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″Superman” producer Alexander Salkind dead at 75

March 19, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Alexander Salkind, the last of the great independent producers who, with his son Ilya, made the hugely successful ``Superman″ movies starring Christopher Reeve, has died in Paris. He was 75.

Salkind died March 8 at the American Hospital in Neuilly, outside Paris. He had been hospitalized for a stomach ailment. Michele Abitbol, a spokeswoman for the family, refused to give an exact cause of death.

Salkind was one of the world’s most successful independent producers, who knew a good story when he saw one.

The idea for ``Superman″ came from Ilya, who grew up reading the comic book series about the caped wonder dedicated to doing good. Salkind had never heard of him.

Salkind was attracted to arty European cinema, but invested his money in lively, blockbuster entertainment with plenty of action, Hollywood stars and happy endings.

Salkind once said he wanted to adapt Albert Camus’ ``The Plague″ to the screen, but canned the idea because he knew audiences would shy away from its existential gloom.

His biggest hits included ``The Three Musketeers,″ directed by Richard Lester and starring Oliver Reed and Richard Chamberlain. Its sequel, ``The Four Musketeers,″ was made in record time. Salkind suggested recycling unused footage from the first film.

Salkind was born in Danzig, a German city on Polish territory (later Gdansk) on June 2, 1921, and spent his childhood in Berlin. His father, Mikhail, was an independent producer who worked with Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich in their early days.

Salkind used to say his father taught him to love three things in life: contracts, stars and travel. He followed his father to Cuba to make films there, and spent some time in Mexico, where he became a citizen. He also lived briefly in the United States, but divided his later years between France, Italy and Switzerland.

Salkind’s first solo production was a Buster Keaton comedy in 1945. He returned to Europe to spend the rest of his life producing motion pictures in Spain, Italy, France and Hungary.

His credits include ``Austerlitz,″ ``The Trial″ and ``Kill″ with Jean Seberg, and ``Santa Claus: The Story,″ which starred Dudley Moore.

Not all the Salkinds’ joint efforts were hits.

Probably their worst box office disaster came in 1992 with ``Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,″ which featured Marlon Brando and Tom Selleck, and which saw Alexander and Ilya in the courtroom fighting over their losses.

The litigation was painful and costly, and nearly killed the elder Salkind’s passion for movies.

The Salkinds had lots of other problems too. The ``Superman″ series and other productions prompted litigation against them over shares of profits.

The senior Salkind refused to release the finished print of his first ``Superman″ for the lucrative 1978 Christmas season, insisting that Warner Bros. pay him an additional $15 million for foreign distribution.

Some accused Salkind of kidnapping the movie, but both producer and Warner Bros. profited handsomely from the expanded audience.

``For me an independent producer is someone who doesn’t depend on someone else to make films,″ Salkind once said. ``That, you have difficulty to find except for me, of course.″

Salkind is survived by his wife Berta, his only son, Ilya, and five grandchildren.

Funeral services are planned for Friday at the Bagneux cemetery.