LOS ANGELES -- Ray Stark, a publicist and actors' agent who became a Hollywood power broker and producer of such movies as "Funny Girl," "The Way We Were," and "The Sunshine Boys," died in his home yesterday after a long illness, longtime friend Warren Cowan said. Mr. Stark was 88.
Mr. Stark was considered the last of the great independent producers, following the pattern of Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick. Like them, he made films that were often based on best-selling books or hit plays, rich in production value, and cast with big stars.
But unlike Goldwyn and Selznick, who thrived on publicity, Mr. Stark preferred to remain out of the limelight. He gave only a handful of interviews during his career, and then only if he had an ax to grind. He issued only a few details in his official biography and was even sketchy about his age. He indicated his birth date was 1914, but gave no month or day.
A news release from Mr. Stark's family yesterday said he was born Oct. 3, 1915.
Mr. Stark's career as producer was notable for his association with Barbra Streisand. The son-in-law of Fanny Brice, Mr. Stark had long desired to dramatize the life of the great Broadway singer and comedian. He put together a stage musical, "Funny Girl," and to play Fanny, he chose Streisand, who was then establishing herself as a dynamic singer with Broadway and television appearances.
"Funny Girl" and Streisand became the hits of Broadway, with the show's premiere in New York on March 24, 1964. Mr. Stark converted it into a glittering movie, Streisand's debut film.
"Funny Girl" won Streisand an Oscar as best actress (shared with Katharine Hepburn for "The Lion in Winter"). She made three more films under her contract with Stark -- "The Owl and the Pussycat," "The Way We Were," and "Funny Lady."
Mr. Stark's films also saw Academy Awards for George Burns ("The Sunshine Boys"), Richard Dreyfus ("The Goodbye Girl"), and Maggie Smith ("California Suite").
As a producer, Mr. Stark maintained long-term relationships with directors, writers, and stars, some of whom he had represented as an agent. He made 10 films with Neil Simon, eight with Herbert Ross, five with Jackie Gleason, four with Streisand, four with John Huston, and three with Sydney Pollack.
In 1980, Mr. Stark received the Motion Picture Academy's highest prize for a producer: the Irving G. Thalberg Award for consistently high quality of production.
Referring to the legendary MGM production head, presenter Kirk Douglas remarked, "Ray does what Irving used to do."
Mr. Stark replied: "Thank you, Kirk. I couldn't have said it better myself."
Mr. Stark also enjoyed his reputation as a film industry power broker. Company heads and financiers often sought his advice and counsel. For many years, he was one of the biggest stockholders in Columbia Pictures, and he was influential in company policy. When he was upset over how the new production head, David Puttnam, was running the studio, he reportedly pulled strings and had Puttnam fired.
When Coca-Cola bought Columbia for $750 million in 1982, Mr. Stark played a behind-the-scenes role in the sale. He took his Columbia holdings in Coke stock; by 1987 he had shares worth $44 million. In 1984, Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $175 million.
Mr. Stark was educated at Rutgers University and first worked as a reporter and publicist. After World War II, he entered the agency business, starting with radio writers as clients, then moving up to authors such as John P. Marquand, Thomas Costain, and Ben Hecht.
In Hollywood, he joined Charles Feldman's agency, Famous Artists, and learned the ins and outs of movie deals. Among the clients: William Holden, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, and Marilyn Monroe.
In 1957, Mr. Stark and Eliot Hyman formed Seven Arts Productions, which supplied television and feature movies. While there, Mr. Stark produced "The World of Suzie Wong" (William Holden), Tennessee Williams's "The Night of the Iguana" (Richard Burton and Ava Gardner), and "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor).
Mr. Stark left Seven Arts in 1966 to form Rastar Productions. His first film was "Funny Girl."
Other Rastar films include: "Fat City," "Murder by Death," "The Cheap Detective," "Chapter Two," "The Electric Horseman," "Annie," "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Nothing in Common," "Smokey and the Bandit," "Peggy Sue Got Married," "Biloxi Blues," "Steel Magnolias," and "Revenge."
Mr. Stark was long married to Frances Brice. They had two children, including a son who died of a drug overdose. Mr. Stark owned a horse farm where he raised thoroughbreds for his racing stable, and he and his wife accumulated one of the most impressive art collections in the film community.
In 1999 Mr. Stark answered a Los Angeles Times request for his philosophy about filmmaking. In his essay, Mr. Stark deplored the trend toward homogenization of movies.
"Films work best when they're specific; oddly enough, the more specific, the more universal the story. For example, Check those artists who've had an impact on films: Orson Welles, Chaplin, Bergman, Hitchcock, John Ford, and writers like Neil Simon, Ben Hecht, Tennessee Williams. They never tailored their works for the largest audience possible. Instead, the largest audience came to them."