LOS ANGELES – Debra Hill (search), who co-wrote the horror classic "Halloween" and rose through Hollywood's ranks to become a pioneering woman producer, died Monday, according to a family friend. She was 54.
Hill had battled cancer for 13 months but had been working on several projects, including a film about the Sept. 11 (search) terrorist attacks, until her last days, friend Barbara Ligeti said.
"She changed the face of women in film. If you talk to people who are real players in this town, they will say Debra was one woman who would help other women ... with boundless generosity," Ligeti said.
Hill's big break came in horror films when she and director John Carpenter co-wrote the genre's modern classic, "Halloween" (search).
The 1979 film, also directed by Carpenter and produced by Hill, starred a 20-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis as the baby sitter terrorized by a murderous psychopath. Made on a modest $300,000 budget, it grossed $60 million worldwide, a record for an independent movie at the time, and launched a seemingly endless chain of sequels.
Hill, Carpenter and Curtis returned for "Halloween II," and Hill and Carpenter were involved in the writing of several later sequels, including "Halloween: Resurrection," "Halloween 5" and "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers." A "Halloween 9," also written by Hill and Carpenter, is reported by the Internet Movie Database to be in production.
After her "Halloween" run, Hill joined her friend Lynda Obst in forming an independent production company in 1986 that made "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Heartbreak Hotel," both directed by Chris Columbus, and Terry Gilliam's "The Fisher King" with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.
In 1988 she entered a contract with Walt Disney Pictures under which she produced the feature "Gross Anatomy," short films for the Walt Disney theme park and an NBC special for Disneyland's 35th anniversary.
Films she produced included "The Dead Zone," 1983; "Head Office," 1985; and "Clue," 1986.
"Back when I started in 1974, there were very few women in the industry, and everybody called me 'Honey,'" she recalled in 2003. "I was assumed to be the makeup and hair person, or the script person. I was never assumed to be the writer or producer. I took a look around and realized there weren't many women, so I had to carve a niche for myself."
Carpenter praised her as "a real pioneer in this business."
"Unlike many producers, she came from the crew ranks. I think they're the most under-appreciated people, and they work the hardest," he said. "She had experienced the ins and the outs and had a thorough understanding of what it took to make a picture."
Hill began as a production assistant on adventure documentaries, working up to films as a script supervisor, a job that required sitting beside the director and keeping a record of each scene.
From there she landed jobs as assistant director and second-unit director and became associated with Carpenter, who was then a rising young director.
The two also collaborated on 1980's "The Fog" and 1981's "Escape From New York."
When she was honored by Women in Film in 2003, Hill said, "I hope some day there won't be a need for Women in Film. That it will be People in Film. That it will be equal pay, equal rights and equal job opportunities for everybody."
Born in Haddonfield, N.J., Hill grew up in Philadelphia.