Prolific Batman producer Benjamin Melniker died Monday in Roslyn Harbor, New York, at age 104.
Melniker got his start working at MGM in 1939 and worked his way up through the studio, eventually becoming executive vice president and chairman of the film selection committee. He was behind a number of important film deals at the company, including Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In 1979, Melniker and his producing partner Michael Uslan made a decision that would forever change their careers: They bought the film rights to the Batman comic book series. Uslan was a lifelong fan of Batman, so it was a passion project. They made a deal with a production company that was bought and packaged and eventually made it into Warner Bros.' hands. The deal was signed in 1981. At that time, with no producer credits to his name, Uslan was too inexperienced, and Melniker, at age 68, was considered a relic of old Hollywood. Since neither man carried much cachet, Warner Bros. made a deal with them to push them out of having any input on Batman.
According to Den of Geek, The deal was that, instead of being hands-on producers, they would be executive producers. In return, the pair got a $400,000 payout up front for the rights, with another $300,000 fee for Tim Burton's Batman (which was released in 1989). They would also get deferred payment and net profit participation. In addition, they were paid $700,000 for two future Batman films, which ended up being Batman Returns and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. They were also guaranteed a "similar" sum and executive producer credit for every Batman film the studio ever released.
The pair only had limited input on the original Batman (which was mainly to make the film more serious in tone) and didn't have a say in any other Batman film, but Melniker and Uslan's credits appear on around 40 Batman titles, ranging from Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, to The Lego Batman Movie, to direct-to-DVD animated films like Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. They even got credit for films in which Batman isn't the lone star, like Justice League and The Lego Movie.
In addition to getting credit on every Batman film, pretty much for all time, Uslan and Melniker produced other comic book adaptations including Swamp Thing, Constantine, and The Spirit.
“Ben was a humble man, never wishing attention,” Uslan wrote on Facebook. “He turned down endless requests to write his book or do interviews about the Golden Age of Hollywood, especially in his latter years as he became the last mogul standing from that era. He told me that he knew all the stories of what transpired behind the curtain at MGM in those decades but would never reveal things that could negatively impact those people, their children or their grandchildren. Ben was a mensch.”
(via The Hollywood Reporter)