Seth Willenson, the influential marketing executive and film and home video producer, died March 18 in Los Angeles, a rep confirmed to Variety. According to their statement, Willenson died of heart disease. He was 74 years old.
Willenson began his career in 1970, as the first employee of the then-young New Line Cinema. He was responsible for one of the company’s early successes, promoting the 1936 anti-cannabis propaganda film “Reefer Madness” as a “midnight movie” on college campuses. As a result of his work, the film became a cult classic, and he would later be responsible for marketing other “midnight films” distributed by New Line, including “Pink Flamingos”, “Sympathy for the Devil” and “The Rockies”. Horror picture show. After leaving the company in 1973, he would return more than 20 years later to become president of telecommunications and planning in 1988.
In between, Willenson worked as a senior vice president at Films Inc., then an exclusive non-theatrical distributor for production companies like MGM, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox. After working there until 1979, he was hired as Corporate Vice President of Acquisitions for RCA SelectaVision Video. There, he gave Jim Gianopulos an early career break by signing him on for a role.
“Over 40 years ago, Seth Willenson trusted a young candidate and in doing so gave me a career,” the former 20th Century Fox executive and CEO of Paramount Pictures said in a statement. . “I looked up to him then, and since, and have never ceased to be grateful for the opportunity he gave me. I quickly realized he knew more about all aspects of filmmaking that anyone I have met since, and his undying love of the art form combined with his extraordinary intelligence have motivated and framed all who have known him. is transformed into deep affection, and I have always appreciated his friendship and wise counsel. Cinema will live on, and so will Seth’s legacy, but his loss will always be felt by the industry he loved.
Other major roles held by Willenson include Senior Vice President of Programming and Promotion for United Satellite Communications Inc., as well as Vice President of Paramount TV Group. At Paramount, Willenson helped the company acquire the acclaimed, Oscar-nominated films “My Life as A Dog” and “Stand and Deliver.”
For the past two decades, Willenson has worked as President of Seth Willenson, Inc., serving as a producer and media and marketing consultant for several companies, such as New Line, GoodTimes Home Video, Working Title Films, Scholastic Entertainment, Nelvana Films, Paramount Pictures, PolyGram, Blockbuster Video and The Disney Channel.
In 1997, Willenson led the marketing campaign for the family film “Shiloh,” about an abused beagle puppy who goes on a journey to escape his owner. The film, released by Warner Bros., was the best-selling film on home video that year and would later receive two sequels.
“Seth took our little movie and created a unique strategy for it — and helped make it a big hit,” ‘Shiloh’ writer and director Chip Rosenbloom said in a statement. “He was passionate about the arts – and also had an excellent understanding of the business side – a rare combination. He became a great friend – and his love for his family and friends was inspirational. His passing is a great loss. »
As a producer, Willenson received an Indie Spirit Award nomination for his work on “Gas Food Longing” directed by Allison Anders in 1992. He also produced the Chuck Norris-directed action comedy “Top Dog” in 1995. Willenson’s latest project as a producer, the “MK Ultra” directed by Joseph Sorrentino, just wrapped post-production earlier this year. Its release date has not yet been announced.