Roger L. Mayer, longtime exec at MGM and Turner Entertainment and a strong advocate of film preservation, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 89.
He started in the film industry in 1952 as a lawyer with Columbia Pictures, where he later became a general studio executive. In 1961, he joined MGM as assistant general manager of the studio. In his 25 years with MGM, he held a number of executive positions; eventually, he became senior VP of administration and president of MGM Laboratories Inc.
Mayer was president and chief operating officer of Turner Entertainment Co. from 1986 until his retirement in 2005.
He was also a longtime board member and chairman of the Motion Picture & Television Fund and served as the board’s chairman for eight years.
He was a member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress and chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He was on the board of governors at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, as well as on the board of the Academy Foundation. Mayer was active in these roles until his passing.
Mayer joined the MPTF board in 1982 and was chairman of the board of trustees from 1996-2004. Until his death, he served on the finance committee, chaired the investment committee; he was also on the advisory board to the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Children’s Center. He was a strong advocate of the Children’s Center program and a great friend of Sam Goldwyn Jr.
Mayer, who always pushed fellow industry members to be even more generous, received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2005, presented by Martin Scorsese. He was also chairman of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Scorsese said Wednesday in a statement that “the film preservation community has lost a beloved friend. I met him early on when he was working for Ted Turner, and though we disagreed at that time about colorization, we shared the core belief that film libraries were of vital importance to our culture.
“Throughout his successful career in the industry, Roger consistently put the care and preservation of collections at the forefront. He was absolutely key in helping the Library of Congress establish the National Film Preservation Foundation in 1996, and over the years, he gave tirelessly of his time and expertise.
“Because of his leadership and guidance, the NFPF has been incredibly effective, preserving thousands of orphan films from every state in the U.S. I’m deeply saddened at the passing of Roger, for whom I had an enormous amount of respect, affection and admiration. To say that he will be sorely missed is an understatement. My heart goes out to his family and everyone in the film community whose lives he indelibly touched.”
Mayer was born in New York City in 1926 and received a B.A. from Yale and also graduated from Yale Law School. His time as an undergraduate was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
Mayer won an Emmy Award as the exec producer of PBS’ 2004 American Masters presentation “Judy Garland: By Myself.”
He is survived by Pauline, his wife of 62 years; daughter Patty; son Larry and Larry’s wife Jennifer; and granddaughters Natasha and Anna.