Abe Schneider, ex-chair and prexy of Columbia Pictures, died in Palm Springs, Fla., Wednesday of pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease complications. He would have have been 88 Sunday.
Schneider worked his entire career at Columbia Pictures, where he rose from office boy to president.
Born in New York City in 1905, Abraham Schneider graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1922.
Soon after, he began his career as an office boy with the org that was known alternately as the C.B.C. Film Sales Co. or Cohn, Brandt & Cohn.
Schneider worked out of a single room at 1600 Broadway with brothers Harry and Jack Cohn, Joe Brandt and a few other employees. While working, he studied nights at New York University (where he eventually earned a Bachelor of Commercial Science degree).
In 1924, the Cohn brothers and Brandt created Columbia out of the partnership.
Schneider progressed to bookkeeping operations and was becoming well-versed in the business of movies.
In 1929 — when Columbia became a publicly owned corporation — Schneider began playing a major part in administering the company’s financial affairs.
By 1932, Schneider was treasurer of the company and became a director. In 1943, he added VP to his title and, in 1956, was promoted to first VP and treasurer.
After the death of Jack Cohn later that year, Schneider was also designated chief fiscal officer, a position he held until after the death of company president Harry Cohn, on Feb. 27, 1958.
Less than two weeks later, Schneider was named company president and, as Daily Variety reported at the time, he became part of a special committee made up of five board members who would “report their recommendations for production and administrative heads to the full board for final action.”
In September 1959, Schneider also assumed duties as president of Screen Gems, company’s television film subsidiary.
Ascends to chairman
Schneider became Columbia chairman and chief executive officer in 1968, the year before the Screen Gems telefilmery affiliate was reabsorbed and the company was renamed Columbia Pictures Industries. He became honorary chairman in the 1973 management change.
Schneider was a member of the board of directors from March 1929 until April 1975, four years after a heart condition had severely limited his business activities.
His retirement came only three weeks before his 70th birthday, on April 25, after slightly more than half a century of affiliation with the studio.
A company spokesman said: “For four decades, Abe Schneider was the heart and soul of Columbia.”
Schneider’s friend and ex-colleague Gordan Stulberg (now chairman of the board of Philips Interactive Media) remembered him as a quiet man “who was always kind of in the shadows. He was the opposite of the flamboyant Harry Cohn.”
Forged indie links
Stulberg said Schneider “was one of the pioneers of studios working with independents,” including Stanley Kramer and Hecht-Hill-Lancaster.
“That’s when Columbia really burst out in the independent production area with films like ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster), Stanley Kramer’s ‘Ship of Fools,’ and Richard Brooks’ ‘The Professionals,’ ” said Stulberg.
True to convictions
MPAA president Jack Valenti credited Schneider for his unwavering principles.
“The thing I most admired about Abe is that he had convictions which he never strayed from and that was the definition of quality in movies. … I have nothing but loving memories of Abe Schneider,” Valenti told Daily Variety.
Schneider is survived by his wife of 66 years, Ida, and sons Harold and Bert, both of whom were involved in various capacities with Columbia before and after their father’s reign.
His eldest son, Stanley (president of Columbia Pictures from 1970-73) died in 1975 at 46.