Albert Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ dies at 94

May 28, 2024, 3:01 PM

Canadian-born film and television producer Albert S. Ruddy, UK, 7th July 1972.  (Photo by Evening S...

Canadian-born film and television producer Albert S. Ruddy, UK, 7th July 1972. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

(Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Albert S. Ruddy, a colorful, Canadian-born producer and writer who won Oscars for “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby,” developed the raucous prison-sports comedy “The Longest Yard” and helped create the hit sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” has died at age 94.

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

Tall and muscular, with a raspy voice and a city kid’s swagger, Ruddy produced more than 30 movies and was on hand for the very top and very bottom, from the “Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby” to “Cannonball Run II” and “Megaforce,” nominees for Golden Raspberry awards for worst movie of the year.

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

Nothing looks better on your resume than “The Godfather,” but producing it endangered Ruddy’s job, reputation and his very life. Frank Sinatra and other Italian Americans were infuriated by the project, which they feared would harden stereotypes of Italians as criminals, and real-life mobsters let Ruddy know he was being watched. One night he heard gunfire outside his home and the sound of his car’s windows being shot out.

On his dashboard was a warning that he should close the 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.

“Joe sits opposite me, one guy’s on the couch, and one guy’s sitting in the window,” Ruddy told Vanity Fair in 2009. “He puts on his little Ben Franklin glasses, looks at it (the script) for about two minutes. What does this mean “fade in?” he asked.'”

Ruddy agreed to remove a single, gratuitous mention of the word “mafia” and to 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 movie, a gathering that led to Ruddy’s being photographed alongside members of organized crime.

With the stock of parent company Gulf & Western dropping fast, Paramount fired Ruddy, only to have director Francis Coppola object and get him rehired. In the end, mobsters were cast as extras and openly consulted with cast members. Ruddy himself made a cameo as a Hollywood studio guard.

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

With a cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall, “The Godfather” was a critical and commercial sensation and remains among the most beloved and quoted movies in history. When Ruddy was named winner of the best picture Oscar at the 1973 ceremony, the presenter was Clint Eastwood, with whom he would produce “Million Dollar Baby,” the best picture winner in 2005. Upon the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather,” in 2022, Ruddy himself became a character. Miles Teller played him in “The Offer,” a Paramount+ miniseries about the making of the movie, based on Ruddy’s experiences.

“Al Ruddy was absolutely beautiful to me the whole 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’ll never forget it.”

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

Born in Montreal in 1930, Albert Stotland Ruddy moved to the U.S. as a child and was raised in New York City. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he was working as an architect when he met TV actor Bernard Fein in the early 1960s. Ruddy had tired of his career, and he and Fein decided to develop a TV series, even though neither had done any writing.

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

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

Starring Bob Crane as the wily Col. Hogan, “Hogan’s Heroes” ran from 1965-71 on CBS but was criticized for trivializing World War II and turning the Nazis into lovable cartoons. Ruddy remembered network head William Paley calling the show’s concept “reprehensible,” but softening 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 most useful when Paramount Pictures head Robert Evans acquired rights to Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel “The Godfather” and sought a producer for what was supposed to be a minor, profit-taking gangster film.

“I got a call on a Sunday. ‘Do you want to do The Godfather?'” Ruddy told Vanity Fair. “I thought they were kidding me, right? I said, ‘Yes, of course, I love that book’ — which I had never read.”

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Albert Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ dies at 94