Motion picture executive, producer and distributor Mo Rothman, who was respected and honored in territories as diverse as Italy and China and brought Charlie Chaplin back to America, died Thursday, Sept. 15, in Los Angeles after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 92.
Known as “Mighty Mo” to his inner circle of film biz associates around the world, Rothman was best known for orchestrating a truce between the U.S. government and Chaplin that finally allowed “the Little Tramp” to return to America after being denied re-entry during the McCarthy Era. Chaplin was feted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and presented with an Honorary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
“The Mighty Mo was so much a part of our lives,” wrote Geraldine Chaplin. “The brave and clever reviver of Charlie Chaplin worldwide; family friend, personal friend… funny, generous, so very, very dear to us.”
After decades of work for studios, Rothman decided to go independent in 1971. Aided by investors including Bert Schneider (producer of “The Monkees” and “Easy Rider”), Rothman raised sufficient capital to purchase worldwide all-media rights to Chaplin’s entire library. He met with Chaplin in Switzerland, worked out a $7 million deal and set out to distribute these lost classics by himself.
Born Moses Rotman in Montreal, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Corps as soon as war broke out in 1939. When the war was over, he landed a position with Universal Pictures, which sent him to India as a management trainee. He was soon promoted to manager in Singapore, then Venezuela, at which point United Artists offered him a post as continental manager for Europe; he worked out of UA’s Paris office from 1952-59. He met Chaplin in 1953, when Rothman was overseeing European distribution for Chaplin’s “Limelight.”
Columbia Pictures Intl. recruited him as exec VP and CEO, and he operated out of the studio’s London offices until 1965, when he was transferred Stateside as president of worldwide distribution at Col’s financial headquarters in New York and at its Hollywood studio while maintaining a presence in London. He had been Columbia’s designated executive on Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove.” Rothman was No. 2 in the hierarchy of Columbia Pictures Corp. until 1971.
Rothman served on the juries of both the Cannes and Venice film festivals. On May 21, 1982, he was honored by the Italian government for his services to Italian cinema and awarded the Commendatore of the Order of Merit.
Another career milestone for Rothman was his unique access to China in the years before the Cultural Revolution. His relationships there laid groundwork for American films to be screened there for the first time.
When her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Lyn Rothman, his wife of 37 years, took an active role in working to find both treatment and a cure. In the course of her investigation she founded the Parkinson’s Appeal, based in her native London, which has already raised millions to in support of further research.
In addition to Lyn, Mo Rothman is survived by three children; two stepchildren; and seven grandchildren.