Lothrop Russell Thacher, Jr. (29 May 1919 - 1 Oct 1990)
Lothrop Russell "Russ" Thacher, a kind, patient novelist and film producer who tenderly led Dave Hines and me through what could have become the most painful, ruinous experience of our lives, passed away on October 1, 1990 at the age of 71 in UCLA Medical Center. Russ died of complications from abdominal surgery.¹
Russ Thacher as he looked when his first novel, "The Captain," was published.
Born in Hackensack, N.J., he was voted "Teacher's Pet" at Hackensack High School in 1937, then educated at Bucknell and New York Universities,² Thacher wrote three novels early in his career, "The Captain," "The Tender Age" and "A Break in the Clouds." Thacher's first novel, "The Captain," is set on board a Landing Ship, Tank in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The novel is notable for its early positive portrayal of homosexuality, exemplified in the characters of two crew members, though male eroticism is an undercurrent throughout the book. It was published by Macmillan in New York in 1951 and Allan Wingate in London in 1952, with subsequent paperback editions.³ Russ wrote in the first edition, "If any of my former shipmates imagine they see themselves characterized in the crew that kept the L 47 rolling, they're probably right, maybe 10% right, the remaining 90% being nine other guys." In "The Tender Age," Russ wrote about the experiences of a 17-year-old boy growing up in a town in New Jersey.⁴ Thacher then switched to editing for Omnibook Magazine and Book of the Month Club.
In 1963, he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, originally working for the firm in New York City before heading out west in 1969, where he was the studio's vice president for production. Russ moved into independent production in 1972, co-producing "Soylent Green," the 1973 science fiction thriller (it won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, and is now remembered for the line, "Soylent green is people!!!"), and "The Last Hard Men," a 1976 Western prison break film; both of these films starred Charlton Heston. Other films he produced include "Travels with My Aunt" (based on the novel by Graham Greene, and directed by George Cukor) and "The Cay," a story about two survivors of a World War II ship disaster stranded on an island, for which he wrote the teleplay and was nominated for a Humanitas Prize by the WGA. In the early 1980s, he was consultant and executive producer with the Samuel Goldwyn Co., for which he produced "The Golden Seal" and "Once Bitten." When we two young doofusses wrote the latter film, Russ was a tolerant-but-terrifying taskmaster: When we turned in an inferior first rewrite, he called us in to possibly fire us. Before the meeting, Dave and I took turns throwing up in a pizzaria bathroom down the street from the Goldwyn Company, our eyes watering, and when we were finally allowed inside Russ' office, he looked us over, smiled slightly, and said, "It's not as bad as you think." (It was, but he calmed us down, and let us know that we still had a shot.) The last time I saw "Russell the Muscle," as we called him and he never quite told us to shut the hell up about, I was eating dinner at an expensive Brentwood restaurant with my date, awaiting a cast and crew screening of the film I'd co-written under Russ. I asked for the check, and the waiter told me the bill was paid. I turned to see Russ waving from another table. He was eating alone, sparing the rest of his family the torture of sitting through 90 minutes of teen sex and German synthesizer music. (If I'd known then that nobody was going to clap for us during the credits or speak with us afterwards, I probably would have chosen to hang out with his family.) He gave us story guidance on our next script, called For Better or Worse, but we never met with him in person. Anyway, he was a great guy and I miss him. I wish we could have worked with him again.
Thacher was survived by his wife of 48 years, Betty Webb Thacher (1917-2001); two sons, Michael, of Studio City, Calif., and Christopher, of Teaneck, N.J., and two sisters, Polly Hamilton of Barnard, Vt., and Bea Patterson of Osprey, Fla.⁵ A memorial service was held in Hackensack. The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the American Heart Assn.
NOTES ON THIS PAGE:
¹"Russell Thacher, 71, Producer and Writer," The New York Times, October 4, 1990, Section D, Page 24.
²"Russell Thacher; Film Producer and Novelist, 71," The Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1990, 12 AM.
³"Gay American Novels, 1870-1970: A Reader's Guide," by Drewey Wayne Gunn, p. 55. McFarland & Company, 2016. ISBN 9781476625225. Accessed November 25, 2017. "Thacher's Captain deserves to be better known. The novel is about many things, especially about the way men operate under stress, but it is especially about the perils and the rewards of male-male affection."
⁴"The Road to Maturity:" The Tender Age, By Russell Thacher." The New York Times Book Review by Richard Sullivan, October 5, 1952. "The old, standard themes permit infinite variation; and when the variation is fresh and alive the old, standard theme comes all alive and bright and new. The theme of The Tender Age is the one of a boy's growing up."
⁵"Thacher/Hamilton Family Tree," by maryebar1, a descendant of Russ's sister, Polly, on Ancestry.com