Benjamin Melniker, who produced dozens of “Batman” and other DC Comics movies, died on Feb. 26 at 104.
Born May 25, 1913, Melniker was a longtime Roslyn Harbor resident.
Melniker’s business partner Michael Uslan wrote in a Facebook post that “legendary” was the only way to describe Melniker, who worked at MGM Studios from 1939 to 1979. He was known as “The MGM Lion” for his forcefulness in negotiating studio deals for movies like “Ben-Hur,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Gigi” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
While at MGM Studios, Melniker rose in the company to become executive vice president as well as chairman of the Film Selection Committee.
“Ben negotiated the Paramount Consent Decree of 1948 in which the government ordered the split between Loews and MGM,” Uslan wrote. “He appeared before the Supreme Court with also legendary lawyer, Louis Nizer. In the 1970s, Ben invented the Canadian Tax Shelter deal used to finance many movies of that era.”
Uslan and Melniker purchased the rights for Batman from DC Comics in 1979 to “make the definitive, dark, serious version of Batman,” Uslan said.
Melniker’s production credits include “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever,” “Batman and Robin,” “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” as well as “National Treasure,” “Swamp Thing,” “The Return of Swamp Thing,” and “The Justice League” during his 40-year run as an executive producer in the movie industry.
He is credited on every “Batman” film, including the animated films, from 1989 through this year with “Batman: Ninja.”
“Ben was a humble man, never wishing attention,” Uslan wrote. “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.”
Melniker is survived by his son, Harvey, and daughters-in-law Heather Melniker and Deanie Melniker, as well as five grandchildren — Douglas, Carly, Avital, Sophie and Lara — and a host of great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Shirley, and his son, Charles.
“He owns the Hollywood record books as far as I can tell,” Uslan said. “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.”