NEW YORK — David V. Picker, who as a top executive at three Hollywood film studios played a significant role in bringing the Beatles, James Bond, and more to movie screens, died Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.
His wife, Sandra Jetton Picker, said the cause was colon cancer.
Mr. Picker began his career in the marketing department at United Artists and rose to become head of marketing and production at 31, a vice president by the mid-1960s, and then, in 1969, president.
Among his achievements in those capacities was helping to secure the rights to turn Ian Fleming’s James Bond spy novels into movies. The franchise began in 1962 and became exceedingly lucrative — although, Mr. Picker recalled in a 1998 interview with Variety, no one quite envisioned that at the beginning.
“When the first James Bond movie, ‘Dr. No,’ was made for a million and a half dollars, it was not as if we said, ‘Oh, boy, what a great franchise,’” he said. “We just saw an idea that we responded to, and we made a not-very-expensive movie that began a phenomenon.”
The Beatles had still not broken big in the United States when George Ornstein, who was in charge of United Artists’ European division, told Mr. Picker that the group was interested in a deal for a movie and soundtrack album. Mr. Picker gave the go-ahead and suggested that Richard Lester direct the movie; the result, in 1964, was the runaway hit “A Hard Day’s Night.” The follow-up, the equally successful “Help!” was released the next year.
Mr. Picker also championed “Tom Jones,” Tony Richardson’s comic adventure based on Henry Fielding’s 18th-century novel, which United Artists released in 1963. It won four Oscars, including best picture. Another best-picture winner made under his watch was “Midnight Cowboy” (1969).
But Mr. Picker’s touch wasn’t always golden. He also pushed forward “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the star-studded 1965 biblical epic. In a 2013 interview for the video series “DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood,” he recalled the first public screening, and a particularly infamous cameo by John Wayne as a centurion.
Wayne said his one line — “Truly this man was the son of God” — “and the entire audience broke into laughter, and we were in the toilet,” Mr. Picker said.
Mr. Picker was president of Paramount’s motion picture division from 1976-78, and in 1986 he returned to the studio ranks briefly, taking a job as president and chief operating officer of Columbia Pictures. In between his studio jobs, he was an independent producer, making, among other films, the Steve Martin movies “The Jerk” (1979), “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man With Two Brains” (1983), and “Leap of Faith” (1992).
Among the many people who worked under Mr. Picker over the years was Thomas E. Rothman, now chairman of Sony’s motion picture group.
“Particularly in the 1960s and ’70s,” Rothman said in a telephone interview, “when film became the dominant art form, there is no tour of the highlights of those years that doesn’t directly involve David.”
David Victor Picker was born May 14, 1931, in Manhattan to Eugene and Sylvia (Moses) Picker.
His marriages to Carly Schlossman in 1954 and to Nessa Hyams in 1975 ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1995, he leaves a sister, Jean Picker Firstenberg; two daughters from his second marriage, Caryn and Pam; and a grandson.