Phil Isaacs, a film distribution and theater chain executive who was also a pioneer in the development of pay television, died of natural causes on Dec. 2 in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 89.
As vice president of International Telemeter Corp., a company operated by Paramount Pictures to perfect a pay TV system, Isaacs played a key role in 1960 in setting up and managing a closed-circuit experimental pay TV station in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. He was also involved in finding programming for the service, signing up the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, the away games of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team, and Chicago’s Second City; films came from Paramount.
Charges for programming on the three-channel system were collected via a coin box installed in subscribers’ homes. Though a commercial failure, the Etobicoke operation set the stage for cable television and for pay channels such as HBO and Showtime.
In a varied four-decade career in the film industry, Isaacs served as a producer’s representative for Woody Allen movies, including “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and as VP in charge of West Coast operations for General Cinema Corp., the exhibitor acquired by AMC Theaters in 2002.
Philip Isaacs was born in the Bronx and graduated from the City College of New York. Shortly after returning from Navy service from 1943-46, he got his first job as a booker’s assistant at Paramount in New York. He subsequently moved up to branch manager in Washington, D.C., head of the Rocky Mountain division and Eastern-Southern sales manager.
In 1967, he joined Cinema Center Films as VP of domestic distribution; in 1972 he was named VP of marketing at Tomorrow Entertainment. Subsequent posts included VP-general sales manager of Avco Embassy in 1975 and of Orion Pictures in 1980; VP-general sales manager and then president of TWE Theatrical in 1988. After serving as president of South Gate Entertainment in 1989, he retired.
Isaacs was a member of the executive branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and of the Motion Picture Pioneers.
Survivors include Isaacs’ second wife, Rusty Stein Isaacs; three daughters; two stepdaughters; and a brother.
Donations may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.