Albert Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather,” dies at 94


Albert S. Ruddy, a colorful Canadian painter and writer who won the Oscar for “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby,” developed the prison sports comedy “The Longest Yard” and helped create the hit comedy “Hogan's Heroes,” has died at 94.

Ruddy died “peacefully” Saturday at UCLA Medical Center, according to a spokesman, who added that among his last words were: “The game is over, but we won it.”

Tall and muscular, with a raspy voice and city-boy swagger, Ruddy produced more than 30 films and was available for the top and the very bottom, from “Godfather” to “Million Dollar Baby” to “Cannonball Run II” and “Megaforce,” nominated for Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture of the Year.

Otherwise, he had a mix of hits like “The Longest Yard,” for which he produced and created the story, and flops like the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller “Sabotage.” He often worked with Burt Reynolds, starting with “The Longest Yard” and continuing with two comedies, “Cannonball Run” and “Cloud Nine.” In addition to “Hogan's Heroes,” his television credits include the films “Married to a Stranger” and “Running Mates.”

Producers Albert S. Ruddy, left, and Tom Rosenberg
Producers Albert S. Ruddy, left, and Tom Rosenberg leave the stage after accepting the Oscar for best picture of the year for their work on “Million Dollar Baby,” at the 77th edition of the Academy Awards Sunday, February 27, 2005-2005. LOS ANGELES TIMES PHOTO BY AL SEIB

Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Nothing looks better on your resume than “The Godfather,” but producing it put Ruddy's job, his reputation, and his very life in jeopardy. Frank Sinatra and other Italian-Americans were enraged by the project, who feared it would harden stereotypes of Italians as criminals, and real-life mobsters let Ruddy know he was being watched. One night he heard gunshots outside his house and the rattle of his car windows.

On his board was a notice that he had to shut down production, immediately.

Ruddy saved himself, and the film, through diplomacy; he met with crime boss Joseph Colombo and a couple of henchmen to discuss the script.

Closing ceremony of the 22nd Arpa International Film Festival
Al Ruddy pictured at the closing gala of the 22nd Arpa International Film Festival at the American Legion Post 43 on November 10, 2019 in Los Angeles.

/ Getty Images

“Joe sits across from me, one guy is on the couch and one guy is sitting by the window,” Ruddy told Vanity Fair in 2009. “He puts on his little Ben Franklin glasses, he's looking at (the script) for about two minutes. What does that mean “fade out?” he asked.

Ruddy agreed to remove a single gratuitous mention of the word “Mafia” and make a donation to the Italian American Civil Rights League. Colombo was so pleased that he urged Ruddy to appear with him at a press conference announcing his approval of the film, a meeting that led to Ruddy being photographed alongside members of organized crime.

With parent company Gulf & Western's stock plummeting, Paramount fired Ruddy, only to have director Francis Coppola balk and rehire him. In the end, the mobsters were cast as extras and openly consulted with the cast members. Ruddy himself made a cameo appearance as a Hollywood studio guard.

“It was like a happy familyRuddy told Vanity Fair. “All these guys loved underworld characters, and obviously the underworld guys loved Hollywood.”

With a cast that includes Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall, “The Godfather” was a critical and commercial sensation and remains among the most beloved and highest-grossing films of all time. When Ruddy was named the best picture Oscar winner at the 1973 ceremony, the host was Clint Eastwood, with whom he would produce “Million Dollar Baby,” the best picture winner in 2005. In on the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather”, in 2022, Ruddy himself became a character. Miles Teller portrayed him in “The Offer,” a Paramount+ miniseries about the making of the film, based on Ruddy's experiences.

“Al Ruddy was absolutely beautiful to me the entire time on 'The Godfather' — even when they didn't want me, he wanted me,” Pacino said in a statement. “He gave me the gift of encouragement when I needed it most and I will never forget that.”

Al Ruddy, James Brolin and Clint Eastwood
Al Ruddy, James Brolin and Clint Eastwood in Los Angeles, California at the 45th Academy Awards on March 27, 1973.

Ron Galella Collection/Ron Galella via Getty Images

Ruddy was married to Wanda McDaniel, a Giorgio Armani sales executive and liaison who helped make the brand ubiquitous in Hollywood, whether in movies or at promotional events. They had two children.

Born in Montreal in 1930, Albert Stotland Ruddy moved to the United States as a child and was raised in New York City. After graduating from the University of Southern California, she was working as an architect when she met television actor Bernard Fein in the early 1960s. Ruddy had grown tired of his career, and he and Fein decided to develop a television series, although neither had written.

Their original idea was a comedy set in an American prison, but they soon changed their minds.

“We read in the paper that … (the) network was doing a sitcom set in an Italian POW camp and we thought, 'Perfect,'” Ruddy later explained. “We rewrote our script and set it up in a German POW camp in about two days.”

Starring Bob Crane as the wily Colonel Hogan, “Hogan's Heroes” ran from 1965 to 1971 on CBS, but was criticized for trivializing World War II and turning Nazis into lovable cartoons. Ruddy recalled that network boss William Paley called the show's concept “reprehensible,” but relented after Ruddy “literally acted out an episode,” complete with barking dogs and other sound effects.

While Fein continued with “Hogan's Heroes,” Ruddy turned to film, overseeing the low-budget “Wild Seed” for Brando's production company. His reputation for managing costs proved more useful when Paramount Pictures was at the helm Robert Evans he acquired the rights to Mario Puzo's best-selling novel “The Godfather” and sought a producer for what was supposed to be a profitable minor gangster film.

“I got a call on a Sunday. 'Do you want to do The Godfather?'” Ruddy told Vanity Fair. “I thought they were joking, right? I said, 'Yeah, sure, I love that book,' which I'd never read.”


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