By Sam Wildow
BEVERLY HILLS, Cali. — Martha (Schumacher) De Laurentiis, a successful film producer who grew up in Piqua, recently passed away earlier this month on Dec. 5 at the age of 67 following a battle with cancer. She was remembered as an inspiration to others with her optimism, generosity, and passion with her career.
“No one could have a better friend. She was a blessing to all who knew her,” said Barbara Hudson, of Piqua, who was one of De Laurentiis’ close, longtime friends.
De Laurentiis was born Martha Schumacher on July 10, 1954, in Lancaster, Pa., before her family later moved to Piqua while De Laurentiis was in grade school.
“I first got to know Martha in seventh grade (in) junior high here in Piqua when we were in all of the same classes,” Hudson said.
Before graduating from Piqua High School in 1972, De Laurentiis was involved in many activities, Hudson said, including honor society, orchestra, choir, plays, musicals, yearbook staff, and marching band as a majorette. During her senior year, De Laurentiis was selected to represent Miami County as Junior Miss and went on to be crowned Ohio’s Junior Miss.
De Laurentiis earned an Associate’s Degree from Ball State University in secretarial sciences before going on to work briefly as a model in New York. She then got involved in television and film production accounting before moving on to producing films, the first one being the adaptation of Stephen King’s “Firestarter.”
In May of 1984, De Laurentiis brought the premiere of “Firestarter” to the theater in downtown Piqua, Hudson said. The theater was located where the current Hallmark store is at now.
“Firestarter” was also the movie where she began a partnership with Dino De Laurentiis, her husband whom she would marry in 1990 in Beverly Hills. They had two daughters together, Carolyna and Dina.
In the 1980s, Martha and Dino De Laurentiis started a production company headquartered in Wilmington, N.C. Dino De Laurentiis passed away in 2010, and Martha De Laurentiis continued as the president of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.
Martha De Laurentiis executive produced and co-produced over 40 films and miniseries during her career, and she was credited as Martha Schumacher until 1995. She was a producer of a number of adaptations of Thomas Harris’ novels, including “Hannibal” (2001), “Red Dragon” (2002), and “Hannibal Rising” (2007). She was also an executive producer on the NBC series “Hannibal,” which ran from 2013 to 2015.
In addition to “Firestarter,” De Laurentiis worked as a producer on a number of Stephen King projects, including “Cat’s Eye” (1985), “Silver Bullet” (1985), and “Maximum Overdrive” (1986).
Other notable credits she had included “Raw Deal” (1986), which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger; “King Kong Lives” (1986); “Desperate Hours” (1990), which starred Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins; “Unforgettable” (1996), which starred Ray Liotta; “Breakdown” (1997), which starred Kurt Russell; “U-571” (2000), which starred Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton; “Virgin Territory” (2007), which starred Hayden Christensen and Mischa Barton; “Arctic” (2018), which starred Mads Mikkelsen; and more.
“She was a constant cheerleader, encouraging and supporting her hundreds of colleagues,” Hudson said. Hudson added that De Laurentiis also championed many causes and charities, with Save The Children being especially important to her.
“Martha left behind a powerful legacy. She inspired others with her optimism, generosity, imagination, intelligence, kindness, honesty, and commitment to her work,” Hudson said.
On Dec. 16, 2017, De Laurentiis was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree from Ball State and served as their keynote speaker during fall commencement. During the previous decade, she had also supported Ball State’s Los Angeles Showcase for students from the Department of Theatre and Dance, opening her home for hospitality and offering insightful networking and business guidance, Hudson said.
Hudson and other close friends from their school days, who now live in Columbus, stayed in touch with De Laurentiis throughout their adult lives.
“She was such a wonderful person and an amazing friend,” Hudson said. Hudson and their friends visited De Laurentiis in Los Angeles, as well as in Mexico and Aspen.
“She came to our weddings, and we went to her’s,” Hudson said, adding that they eventually started going to each other’s children’s weddings, too.
“She just was the kind of person who made it so easy to stay in touch,” Hudson said. Hudson said De Laurentiis would often return home to Piqua for class renuions, which they held every five years since 1982.
“She was just really grounded and genuine,” Hudson said.
Hudson also recalled how De Laurentiis joked with her daughters that she had “the happy gene,” but they discovered during her year-long battle with cancer that it was her decision to be happy and optimistic. De Laurentiis shared her journey on Instagram, posting many photos as she faced challenges with fearlessness and a sense of humor, Hudson said.
“She was brave enough to put herself out there,” Hudson said. “In my mind, she inspired others with her bravery, her positivity, her sense of humor.”
Hudson and friends stayed in touch with De Laurentiis with video chats, emails, and letters during the pandemic.
“Due to COVID, we did not push to go to visit her, knowing that would not be the safest thing for her,” Hudson said. She said her friends and she were able to visit De Laurentiis a few days before De Laurentiis passed away.
“That beautiful smile was constant and contagious while she navigated her illness with elegance, strength, and faith. Martha’s light, love, and laughter made life brighter for all who knew her, and she will forever be in our hearts,” Hudson said.
De Laurentiis passed away on Dec. 5. She is survived by her daughters, Carolyna and Dina, and their husbands; her grandson, Arlo; her parents, Mary and Walter Schumacher; her brothers, Walter Jr. (Shoey) and Rod Schumacher; and her partner of 10 years, Dr. Randy Sherman.
EDITOR’S NOTE: National news media reported Martha De Laurentiis passed away on Dec. 4, but she actually passed away on Dec. 5.