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Charles H. Schneer, film producer, dies at 88

Schneer, the producer of 25 films, was best known for his collaboration on several movies with special effects genius Ray Harryhausen.

January 25, 2009|Jon Thurber

Charles H. Schneer, a film producer best known for his influential collaboration on several movies with special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, has died. He was 88.

Schneer died Wednesday at a hospice in Boca Raton, Fla., according to his daughter Stacey Schneer Lee. Schneer, who most recently had been living in Delray Beach, Fla., had been ill for several years, his daughter said in a news release.

Schneer was the producer of 25 films, including "Hellcats of the Navy," the only film to star Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis, the future president and first lady. Schneer began his three-decade partnership with Harryhausen in 1955 with the fantasy film "It Came From Beneath the Sea" about a giant octopus that destroys the Golden Gate Bridge. The idea for the film, with stop-motion animation by Harryhausen, was Schneer's.

"Charles and Ray were an ideal couple. They were both enthusiastic about doing fantasy films at a time when fantasy films were not being taken seriously by the studios," Arnold Kunert, Harryhausen's agent and close friend, told The Times. "Schneer, in his wisdom, believed in Ray's talent as a stop-motion animation artist."

According to Harryhausen's website, by the end of the 1950s the two men had made a conscious break away from science fiction and embraced the fertile world of fantasy, myth and fairy tales.

That decision resulted in several memorable films, including "Jason and the Argonauts," (1963), "The 3 Worlds of Gulliver" (1960), "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1974) and "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" (1977). Their last film together was "Clash of the Titans" (1981).

"He functioned as a producer in the best sense of producing," said film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. "Ray is an artist, and creative people like that really need someone to facilitate the business end of things so they can focus on what they do best. That's how their partnership thrived."

But according to Kunert, Schneer was more than just the money man. He was heavily involved in the creative end.

"Charles had a habit of going through the newspaper and clipping out ideas from feature stories about extraterrestrials and unusual phenomena," Kunert said. "He brought the idea for 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers' to Ray's attention, and Ray came up with the artwork and worked on the story and, of course, created all the visual effects. Charles was a collaborator in many ways."

In the preface to his book "Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life," written with Tony Dalton, Harryhausen said Schneer's enthusiasm for making movies was "unbounded" and called his longtime friend "the unsung hero" of his career in films.

"He would supply the practical element . . . and always knew what would work and what wouldn't," Harryhausen wrote. "Without his help and foresight, much of what we planned together would not have seen the light of day."

Schneer was born May 5, 1920, in Norfolk, Va., but spent some of his youth growing up in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He graduated from Columbia University and started his career at Columbia Pictures. During World War II he produced training films as a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Photographic Unit stationed on Long Island.

In addition to producing most of Harryhausen's films, Schneer produced the biographical film "I Aim at the Stars," on the life of physicist Wernher von Braun, one of the leading figures in the development of the U.S. space program. He went on to produce the film version of the musical "Half a Sixpence" starring Tommy Steele.

Schneer moved to London in 1960, where he remained for the next 45 years, relocating to Florida in 2005. Besides filmmaking, he chaired the London events committee for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of which he was an active member.

In addition to his daughter Stacey and another daughter, Lesley Silver, he is survived by his wife of 68 years, Shirley; his sister, Babette Schneer Katz; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Donations in his name may be made to the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Department of Development, Mayo Clinic, 200 1st Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905.

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jon.thurber@latimes.com

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