Stuart Cornfeld RIP: Everyone Loved Ben Stiller’s Producing Partner

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Longtime producer Stuart Cornfeld, 67, died June 26 of cancer, but left a mark on Hollywood with collaborations with iconic directors and a run of hit movies dating back to 1980.

As a film student at the AFI Conservatory in the 1970s he worked with Anne Bancroft, who went on to introduce him to Mel Brooks. Cornfeld was an assistant on Brooks’ 1977 comedy “High Anxiety,” and the two men teamed as executive producers on David Lynch’s 1980 “The Elephant Man.”

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Cornfeld went on to produce David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” which put the Canadian body-horror master on the map. Cornfeld also produced Steven Soderbergh’s “Kafka,” the young filmmaker’s first movie after the 1989 indie sensation “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” and the Vince Gilligan-scripted “Wilder Napalm.”

But Cornfeld’s closest collaboration was with filmmaker and actor Ben Stiller, with whom he launched Red Hour Productions and turned out a string of hit comedies including “Zoolander,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Dodgeball,” “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny,” “Blades of Glory,” and “Tropic Thunder.” In the 2010s, Cornfeld turned to indies and television, including Richard Ayoade’s cult hit “Submarine” and the reality-TV-skewering web series “Burning Love.”

“I love Stuart Cornfeld,” David Lynch told IndieWire. “Stuart was the one who introduced me to ‘The Elephant Man,’ which led to Mel Brooks giving me the chance to direct this film. Stuart, bless his heart, always believed in me and supported me. He was a true friend. He liked to take me to lunch — he took me to lunch many times. I turned Stuart on to Transcendental Meditation and he loved this meditation — through the years he always thanked me for telling him about it. Stuart was great to talk with — easy, fun, great insights, many laughs. I picture Stuart most likely laughing at the whole thing right now.”

“Better Call Saul” executive producer Mark Johnson, who first worked with Cornfeld on “High Anxiety,” told IndieWire that It’s hard to imagine a world without Cornfeld.

“All of us knew that he had a terminal illness, but you’re never prepared,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be without Stuart in the world. It’s almost impossible to describe. He was a force of humor, of passion. He was on the forefront of independent filmmaking, [but also] just plain good filmmaking. In an effort to hang out with the cool people, he overlooked the fact that he was the coolest one in the room.”

Johnson also revealed that Spanish painter Joan Bofill is at work on a documentary about Cornfeld, which the producer said is “remarkable because of who Stuart was.”

“Many things in this business — and in this life — will disappoint you. Stuart never did,” filmmaker Howard Franklin said.

“When I was a young struggling screenwriter, he literally gave me the shirt off his back,” “The English Teacher” screenwriter Dan Chariton told IndieWire. “And then half a dozen more, on the condition that I keep them dry cleaned in case I ever wanted to return them.”

“Stuart passed gently without added drama or chaos,” Johanna Went, performance artist and Cornfeld’s ex-wife, said. “I believe he experienced a good death if there can be such a thing. He was aware that his cancer was a runaway train. He did say, in that joking way he had, ‘This is the only trip I can take right now.’ He was at peace with dying and had clarity and presence.

Anne Thompson contributed reporting.

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