Ray Stark, the old-time independent producer who was instrumental in the movie careers of Barbra Streisand and Neil Simon, died Saturday at his Hollywood home, succumbing to heart failure at age 88, the New York Times reports. He produced some 30 movies, and was involved in nearly 100 more in his earlier career as a Hollywood agent. He was nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards as the producer of ”Funny Girl” and ”The Goodbye Girl,” finally winning an honorary Oscar – the Irving G. Thalberg award, usually given as a career achievement prize to producers – in 1980.
Stark was married to the daughter of comic legend Fanny Brice, and he put together the 1964 Broadway musical ”Funny Girl” about his mother-in-law, casting the little known Streisand in what would be her star-making role. The Stark-produced 1968 film version was Streisand’s first movie, and it won her a Best Actress Oscar (she tied for the honor with ”The Lion in Winter”’s Katharine Hepburn). Stark went on to produce such Streisand films as 1970’s ”The Owl and the Pussycat,” 1973’s ”The Way We Were,” and the 1975 ”Funny Girl” sequel ”Funny Lady.”
Stark also produced 11 movies based on Simon stage plays and screenplays, including 1975’s ”The Sunshine Boys,” 1978’s ”California Suite” (which won supporting acting Oscars for George Burns and Maggie Smith, respectively), 1986’s ”Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and 1993’s ”Lost in Yonkers,” which would be Stark’s last major release. Other notable Stark productions included ”The Electric Horseman” (1979), the movie version of the musical ”Annie” (1982), and ”Steel Magnolias” (1989). ”He liked doing comedy, films that were up and happy,” daughter Wendy Stark Morrison told the Times. ”He didn’t like negative or violent films.”