P. Ray Swank, a pioneer in non-theatrical distribution, died April 10 in St. Louis, Mo. He was 95.
With his wife Lucille, Swank founded Swank Motion Pictures in 1937 to provide movie entertainment in communities with no theaters in Ohio and Indiana. The Swanks screened films on a sheet on the sides of buildings, using the hood of their car as a projection stand.
They moved their small company from Ohio to St. Louis in 1938 and became suppliers of filmed entertainment to schools, youth groups, churches and organizations in the St. Louis area. They also became the supplier of motion pictures to others operating circuits in theaterless Midwest towns at that time.
Over the years, Swank Motion Pictures secured exclusive distribution contracts with Disney, Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Miramax, DreamWorks, MGM and many independents. Since the late ’80s, Swank has been the largest non-theatrical film distributor in the country, distributing films to schools, museums, hospitals, the military, cruise ships and prisons.
Swank continued to be active in the business until his death, and was instrumental in introducing digital and Internet-based training to the company.
He is survived by two sons, Timothy, President of Swank Motion Pictures, and Michael, an executive with Swank on the west coast, a daughter, Isabel; eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.