Consultant transformed studio release schedule

Longtime distribution exec Richard Graff, who influenced studio practice schedules by releasing the first Thanksgiving weekend blockbuster, died Friday in Tarzana. He was 82.

Graff started out as a film booker for Universal, rising to branch manager. As executive VP of National General Corp., he was responsible for building the company’s worldwide distribution and marketing organization.

After a stint as head of distribution at American Intl. Pictures, he became president of worldwide distribution of MGM/UA and then Weintraub Entertainment Group.

He subsequently formed his own film distribution consulting company and in 2002, was inducted into the ShowEast Hall of Fame.

In 1985, while at MGM/UA, he persuaded producer Jerry Weintraub to release “Rocky IV” the day before Thanksgiving, an unprecedented move at the time. After witnessing the success of the opening Sumner Redstone, a longtime friend and colleague, sent the following telegram: “Dear Dick: I am not one for accolades. But your distribution of ‘Rocky’ and particularly your opening of the picture on November 27, is one of the most brilliant coups that I have witnessed in my motion picture experience. Congratulations.” The experiment led to common practice for opening holiday films on Thanksgiving weekend.

In the past decade, he served as senior distribution consultant to the Cubby Broccoli family company, Danjaq, overseeing distribution of the James Bond movie library around the world, including the distribution of the most recent Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Graff was honored with the William J. German Human Relations Award by the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Jerusalem Award Tribute by Shaare Zedek Hospital. He served on the board of directors for the Organization for the Junior Blind and he was also a member and contributor to the Motion Picture Pioneers, the Variety Club and Will Rogers Institute.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Gail, three daughters, three granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

Donations may be made to the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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