Richard Michael Del Belso, who helped revolutionize movie market research, died on March 5 after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. He was 76.
His death was confirmed by his husband, jazz singer and lyricist Mark Winkler.
Del Belso began his career in the early 1970s in New York at Benton & Bowles before moving to Grey Advertising, where he handled aspects of major automobile and national brand packaged-goods campaigns.
In 1976 Universal Pictures brought him to Los Angeles as its research director. He worked on “Animal House,” “The Wiz,” “The Jerk,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Oscar best picture winner “The Deer Hunter.”
In 1978 Del Belso sought the outside services of Joe Farrell and Catherine Paura at National Research Group to take research methods used in their previous fields — political research at the Harris Poll and traditional advertising — and apply them to movies. Those new techniques included test screenings, trailer and TV commercial testing, seasonal preferences by audience, socio-demographic analyses and tracking studies predicting opening box office numbers.
Del Belso moved to Warner Bros. in 1980 as VP of market research and was later promoted to senior VP of market research and strategy development. His tenure over the next 25 years included four Academy Award best pictures — “Chariots of Fire,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” — as well as the “Mad Max,” “Harry Potter,” “Batman,” “Superman,” “Lethal Weapon” and “The Matrix” franchises.
He was born in Albany, N.Y. Del Belso earned a Bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a Master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from the NYU School of Arts and Entertainment.
Del Belso signed his reports “RDB” and brought a perspective that came from his world travels and extensive knowledge and love of the arts — from classical music to jazz, art, opera, theater and classic films.
“Richard was the best research guy I’ve ever come across,” former Warner Bros. chairman Bob Daly said. “He was smart and thorough, he spoke his mind, and he was right 90% of the time. He was also just a really good person. He certainly will be missed.”
Filmmaker Richard Donner (“Superman,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Goonies”) said, “Richard was very special. On a personal level, he was just fun to be around; on an executive level, his research and insightful interpretations were absolutely invaluable to Lauren and me during our post-production and marketing phases.”
Del Belso was an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and served on the screening committees for foreign films and animated features. He was board president of the 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica’s artist residency program.
Del Belso was also an avid movie poster aficionado with a collection that totals more than 2,500 items.
In addition to his husband and partner of 35 years, he is survived by his sister, Laraine Del Belso; two brothers-in-law, Richard Winkler and Robert Winkler; and nephew Michael Winkler.
A celebration of Del Belso’s life is scheduled for March 23 at 11 a.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with a reception following at Catalina’s Jazz Club. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his name to the Washington Humane Society, the American Film Institute and the American Cancer Society.