Walter Mirisch, Oldest-Surviving Oscar Winner, Past Academy President, Dies @ 101

February 25, 2023

Mirisch became a beloved and outspoken authority on the art and business of film. (Image via video still)

Walter Mirisch, who was the only person ever to win the Irving G. Thalberg Award, an Oscar for Best Picture and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award — and who had been the oldest-surviving Oscar winner in any category — died Friday, February 24, 2023, in L.A.

Mirish was president of AMPAS from 1973-1977.

“Walter was a true visionary, both as a producer and as an industry leader,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer and Academy President Janet Yang said via press release. “He had a powerful impact on the film community and the Academy, serving as our president and as an Academy governor for many years. His passion for filmmaking and the Academy never wavered, and he remained a dear friend and advisor.”

Mirisch was a first-generation American, born November 8, 1921, in NYC. He was unable to serve in WWII for health reasons, but worked in a plant helping to build bombers.

Post-war, he gravitated to filmmaking, an early passion. Immediately after college, he produced his first feature, the noir drama Fall Guy, in 1947. He told Variety of the movie, which had been based on a story called "Cocaine":

"I saw it as a way for Hollywood films to begin to talk about drugs, but unfortunately the Production Code Administration got involved and they completely obliterated what we were trying to do. By the time they were finished, I think we used aspirin."

Not yet 30, he was the production chief at Allied Artists Studio, overseeing the production of 30 films a year. He also personally produced a raft of features, among them a dozen Bomba the Jungle Boy films (1949-1955), Flat Top (1952) and Wichita (1955). Some of the films whose production he oversaw include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Love in the Afternoon (1957).

In 1957, he launched his independent production company the Mirisch Company, which would produce 68 films — three of them Oscar winners for Best Picture: The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961) and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Some of his other famous films: Some Like It Hot (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), Hawaii (1966), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Midway (1976), Same Time, Next Year (1978) and Romantic Comedy (1983).

Mirisch was also a busy TV producer.

He is survived by his sons Larry (who has owned the Mirisch Agency since 1992) and Andrew, his daughter Anne; his granddaughter; and two great-grandsons. His wife of many years, Patricia Kahan (1924-2005), preceded him in death.

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