NEW ORLEANS –
By 2009, Laura Ziskin had earned the kind of credits that open exclusive doors in Hollywood.
Her long record of successes included producer credits on blockbusters such as “Pretty Woman,” “As Good as It Gets” and the original “Spider-Man” trilogy, but she had little luck in finding financial backers for “The Butler.” Major studios passed on a film based on the life of Eugene Allen (and inspired by a 2008 Washington Post article by Wil Haygood). As a White House butler who served eight presidents, Allen had a unique, up-close view of history in progress, as both his country and his family wrestled with major issues from the 1950s through the 1980s.
So Ziskin turned to Lee Daniels, her chosen director for the film, to help raise money independently. Daniels had done this many times before, most notably for “Precious,” his 2009 box office hit that brought him best picture and best director Oscar nominations. Together, the duo pulled in more than $20 million and set about making “The Butler” on their own terms, even as Ziskin suffered through and eventually succumbed to breast cancer in June 2011.