Gary Kurtz, George Lucas’ producing partner at the founding of the Star Wars franchise, died yesterday from cancer in London. He was 78.
The collaboration between Kurtz and Lucas began when the two paired for the director’s nostalgic love letter to the car culture of his teen years, American Graffiti. They moved onto Star Wars, with Kurtz struggling to keep Lucas on schedule in the face of weather conditions during the Tunisia shoot and indecisiveness while on the stages at Pinewood Studios. Once Star Wars was a hit, Kurtz got to work with Lucas on the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. However, the pressure of following up the phenomenal success of Star Wars put a strain on the two’s working relationship leading to Lucas replacing Kurtz on Empire right at the end of production. Years later, Kurtz would express his side of his disagreement as being upset over the emphasis of toy sales versus storytelling.
Kurtz got his start in film working on low-budget B-pictures, starting with a job as an assistant director on the Roger Corman financed western Ride In The Whirlwind (1965) directed by Monte Hellman. He moved over to American International Pictureswhere he worked as production manager on Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Queen Of Blood.
Post-Star Wars, Kurtz teamed with Muppets creator Jim Henson to produce the fantasy The Dark Crystal. He also shepherded director Walter Murch’s darker take on the L. Frank Baum Oz books, Return To Oz, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy. In the 2000s he would serve as producer on director Patrick Read Johnson’s own American Graffiti-like tribute to the dawn of Star Wars fandom 5-22-77.
Kurtz remained active in his career right up until his death. Back in June it was reported that he was developing a film about British playwright Christopher Marlow.