Monday, June 17, 2024

RIP Legendary Oscar Winning Producer Fred Roos, 89, Man Behind Coppola Films Like “The Godfather,” Even “Megalopolis”


Fred Roos has died. The long time man behind the scenes for Francis Ford Coppola’s movies was 89 years old. He was beloved. Some people will snark that “Megalopolis” killed him, but Roos was tough enough to endure making movies like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.” “Megalopolis” didn’t faze him. He told me that when I last saw him in January 2023 at a screening in LA.

Here’s his official obit:

Frederick “Fred” Ried Roos, born May 22, 1934, passed away peacefully at the age of 89 the evening of Saturday, May 18, 2024 at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Fred was a visionary Oscar-winning producer and influential casting director whose talents contributed to some of the most seminal films of the past 50 years including American Graffiti, The Godfather trilogy, Star Wars, The Black Stallion, Lost in Translation, and The Conversation.  He is survived by his beloved wife and longtime partner, Nancy Drew, and his son and producing partner Alexander “Sandy” Roos.

Fred was the son of Dr. Victor Otto Roos, a general practitioner, and Florence Mary (née Stout). Born in Santa Monica, CA and raised in Riverside, CA, his fascination with film began as a child when movie stars would occasionally pass through his local movie theater on promotional tours. His family moved to Los Angeles so he could attend Hollywood High School and play baseball, and in 1956 he earned a B.F.A. from UCLA. After graduation, Roos was drafted by the Army and served two tours in Korea, the first one with future director/producer Garry Marshall.

Roos entered the film industry via the mailroom at the then-powerful talent agency, MCA Inc. (now Universal Pictures), where one of his duties was driving for Marilyn Monroe. He thrived in his position and was promoted to assistant to one of the top agents. While there, Roos developed a love for actors and honed his intuition for discovering talent.  Before producing films, Roos made his mark as a casting director, first in television on iconic shows such as The Andy Griffith Show (1960), I Spy (1965), That Girl (1966), and Mayberry R.F.D. (1968). He then worked alongside many of the industry’s most talented filmmakers and actors on films such as Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968), Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970), Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), George Cukor’s Travels with My Aunt (1972), John Huston’s Fat City (1972), Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), John Milius’ Dillinger (1973), and George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973). 

His judgment and intuition were considered flawless and he became a trusted eye in Hollywood for discovering, nurturing, and advocating for talent. With his love for actors, good writers, and brilliant directors, talented people gravitated to him and felt supported by him because he genuinely cared. Roos could identify attributes in someone well before they could see it in themselves. Instead of watching actors read, he cast by speaking with them and was able to tell if they had “it” after a brief, but meaningful conversation. With these instincts, Roos launched the careers of Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forest, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Jennifer Connelly, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thorton, Marshall Bell, and many others; revitalized the acting careers of Ron Howard, Martin Landau and Bill Murray; and was instrumental in casting Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Cailee Spaeny in their first important leading roles. 

Through casting, Roos became known for his extensive knowledge of up-and-coming actors, both in the US and Europe, catching the attention of Francis Ford Coppola. His work on The Godfather (1972) led to over 50 years of creatively fruitful collaborations with many members of the Coppola family which lasted until the end of his life.

While in development on Star Wars, George Lucas consulted with Roos on casting. Roos read the entire screenplay in one sitting, making meticulous notes on the back cover which included the names Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and James Earl Jones in his fastidious handwriting. Lucas took this inspired set of choices under advisement and the rest is film history.

In 1974, he and Francis Ford Coppola held the rare distinction of earning two Academy Award nominations for Best Picture in the same year for The Conversation and The Godfather II, ultimately winning for the latter. They were nominated again in 1980 for Apocalypse Now. For over five decades, Roos produced films for Francis including One from the Heart (1981), The Outsiders (1983), Rumble Fish (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Gardens of Stone (1987), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), New York Stories: Life without Zoe (1989); the Oscar nominated The Godfather III (1990), Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), Twixt (2011), and Megalopolis (2024).

For Eleanor Coppola, Roos executive produced the acclaimed documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which earned four Primetime Emmy Awards and won two for Directing and Editing. Decades later, Roos prided himself on producing Eleanor’s feature film, Paris Can Wait (2016), helping her make her directorial debut at the age of 80. 

With Sofia Coppola, Roos was instrumental in guiding all eight of her critically-acclaimed feature films, serving as co-producer on her film debut, The Virgin Suicides (1999), and as Executive Producer on Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010), The Bling Ring (2013), The Beguiled (2017), On The Rocks (2020), and most recently Priscilla (2023). 

Among Roos’ other notable producing credits are Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut Drive, He Said (1971), Carroll Ballard’s Oscar-nominated The Black Stallion (1979), Wim Wenders’ Hammett (1982), Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987), Agnieszka Holland’s The Secret Garden (1993), and the Golden Globe-nominated St. Vincent (2014) starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. He also produced Wonderwell (2023) starring Carrie Fisher in her last on-screen performance alongside global music star Rita Ora. For Broadway, he successfully convinced author S.E. Hinton and American Zoetrope to turn The Outsiders into a Broadway play, which garnered 12 Tony nominations last month, including Best Musical. 

In 1988, Roos was honored by his peers with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Casting Society of America. In 2004, he was awarded Telluride Film Festival’s Silver Medallion for his achievements in the film industry.

Tireless until his death, Roos was actively producing Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, which made its highly anticipated world premiere in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival last week. His legacy lives on through his son and producing partner, Alexander Roos, who continues to produce their robust slate of projects which are in various stages of active development and production under their banner, FR Productions.

Fred Roos was determined to never retire from the film business and to go with his boots on. He got his wish.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News