Prolific producer and MGM executive Benjamin Melniker has passed away at the age of 104. Melniker produced almost every single Batman live-action film since Michael Keaton starred as the Caped Crusader in Batman in 1989.
He died on Monday in Roslyn Harbor, New York according to his fellow Batman producer Michael E. Uslan.
Uslan described Benjamin Melniker as “legendary” and detailed his life accomplishments. He “started work at MGM in late 1939 and came to be known as “The MGM Lion for his forcefulness in negotiating the deals for the studio while building his reputation for integrity at the same time.”
Ben ascended at MGM, becoming sole Executive Vice President and all divisions reported to him. He was also Chairman of the Film Selection Committee and a member of the parent Loews board. Ben put together the deals for Ben-Hur, Dr. Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gigi and their musicals of that Tiffany era of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He was invited to the White House by LBJ along with Lew Wasserman, Arthur Krim, and the other studio heads to form the MPAA. Ben negotiated the Paramount Consent Decree of 1948 in which the government ordered the split between Loews and MGM. He appeared before the Supreme Court with also legendary lawyer, Louis Nizer. In the 1970’s, Ben invented the Canadian Tax Shelter deal used to finance many movies of that era.
In 1979, Ben believed in me and in my outlandish idea to buy the rights to Batman in order to show the world the TRUE” Batman as created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, a creature of the night who stalks disturbed villains in the shadows, in a series of dark and serious movies. Ten long years later, thanks to the relentless efforts of Ben, we succeeded, changed the comic book industry, changed the movie industry, and changed history.
Ben was a humble man, never wishing attention. 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.
He owns the Hollywood record books as far as I can tell. He actively worked in the industry over nine decades, and this year will still receive on-screen credit past his 105th birthday. Not only was he active in the industry for 79 years, he was sharp right up until the last day.
I’ll finish my tribute with a story. Back in the early 1990s, Ben and I set up a deal at Hanna-Barbera. The executive there informed us that Joe Barbera was in his office that day and asked if we would like to meet him. I was excited. Ben didn’t say a word. As we walked into Joe Barbera‘s office, he looked up, ran over and gave Ben a bear hug as tears were streaming from his eyes. He turned to me and said, “If it wasn’t for this man, there would have been no Hanna-Barbera… No Flintstones, no Jetsons, nothing!” He went on to explain that it was Ben who pushed Fred Quimby to hire Joe and Bill Hanna initially in the MGM animation unit. When MGM was closing the animation unit, Joe and Bill went to Ben and explained they were going to leave to try to set up their own company. As a thank you to them in appreciation for all their hard work, he said Ben arranged for them to have the rights to “Tom and Jerry” for an upfront payment of $10 in order to help them start their business.
That was Ben. “The MGM Lion” had a soft side and at the end of the day it was all about integrity.
He was my partner. He helped make my dreams come true. He was my second father. I always knew this day had to come, but after 105 years, I never thought it would.
“Benjamin Melniker.” Remember the name. He has left it behind for all the rest of us to aspire to.
Uslan added that Ben taught him one of his most important lessons, “The only thing you get to take with you when you die AND leave behind is your good name.”
Benjamin Melniker really pushed comic book movies. In 1982 he produced Swamp Thing and would go on to produce The Return of Swamp Thing. He would executive produce Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Not only would he be involved in a number of DC Comic live adaptations, but he was also involved in the animated films producing Batman: Mask of the Phatasm. But Batman and Swamp Thing weren’t the only characters he helped bring to the big screen. He also served as executive producer on Catwoman starring Halle Barry and Constantine starring Keanu Reeves.
He would also help bring Frank Miller’s adaptation of The Spirit to the big screen. More recently he served as executive producer on Justice League, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Batman v Superman.
He also was pivotal with a ton of DC’s animated films including Batman vs. Two-Face with Adam West, Burt Ward, and William Shatner. Other credits include Batman: The Killing Joke, Justice League Dark, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Batman: Bad Blood, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, and the upcoming Batman Ninja anime film.
Needless to say Benjamin Melniker had a thing for Batman and DC Comics as he helped bring many of these projects to life.
Melniker leaves behind his son, Harvey, and his daughters-in law Heather Melniker and Deanie Melniker as well as five grandchildren, Douglas, Carly, Avital, Sophie, and Lara as well as a number of great-grandchildren. His wife Shirley of 70 years and his son Charles had previously passed away.