×

Eric Pleskow, Exec at United Artists, Orion Involved With Best Picture Winners, Dies at 95

Eric Pleskow, who was a key management player in United Artists and Orion Pictures over a 30-year period and was involved in the production of 14 Oscar best-picture winners, including “West Side Story,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Platoon” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” died on Tuesday. He was 95.

The Vienna International Film Festival annouced his death.

“His death is a great loss for all of us,” the festival said in a statement. “Eric had a fulfilled and long life and we appreciated him as a longtime friend and companion of our festival. As president and patron of the Viennale, he has always carried us with his humor and foresight.”

The Viennese-born executive rose through the ranks at UA under Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin and eventually became president and CEO at Orion Pictures, a motion picture company formed by Pleskow, Krim, Benjamin, William Bernstein and Mike Medavoy after the team resigned in protest from UA in 1978.

Pleskow briefly replaced Krim as chairman of Orion until the company filed for bankruptcy in 1991.

Popular on Variety

Orion’s greatest successes under his leadership were the films “Amadeus,” “Dances With Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”

In 1992 he and former Nelson Entertainment head Barry Spikings signed a three-picture commitment with French financier Initial Group to make “event” movies, though the arrangement came to naught.

But by that time, the cordial and well-spoken Pleskow had already been involved in the production of more than a dozen Oscar best-picture winners.

In 1951, he was hired by former entertainment attorneys Krim and Benjamin, who were in the process of turning Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford’s United Artists into a money-making operation. After a time as foreign department executive, he went on to be manager in South Africa and Germany and finally continental manager, based in Paris.

In 1962, Krim brought him back to New York as VP of international distribution. Eleven years later he became president and CEO of United Artists in recognition of his contributions to the company, which had risen from last place in 1951 to first place in 1977, when UA posted $318 million in film rentals, then an industry record. Pleskow had also helped engineer UA’s 10-year distribution agreement with MGM, a company that would come to own UA in later years. While he was president of UA, the company won the best picture Oscar three years running: in 1975 for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in 1976 for “Rocky” and in 1977 for “Annie Hall.”

Pleskow was in tune with UA’s attention to the global market and to exploiting assets such as the pre-1948 Warners and RKO film libraries.

After he joined the exodus of executives from UA in 1978, protesting interference from parent company Transamerica Corp., Pleskow was key in helping to set up $100 million in financing for Orion, including distribution through Warner Bros. He was named president and CEO, a post he held until 1991.

In 1982, Orion purchased Filmways, a film, TV, manufacturing and publishing operation, and dissolved its distribution arrangement with WB. Unlike United Artists, Orion weathered almost constant financial setbacks as the Krim style of management failed to translate into the global market for films requiring expensive key talent elements and costly marketing techniques to sell it.

In 1998 Pleskow began a long reign as president of the Vienna Film Festival.

Andrea Eckert’s 2006 documentary about Pleskow, “I’m About Winning — Der Filmtycoon Eric Pleskow” was presented at the festival.

In February 2007, he was awarded honorary citizenship of Vienna.

Pleskow came to the U.S. at age 15 in 1938 and studied engineering at City College of New York. His education was curtailed by the onset of WWII. After his Army duty, he served as a civilian adviser to the U.S. War Dept.’s motion picture division. In 1948 he joined the Motion Picture Export Assn. in Germany as an assistant general manager. He also worked as a continental representative for Sol Lesser Prods.

More Film

  • MyFrenchFilmFestival: Profiling Benjamin Crotty’s Short ‘Nicolas

    ‘The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin’: Nationalism Wrapped in Charisma

    Winner of Locarno’s Signs of Life section, Benjamin Crotty’s “The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin” has enjoyed more than 12 months of festival success and critical acclaim as it reaches the end of its festival run at UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival. A modern take on one of France’s most influential yet widely unknown characters, the film headlines [...]

  • Alexander Ludwig

    Alexander Ludwig on Sharing his Recovery Journey, Playing the 'Bad Boys' Tech Guy

    With his towering height and stature, Alexander Ludwig looks every bit the action star, first appearing as Cato in “The Hunger Games,” and more recently as fierce Norse Viking chief Bjorn Ironside on History Channel’s “Vikings” and in “Bad Boys for Life,” the third installment of the “Bad Boys” franchise, with Will Smith and Martin [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Scores Big With $66 Million Launch

    “Bad Boys for Life” is showing plenty of power at the North American box office with an impressive  launch of around $66 million at 3,740 venues over the four-day holiday weekend. Sony’s sequel to 1995’s “Bad Boys” and 2003’s “Bad Boys II” far exceeded the studio’s pre-release forecasts of a $38 million weekend. The film, [...]

  • A Bump Along the Way Movie

    'A Bump Along the Way': Film Review

    While “Derry Girls” continues to be the last word in young, raucous female rebellion on the Emerald Isle, “A Bump Along the Way” has a little something to add. Sin the same Northern Irish city as the hit Netflix sitcom, but shedding the ’90s nostalgia for the Snapchat age, Shelly Love’s appealing, unassuming debut feature [...]

  • Tresor Plots $72 Million 'Asterix &

    Tresor Films Plots $72 Million 'Asterix & Obelix: The Silk Road,' New Projects (EXCLUSIVE)

    After delivering two of the highest-grossing French films of last year, Alain Attal’s Paris-based production company Tresor Films (“Sink or Swim,” “Little White Lies 2”) is kicking off 2020 with its most ambitious project yet, Guillaume Canet’s “Asterix & Obelix: The Silk Road.” Co-produced and financed by Jerome Seydoux’s Pathé, “Asterix & Obelix” is budgeted [...]

  • Anais Bertrand on Producing Sundance Player

    Anais Bertrand on the Obstacles She Faced to Produce Sundance Player ‘Jumbo’

    Zoé Wittock’s debut feature, “Jumbo,” screening in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, is also the first feature film produced by up-and-coming French producer Anais Bertrand, of Insolence Productions, who has cut her teeth on award-winning shorts, including winning the Procirep Short Film Producer Award last year. “Jumbo” is about a young woman, played by Noémie [...]

  • 'Parasite,' 'Jojo Rabbit' Win ACE Eddie

    'Parasite,' 'Jojo Rabbit' Win ACE Eddie Awards for Top Feature Films

    “Parasite” and “Jojo Rabbit” have won the top feature film trophies at the 70th Annual ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Jinmo Yang won the dramatic feature category for “Parasite” over “Ford v Ferrari,” “Joker,” “The Irishman,” and “Marriage Story.” The victory marks the first time in ACE Eddie Awards history that a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content