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Mayer: Restoration missionary

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

According to Turner Entertainment president Roger Mayer, all films should be restored and preserved.

“When we first started film preservation we would sit around and try to decide which films to preserve and say, ‘This film will last but that one won’t.’ But we were wrong half of the time. You will not know whether a film is a classic right away. It really doesn’t retain its position as a work of art until 10, 20, 25 years later.”

This all-inclusive mentality may be one of the reasons why Mayer — following in the footsteps of Quincy Jones, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn — will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on Oscar night.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Frank Pierson explains that Mayer’s numerous philanthropic activities, “longtime efforts on behalf of the Motion Picture and Television Fund as well as his efforts in film preservation” persuaded the board of governors that he was an appropriate Hersholt candidate.

Serving on the MPTF for over 25 years, eight of them as chair of its board of trustees, Mayer is also the founding chair of the board of directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation, created by Congress in 1996 to preserve “orphan films” — those with no studio or other entity with an economic motive to save them. Additionally, he is a member of the National Film Preservation Board, advising on which films should be added to the National Film Registry and their subsequent preservation at the Library of Congress.

Mayer has spent a lifetime quietly restoring countless features, television shows, animation and short subjects.

“The most difficult (film to restore) over the years has been ‘Gone With the Wind’ because it not only was the longest, but it was filmed in three-strip Technicolor,” Mayer says. “We have certainly spent a lot of time and money — more money than any other — keeping that (film) in good shape.”

But perhaps even more challenging than the endless process of restoration is convincing the public that films are an endangered species.

“The general public has no idea (about film preservation),” Mayer says. “There is no reason that they should sit and worry about ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ They see it. It looks good and that’s all they know.”

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