Exec molded studio distribution system

Longtime Paramount distribution prexy Wayne Lewellen died Thursday after a short battle with cancer at his home in Westlake Village, Calif. He was 65.

Over his 33 years at Paramount, the widely respected exec was influential in shaping the modern studio distribution system, heading up the release of such blockbusters as “Titanic,” “Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and three of the four films in the “Indiana Jones” trilogy.

“In my entire experience in the motion picture industry, no one did as good a job as Wayne Lewellen,” said Viacom owner Sumner Redstone. “Not only was Wayne a good executive, he was a great and loyal friend.”

The native Texan began his career in 1965 for Warner Bros.’ Dallas branch, where he booked the cartoons that accompanied features. After a four-year stint with Columbia Pictures, Lewellen joined Paramount as branch manager in the Dallas-Oklahoma office. He was named prexy of distribution for the motion picture group of Paramount in 1986 and added foreign distribution to his duties in 1993.

He headed worldwide distribution until Paramount acquired DreamWorks in 2005, working for a series of management teams headed by execs including Barry London and Rob Friedman.

“Wayne was a force in the film industry that was completely unique. With Wayne at your shoulder, you felt invincible,” said Friedman, now CEO of Summit, who worked with Lewellen as former vice chairman and chief operating officer of Paramount.

Lewellen was awarded ShowEast’s “E” award, honoring execs “whose dedication and commitment have led to the betterment of the motion picture industry,” in 1998.

He is remembered for his commitment to charity. Lewellen served as chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Fund, as VP of the Foundation of the Motion Picture Pioneers and as an ambassador to the board of Variety Clubs Intl. In 2005 he was awarded the lifetime achievement award by Variety — the Children’s Charity of Southern California.

“I always felt protected by Wayne. He was like a big brother to me. He had my back,” said Sherry Lansing, former head of Paramount. “Wayne was a unique individual who was both strong and kind.”

Fox distribution prexy Bruce Snyder, who worked with Lewellen at Paramount in the 1970s, said, “He was an icon in this industry. You always knew where you stood with him. He was a humanitarian and handled some of the biggest films with a wonderful style.”

Lewellen is survived by his wife, Rosemary; three sons; six grandchildren; and his sister.

A memorial and funeral service will be held in Lewellen’s native Dallas, and a memorial will be planned for Los Angeles in April.

Donations may be made to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneer Foundation, WRPioneers.org, or the Variety Childrens Charity of Dallas.

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