Here's as best as I can recount the facts as I've read them:
When he was the head of 20th Century Fox Studios, Alan Ladd, Jr. met a young filmmaker named George Lucas. The storyteller was interested in making a little something something called 'The Star Wars' for the silver screen, and -- although in Ladd's own words he didn't quite understand what it was all about -- the executive saw the potential and gave it his blessing. Upon seeing the first cut of the film, Ladd is said to have gone home and told family members that the film would change the way movies were made. Period. He believed in it that much.
Sometimes, it's a bit hard to make sense of IMDB.com's various citations. Studio heads aren't exactly listed in the credits; and IMDB.com kinda/sorta lists them as 'presenters,' a term I've never quite understood. But if I take a gander at the track record Ladd established in choosing properties to get up in the lights, it's an incredible list of accomplishments. Young Frankenstein (1974). Damnation Alley (1977). Star Wars (1977). The Boys From Brazil (1978). Alien (1979). The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Outland (1981). Blade Runner (1982). Spaceballs (1987). There are more -- many more, indeed -- but I wanted to simply give you a flavor of his contribution to our beloved genre. Though Ladd wasn't directly involved in the completion of these stories, he was the executive who set them on the path to being produced; and for this viewers everywhere should be forever thankful.
Prayers and salutations to the families and friends of the late executive. Hollywood -- and the world at large -- has lost a gifted soul.