Henry G. Saperstein, longtime owner of UPA Prods., died of cancer Wednesday in Beverly Hills. He was 80.
A pioneer in the merchandising business, Saperstein also was an animation producer and distributor and producer of several Godzilla films.
He worked with Col. Tom Parker as Elvis Presley’s licensing agent, also handling merchandising for “Wyatt Earp,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Lassie” and “Roy Rogers” during the 1950s.
He acquired the financially troubled UPA Pictures in 1960. Known for its earlier work in theatrical shorts and advertising, the company under Saperstein was successful in television, producing hundreds of Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing Boing and Dick Tracy cartoons.
He produced “The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo,” the first primetime animated series, which aired on NBC in 1964, as well as TV specials such as the classic “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and “Uncle Sam Magoo.”
His longtime association with Japan’s Toho Films resulted in his executive producing Woody Allen’s first film, “What’s Up Tiger Lily?” as well as “War of the Gargantuas” and “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.”
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For 25 years he handled U.S. licensing for the Godzilla character, and UPA Prods. continues to distribute 12 of Toho’s monster pics for TV and video.
His eclectic productions included Warner Bros.’ 1963 animated feature “Gay Purree,” the Timothy Leary docu “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out” and music features “The T.A.M.I. Show” and “The Big TNT Show.” In 1968, he was exec producer on John Boorman’s “Hell in the Pacific” for ABC Films.
Saperstein kept the Mr. Magoo character alive as an advertising spokesman and in a later TV series, “What’s New Mr. Magoo?,” and also exec-produced Disney’s recent live-action “Mr. Magoo” starring Leslie Nielsen.
A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, he is survived by his wife, Irene; daughters Nicole, Joan Nackerud, and Patricia, a senior editor at Daily Variety; and son Richard of Eugene, Ore.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Henry G. Saperstein Research Fund, care of AMC Cancer Research Center, 1775 Sherman St., Suite 1000, Denver, CO 80203.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Hillside Memorial Park. For further information, please call (310) 659-6004.