November 17, 1949
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Director, Executive, Producer, Screenwriter
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This son of the founder and chair of the largest distributor of electronic equipment entered show business staging theatrical productions Off-Broadway. He entered the film industry as a reader at United Artists and later participated in the director's program of the American Film Institute after his student film "Confusion's Corner" (featuring a then-unknown Richard Gere) earned him a fellowship. After working as an associate producer, Avnet and family friend Steve Tisch launched Tisch/Avnet Productions in 1977. For seven years, they oversaw a number of successful features (most notably 1983's "Risky Business" which catapulted Tom Cruise to stardom), several issue-oriented TV-movies like "The Burning Bed" (NBC, 1984), starring Farrah Fawcett, and the acclaimed, but short-lived series "Call to Glory" (ABC, 1984-85).In 1986, Avnet co-wrote and directed the critically-praised TV-movie "Between Two Women" (ABC, 1986) starring Fawcett and Colleen Dewhurst. Later that year, he entered into a producing partnership with Jordan Kerner, former vice president of dramatic programming at ABC. Among their early efforts were "Less Than Zero" (1987), based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel and "Men Don't Leave" (1990), with Jessica Lange as a widow. Avnet made an assured directorial debut with the surprise word-of-mouth hit "Fried Green Tomatoes," a folksy and feminist Southern shaggy dog tale about independent lives, friendship, and the many forms of love. Avnet followed up this triumph by producing several family-oriented entertainments for Disney: the extremely successful children's sports comedy "The Mighty Ducks" (1992) and its two sequels and the 1993 retread of "The Three Musketeers" and the surprise hit "George of the Jungle" (1997). He was a bit more ambitious with "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994), a domestic comedy-drama about the effects of alcoholism starring Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia.Avnet returned to directing with "The War" (also 1994), an affecting allegorical comedy-drama set in the South in 1970. This somewhat heavy-handed story about the stateside effects of the Vietnam War and the tensions of the civil rights movement was helped immeasurably by the combined star power of young Elijah Wood in the lead and Kevin Costner in a supporting role as his father. He followed with the glossy throwback to old-fashioned romantic tearjerkers, "Up Close and Personal" (1996). Written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and co-starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, the film was loosely based on the life of anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Most critics were dismissive of its "A Star Is Born" inspired story, but audiences seemingly enjoyed the tale and its charismatic stars. Avnet tackled more political themes in his fourth film "Red Corner" (1997), an examination of the Chinese legal system, co-starring Richard Gere and rising Asian star Bai Ling. What was basically a fish out-of-water story, the film focused on an American lawyer accused of murder while on a business trip to China. Because of Gere's presence (and the actor's support for Tibet and the Dalai Lama), the filmmakers were unable to film on location and the settings were recreated in Southern California. Avnet, however, surreptitiously filmed a handful of scenes in Beijing and also included footage of actual executions which occurred in China for dramatic purposes. Critics were divided over the results, with many faulting the story line but not its intent.