Chris Petersen, head of longtime production firm the Petersen Co., died in L.A. Friday May 9 after a yearlong struggle with health challenges. He was 82.
Blair, Neb., native, known for his salesmanship, creativity, sense of humor and eye for talent, started his Hollywood film career after being educated at the U. of Nebraska, instructing geopolitics at Washington Lee U. and serving in WWII and the Korean War, during which he was an Army captain and was awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts in setting up the Armed Forces Radio Network in the Far East.
In Hollywood, he began in animation production on the General Services lot and quickly turned his enterprise into a full-service, live-action studio during the 1960s and ’70s, known often as the “golden age” of independent commercial production. His studios produced thousands of top national TV spots, many of them Clio winners, as well as hundreds of corporate image films, around 20 TV specials and numerous theatrical features, for which in many of cases, Petersen supplied not only facilities but post-production services and completion bonding and he even took a producer or co-producer credit.
Features made there include “When a Stranger Calls,” “A Different Story,” “Ruby,” “Five on the Black Hand Side” and telepic “The Fighters” (about boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier). A short that was particularly close to his background in geopolitical interest was one he made for the North Atlantic Treaty Org that NATO said was its best, recalled sons Erik and Kurt, who worked with their father.
TV specs and miniseries include PBS’ “This Far By Faith” (a history of the black church in America), an all-star Bobby Darrin one, “Stalked” with Jack Hawkins, “Land of the Small” with Gregory Peck and “The Most Joyful Mystery” with Barnard Hughes (and featuring cameos by Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas and others), plus others. But it was commercials and corporate films that earned the Petersen Co. its bread and butter. Just a few of the high-end clients included Gallo, Anheuser-Busch’s complete product line, Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, AT&T, GE, Mercedes, BMW, Avon and more.
Corporate communications awards the studios garnered over the years includes top ones from the N.Y. Film Festival, P.R. Society of America and Cine Intl. Fest.
The Petersen Co. also became known for its research and development of specialized equipment and techniques, including:
- The auto rigger (precursor to camera car setups)
- The flexible lens (allowing it to swivel with no optical distortion)
- The Range Finder (a precursor to follow-focusing long lens systems)
- Photokinetics (complete micro and macro photography capability originally used in the filming of Walt Disney’s “Secrets of Life” and “The Living Desert” and later GE-sponsored “Land of the Small”)
- Kenworthy Snorkel Camera System (revolutionized close-up photography)
Petersen’s career continued through the late 1980s until he retired to pursue interests in environmental projects.
He was a charter member and president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers and was a member of the Directors Guild of America.
Besides his sons, survivors include his three former wives, Marianne, Barbara and Linda; brother Donald and sister Rosemary.
A memorial service will held 10:30 a.m. Friday May 23 at St. Paul the Apostle Church, 10750 Ohio Ave., in Westwood; (310) 474-1527.
Donations can be made to a charity of choice or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Memorial and Honor Program. (800) 873-6983.