Friedberg exits as Loews chair

Adding an exclamation point to the ShowEast convention, A. Alan Friedberg announced his retirement as chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s 900-screen Loews Theatres circuit, effective at the end of the year.

A 35-year veteran of exhibition, Friedberg will make the transitionto an executive capacity with Sony Pictures Entertainment, focusing on international opportunities and regulatory issues.

SPE said it was too soon to identify a new chain of command at the circuit. Founded in 1904, Loews is the industry’s oldest chain and its most successful on the basis of per-screen revenue and cash flow.

Originally hired by Columbia Pictures Entertainment co-chairmen Peter Guber and Jon Peters in May 1990, the 60-year-old Friedberg reportedly had been at odds with SPE exec VP Lawrence J. Ruisi from virtually day one of his ascension to Loews’ top slot.

Ruisi, former Columbia chief financial officer and senior VP, took an executive consultancy position with the company four months after Friedberg’s appointment.

Last year, Ruisi was named to SPE’s highest-ranking position on the East Coast with responsibilities over company’s exhibition operations (Daily Variety, Dec. 23). Friedberg said any differences between him and Ruisi were “not an issue with regard to any major significant policy issues” such as strategic planning, new technologies, modernization and internationalization.

When he took the reins of Loews in 1990 from legendary exhibitor Bernard Myerson, Friedberg inherited a circuit “in a state of chaos.” Purchased by TriStar Pictures for $ 300 million in 1986, the circuit had nearly tripled in size through the follow-up $ 167 million acquisition of Friedberg’s USA Cinemas and smaller deals for M&R Theatres, Roth Theatres and the JF Theatres circuit.

Friedberg said he felt he was leaving Loews with a clean deck. He said, “We went into a management mess, (including) acquisitions at excessively high multiples of cashflow.”

Friedberg said the company’s new management team and strategic plans for 210 screens to come on line between December and the end of 1995 bodes well for the future.

As an SPE exec, Friedberg will work on regulatory issues affecting theatrical exhibition.

As National Assn. of Theatre Owners president from 1978-80 and chairman from 1980-82, Friedberg fought against blind-bidding–the practice by distributors of selling movies to exhibitors without letting them see the films first. By the time Friedberg left NATO office, 24 states, Puerto Rico and Prince Georges County, Md., had passed legislation against blind-bidding.

Friedberg’s announcement of his retirement Loews was made in typical theatrical fashion, catching all of the ShowEast conventioneers by surprise at SPE’s closing-night dinner Thursday. Recalling his role leading ShowEast conventioneers in singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” in 1991, Friedberg said, “Last year it was music, this year it’s drama.”

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