David Picker, ex-UA executive, dies at 87

David Picker (1931-2019)

David Picker, part of the United Artists executive team that struck the deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to launch the 007 film series, died Saturday at 87, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The cause was colon cancer, according to the entertainment-news outlet.

Picker was among the UA executives who, in 1961, held a meeting in New York with Broccoli and Saltzman. He was head of production for the studio, which was led by Arthur Krim (1910-1994).

In the documentary Inside Dr. No, he said UA struck a deal with the producers the same day.

Picker wrote a 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybe and Nevers: A Book About the Movies. In the book, he took credit for part of the success of the Bond series.

“Much has been written about Bond,” Picker wrote. “Until now, no one has written in detail exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened for one simple reason: they weren’t there.” The Bond series “would not have happened had it not been for this author’s belief in their potential.”

In the memoir, Picker wrote that Dr. No really cost $1.35 million, not the $1.1 million that had been budgeted and that he had found a way to provide the extra $250,000.

The 2011 book A Bond for Bond, published by Film Finances Inc., the company that provided the movie’s completion bond, published a copy January 1963 budget document with a figure in British pounds that was closer to the $1.1 million figure.

In 1969, Picker became president and chief operating officer at UA. For 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Broccoli and Saltzman signed American actor John Gavin to play Bond. PIcker, though, didn’t like the choice and wanted to try to re-sign Sean Connery, who had departed the Eon series after You Only Live Twice.

UA operated more like a bank than a studio. It didn’t have its own studio facilities, like a Warner Bros. or a Disney. It often gave the producers it worked with a lot of leeway.

But on this occasion, Picker won out and Connery was signed for $1.25 million, with UA agreeing to finance other films for the star. One movie, The Offence, was made under that deal.

Picker left UA in the 1970s. For a time, he became a producer himself, then held executive jobs at Paramount and Columbia Pictures.

Picker appeared in multiple documentaries made in the late 1990s and directed by John Cork about Bond movies. He also was among those interviewed for the 2012 documentary Everything or Nothing about the 007 film series.

The 50th anniversary of United Artists making a bet on 007

This past week was the 50th anniversary of the United Artists studio cutting a deal with two middle aged movie producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The result of the 1961 agreement would be the James Bond film series, which would make its debut before audiences the following year with Dr. No.

United Artists today is an occasionally used brand controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. A half century ago, it was a functioning studio, albeit one that functioned differently than other studios. It didn’t have its own backlot, a la an MGM or Paramount. In fact, at that time even two companies primarily engaged in television production (Desilu and Revue) had their own backlots while UA didn’t.

What UA did have were executives including Benjamin Krim, Robert Benjamin and David Picker. Krim and Benjamin acquired UA from founders Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford in the 1950s. Under the Krim-Benjamin regime, UA would cut deals people such as producer Walter Mirisch, producer-director Billy Wilder and actor-producer Burt Lancaster.

You might not get the same money at UA as you might get at other studios. But UA was also known to grant more creative leeway. Today, UA’s selection of films are part of MGM’s film library; the MGM lion logo is shown at the start of the UA films when they’re shown on television.

Anyway, UA was where Saltzman (who had a six-month option on the bulk of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels) and Broccoli ended up going. The John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No described UA and its interest in Bond. Here’s the start of that documentary. At the 5:13 mark, you can see a copy of the June 29, 1961, press release UA issued about its agreement with Broccoli and Saltzman.

We’ll give a shoutout to the MI6 James Bond fan Web site, which reminded us of the UA/Broccoli-Saltzman anniversary. You can read its post about the subject BY CLICKING HERE.

For more about United Artists — whose non-Bond projects included The Heat of The Night, The Fugitive, The African Queen and many others — you can view Wikipedia’s recap of UA history BY CLICKING HERE. And, if you can track down a copy, we’d also recommend the excellent 1985 book Final Cut by the late Steven Bach, a one-time UA executive who writes about how the movie Heaven’s Gate wrecked the studio.