Gary Kalkin, senior VP of domestic marketing for Buena Vista Pictures, died Jan. 6 at his Los Angeles home of complications from AIDS. He was 44.
Kalkin, who had worked at Disney for 10 years, played a major role in marketing some of the most successful films in the studio’s history, including the animated musicals “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.”
He also developed and supervised campaigns for several live action films, including “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Pretty Woman,” “Sister Act” and “The Santa Clause.”
Those who worked with him over the years described Kalkin as a self-effacing man who shunned the spotlight he justly deserved.
“He was a friend of mine and Marilyn and my kids. He was really a member of our family. It’s impossible to measure the loss for us. It’s beyond devastating,” said former Walt Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“What was so extraordinary about Gary is that he loved his work and loved the success, but he never would come forward and take the bows that he was so entitled to. His generosity and spirit was part of what made him special,” Katzenberg said. “He is singularly the most unsung, uncredited real genius behind success after success after success in the marketing of Disney’s movies, animated shows, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on Broadway … it’s impossible to describe the contribution and the impact he made on the company.”
Kalkin was hired at Disney in 1985 as VP of publicity, and two years later was promoted to VP of domestic marketing. He was elevated again in 1987 to senior VP.
“Gary was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” said marketing and distribution head Dick Cook, who was his friend and co-worker. “He had a certain style. There was an elegant quality in him, and what he was as a person showed up in his work.”
Longtime associates said Kalkin was instrumental in changing the perception that animated films were just for kids and transforming them into event movies.
Kalkin began his publicity career in the New York offices of United Artists Film Corp. After that, he served for three years as VP in charge of West Coast operations for M/S Billings Publicity, where he handled such clients as John Travolta, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese. He served as a publicist on a number of high-profile films including “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,” “Staying Alive” and “9 to 5.”
He is survived by his sister, Marlene Bernstein of Coral Springs, Fla., and his companion of 23 years, film producer Laurence Mark.
In lieu of flowers, survivors suggest donations to Lambda Legal Defense Fund, 6030 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 200, Los Angeles, C A 90036.