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Jaffe was born in New Rochelle, New York. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, in 1962. He is the son of Leo Jaffe, film executive and "Hollywood Deal Maker." Leo Jaffe was a close friend of independent producer Sam Spiegel; Stanley Jaffe described how he would find his father and Siegel at his father's office at Columbia Pictures: "The lights were turned low and there they were, at the end of the table, playing gin."
In 1962 Jaffe joined Seven Arts Associates, and in 1964 was named executive assistant to the president of Seven Arts. After Warner Brothers purchased Seven Arts in 1967, Jaffe left to join CBS for two years.
After producing Goodbye Columbus, he was in 1970 appointed executive vice president and chief operations officer of Paramount Pictures, and within three months was named president of Paramount Television, which post he resigned in 1971 to form an independent production company, Jaffilms, which was "associated" with Columbia Pictures. Jaffilms produced Bad Company (1972) and The Bad News Bears (1976). In 1977 he became executive vice president of worldwide production at Columbia Pictures.
Jaffe returned to independent production with Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979. In 1983, in collaboration with Sherry Lansing (then president of 20th Century-Fox), he started the production company Jaffe-Lansing. In 1991, he was named president and chief operating officer of Paramount Communications, and dissolved his partnership with Lansing. In 1992 he was named successor to Brandon Tartikoff as president of Paramount.
When Viacom purchased Paramount in 1994, Jaffe was forced out and filed a lawsuit against Paramount for $20 million in a stock option dispute. The case was dismissed by the court in 1995, and in 1995 Jaffe's company Jaffilms entered into a production agreement with Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Jaffe had earned the ire of fans of the Star Trek franchise for his role in making a last minute stop to a project that would have built an interactive entertainment facility in the likeness of a full scale Starship Enterprise in Las Vegas. Jaffe was the only person on the planning committee who opposed the idea, and as CEO of Paramount had the authority to terminate the project. Instead, Star Trek: The Experience was built in the Las Vegas Hilton. The Fremont Street Experience was built in the place originally planned for the Enterprise project.
In or around 1992, a consortium of developers put a proposal together with government officials from Las Vegas to build a replica of the USS Enterprise in Las Vegas. The giant scale model of the ship would include restaurants and tours but no hotel or casino. The proposal was also approved by the then-President of Paramount and only needed the approval of CEO of Paramount Studios Stanley Jaffe. After listening to the proposal from all sponsors, Mr Jaffe in the meeting reportedly curtly rejected the proposal on the basis that if unsuccessful, the building would, unlike a movie, be a permanent reminder of failure in the franchise.