Contempt ) (Godard)
Where Love Has Gone (Dmytryk); Matrimonio all'Italiana ( Marriage—Italian Style ) (De Sica)
Harlow (Douglas); Sands of the Kalahari (Endfield); Casanova '70 (Monicelli); The Oscar (Rouse); La decima vittima ( Tenth Victim ) (Petrie); Nevada Smith (Hathaway)
The Idol (Petrie); The Spy with a Cold Nose (Petrie); The Caper of the Golden Bulls ( Carnival of Thieves ) (Rouse); A Man Called Adam (Penn)
Robbery (Yates); Woman Times Seven ( Sept fois femme ) (De Sica); The Graduate (Nichols); The Producers (Brooks)
The Lion in Winter (Harvey)
I girasoli (De Sica); La Piscine (Deray); Stiletto (Kowalski)
The Adventurers (Gilbert); The Ski Bum (Clark)
Carnal Knowledge (Nichols)
Hurry Up, Or I'll Be Thirty (Jacoby); Interval (Mann); The Day of the Dolphin (Nichols)
Paper Tiger (Annakin)
A Bridge Too Far (Attenborough)
Tattoo (B. Brooks)
Cinema (Hollywood), vol. 1, no. 3, Fall 1963.
In Filmmakers on Filmmaking , edited by Joseph McBride, Los Angeles, 1983.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 5 August 1987.
Obituary in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), no. 147, September 1987.
Obituary in Films and Filming (London), no. 396, September 1987.
Schlossberg, J., "Remembering Joe E. Levine," in Variety (New York), 28 October-3 November 1996.
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No Hollywood figure of the 1960s better represented the freewheeling, independent motion picture producer than Joseph E. Levine. As the studio system of the 1930s and 1940s, with its complete domination of all phases of production, distribution, and exhibition, gave way to a system of independent producers feeding distributor studios, the Paramounts, Warners, and Columbias came to rely on entrepreneurs to feed their distribution needs. Joseph E. Levine was responsible for a number of high-grossing films of the 1960s including The Carpetbaggers , Harlow , The Oscar , The Producers , and The Graduate .
Levine began his career on the fringe of a film industry then dominated by Hollywood, as an exhibitor in New England during the 1930s. His first theatre was in New Haven, Connecticut. After the Second World War, he saw a gap in the system and began to import films for placement into the growing number of art theaters. His chief supply ground was Italy and its widely respected neorealist films. In time he would import such noted Italian films as Divorce—Italian Style , Two Women , and 81/2 .
But fame and power for Joseph E. Levine came from an altogether different type of film. In 1959 he established Embassy Pictures Corporation, and in a notoriously extravagant publicity campaign, began to put spectacles such as Hercules , starring American muscleman Steve Reeves, into theaters desperate for a product for the new teenage audiences. The cost of Hercules was half the price of a Hollywood spectacle because it was made in Italy and then dubbed into English. As a result of matching audience, publicity, and lower costs, Hercules grossed more than $20 million on a cost of only a couple of million.
Levine was on a roll. He signed to work with Paramount, and in 1963, he produced The Carpetbaggers , starring George Peppard, Alan Ladd, and Carroll Baker. This was the studio with its biggest hit in a decade. Although, as with Hercules , newspaper reviewers found the film camp at best and trash at worst, The Carpetbaggers was only surpassed at the box office by two other films during 1964.
In the late 1960s Levine hit his peak. He formed his own company, Avco Embassy, and in 1967 turned out The Graduate , a film that cost less than $3 million to make, but grossed in excess of $100 million and set off the era of the youth-oriented blockbuster film. Levine had taken a big chance. Director Mike Nichols had only directed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ; Dustin Hoffman had only made low-budget films and TV advertisements. By the time all the dollars had been counted, The Graduate had finished as the top box-office attraction of 1967 and was then ranked third, to Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music , on Variety 's list of all-time box-office champions.
But Levine could not sustain his success into the 1970s. In 1974 he ended his participation in Avco Embassy. Films such as Carnal Knowledge and The Day of the Dolphin did little to advance his career. A Bridge Too Far in 1977 was Levine's swansong as a major producer. A new breed of independent producers, baby boom era movie brats such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, had captured the day.