Alumni Gazette: Richard Fischoff ’68
Behind the ScenesA veteran film producer shares insight into some of his major box office hits.Interview by Jim Mandelaro
Kramer vs. Kramer
Starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, the 1979 film earned recognition for its depiction of the psychological toll of divorce and for its exploration of gender expectations when a marriage dissolves. (Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo.)
“Kate Jackson was the studio’s original choice to play Dustin Hoffman’s wife. But we were shooting in New York City with a 6-year-old boy. We couldn’t give Kate a firm stop date, and she was forced to drop out to return to her TV series, Charlie’s Angels. Meryl Streep got the part. We loved Meryl, but we had to fight for her because she wasn’t well known, and the studio heads weren’t sure she was movie star material.”
The Big Chill
The well-received 1983 movie tells the story of college friends who gather for the funeral of a member of their campus circle and catch up on the turns their lives took after graduation in the late 1960s. (Photograph: AF Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)
“The screenplay was sent to me by an agent when I was an executive at Paramount. I loved it, because it spoke to me and my generation. How did we get here from there, 20 years out of college? Paramount didn’t think it would resonate with a large audience and passed. I eventually got to oversee the movie when I became president of Carson Films.”
One of the top hits of 1987, the psychological thriller generated controversy for its story of a murderous obsession triggered when a husband—Michael Douglas in an onscreen marriage to Anne Archer—has an extramarital affair with a woman played by Glenn Close. (Photograph:Moviestore Collection Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo)
“The original ending we shot—where Glenn Close’s character kills herself and implicates Michael Douglas’s character— wasn’t satisfying to test audiences. Glenn didn’t want to shoot a new ending and had to be talked into it. But the ending everyone saw—with Anne Archer’s character shooting Glenn’s character—was more satisfying and much more commercial.”
Sleepless in Seattle
In what the late Roger Ebert called “an unapologetically romantic movie,” the 1993 hit film starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as a long-distance couple who eventually meet atop the Empire State Building. (Photograph: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo)
“Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid were a popular married couple at the time, and we considered Dennis as the lead. We also considered Michelle Pfeiffer at one point. But people take different projects, and we’re happy with how it worked out with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.”
Richard Fischoff ’68 didn’t star in Kramer vs. Kramer, Sleepless in Seattle, The Big Chill, or Fatal Attraction. But the Hollywood executive played a role in each movie as it made its way from script to screen.
Now an independent producer living in Los Angeles, the New York City native has been shepherding films for nearly four decades.
A history major at Rochester, he planned to become an attorney. But for a minor in film, he took courses at the George Eastman House, where he watched a lot of movies.
He left law behind and became an acquisitions editor at Simon & Schuster and Warner Books. There, he began reading screenplays and manuscripts with an eye toward turning the material into major motion pictures.
As the guest last fall of the Dr. Matthew E. and Ruth Harmon Fairbank Alumni Lectureship Fund, Fischoff presented the annual Fairbank lecture at Rochester. As he talked about his career, he shared behind-the-scenes tidbits about some of his memorable movies.
For more of the conversation with Fischoff, visit Rochester.edu/newscenter.