For his first five years, Agostino De Laurentiis didn't speak, but his mother Giuseppina showed no concern. "Look at it this way," she said of the lively child. "When he begins to talk, nobody will be able to make him stop." By the time he was 15, the kid from Naples had turned words to his advantage. "Agostino's greatest asset which he'd use to straighten out a million different messes, in decades to come was his overwhelming skill as a communicator," wrote his biographer Tullio Kezich. "He knew how to charm, how to dazzle... [he] was a born salesman."
Speaking in urgent Italian or broken English, producing hundreds of films in a career that spanned nearly 70 years, Dino de Laurentiis knew that salesmanship demanded showmanship, and he had both in his blood. His dreams could cost a few lire, like the Italian comedies he made with Toto (10 films) and Alberto Sordi (22 films) or the many millions of dollars he poured into his 1976 remake of King Kong. His production of Federico Fellini's La Strada won the Oscar for best foreign-language film; Year of the Dragon and Body of Evidence were short-listed for Razzies. Some of his movies (Death Wish, Conan the Barbarian, Hannibal) earned a bundle; on others (The Bible, Hurricane, Dune) he nearly lost his silk shirt. But Dino never lost his drive or his nerve. His death Nov. 10 in Beverly Hills, Calif., closed the books on a 5-ft., 4-in. giant of the movie business.
A version of this story previously appeared on TIME.com on Nov. 12, 2010.