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Thursday, 7 March 2013

AFICIONADO CLASSIC BLOG (2008): REMEMBERING GARETH WIGAN

Watching a legend begin in 1976/77: Gareth Wigan.


His name may not be so well known in STAR WARS fan circles, but British ex-Talent Agent turned Producer/ex-board member of TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, Gareth Wigan’s part in the birth of the STAR WARS saga mustn’t be overlooked. One of the few people who had the rare good fortune and common sense to see how George Lucas’s space adventure vision could be a worldwide success, Wigan, alongside FOX’s Studio Head of the time, the equally shrewd investor in talent, Alan Ladd Jr., helped shepherd the project through difficult hurdles and stallings by FOX management into an immense production greenlight at the end of 1976, of which Lucas would comment, "He was there for me when I needed him and I'll always be grateful." Later, seeing a rough cut of the film in 1976/77, even without many of the films completed special effects and indomitable music score by John Williams, Wigan’s instincts for success looked set to be realized. These instincts would fail to diminish even after an un-enthusiastic testing of the film to Lucas’s peers and friends in the industry, and to a somewhat bored, sleepy and indifferent board of Directors at FOX, who were convinced that the risky new project would be an absolute financial disaster to a company already in trouble from several previous box office failures. With the almost complete film in 1977 making him cry with delight and happiness, Wigan was impressed enough with STAR WARS that, when he got back to his Los Angeles home that evening following the screening, he immediately sat his wife and children down in their kitchen and told them that he had seen an amazing film that day, one that was going to change the film industry forever. Later overcoming distribution problems and cinemas worried about showing anything with the word WAR in the title after the terrible state of events and fall out from the real-life Vietnam War, such a prediction by Wigan quickly, ultimately became true-his faith in the film persisting and thriving to its low-key then avalanching release from May 1977 onwards. Wigan knew that STAR WARS was going to be an absolute phenomenon.

With FOX getting more profit coming through in 1977 than they’d ever had before thanks to Ladd Jr. and Wigan’s backing to the hilt of the film (quickly to bear a sequel), the duo would go on to greenlight the equally iconic ALIEN, and numerous other successful films, at the studio, too, before they left FOX-escaping the companies in-house Hollywood political intrigue and greedy back stabbing machinations over release rights profits linked to the upcoming release of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK- to set up, alongside other FOX colleague Jay Kanter, their own unique new film company, THE LADD COMPANY, where superb, iconic projects like BLADE RUNNER, OUTLAND and CHARIOTS OF FIRE would add to their list of achievements and also bring further acclaim and periods of financial stability. Once THE LADD COMPANY eventually dissolved, Wigan would end up working for SONY PICTURES, once more adding his considerable experiences and skills in the movie industry, as well as his political savvy and adeptness in dealing with the Hollywood machine and its talents, into bringing successes like Harrison Ford’s AIR FORCE ONE, Coppola’s DRACULA and Barbra Streisand’s THE PRINCE OF TIDES into fruition.

A popular contributor to the STAR WARS: EMPIRE OF DREAMS DVD release documentary in 2004, and the further VH1: WHEN STAR WARS RULED THE WORLD documentary in 2007, and earlier in 1999 for the BBC's OMNIBUS documentaries on George Lucas, Mister Wigan would sadly pass away on Saturday 13th February 2010) at the age of 78 following a brief illness, and is survived by his wife, Pat Newcomb, his four children and seven grandchildren.

Thank you, Gareth Wigan, for all your help and support in getting STAR WARS made. Your contributions to the film world were tremendous and you will live on through that incredible work you helped realize. STAR WARS remains a bright light in the film and science fiction/fantasy worlds for which you will always be remembered and appreciated for being involved with.  

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