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In Memoriam



Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


The Ultimate Hollywood Executive

Thursday, August 9----------Frank E. Rosenfelt, one of the most respected Hollywood production exectives of the past few decades, died on August 2nd at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 85. He reached his career zenith at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he acquired and produced such acclaimed films as DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and NETWORK.

Frank Edward Rosenfelt was born in Peabody, Massachussets in 1921, but grew up in what he later described as “the worst slum in the Bronx,” in New York. Entering the Army in 1941 at the tender age of 20, he served during World War II, and was awarded a Purple Heart for a wound he suffered in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he went to Cornell Law School, and eventually made his way out to Hollywood, where he worked as a lawyer for RKO Pictures from 1950 to 1955. He then moved over to MGM, eventually becoming the president and chief executive in 1973. His mentor was the deal maker, Kirk Kerkorian, an outside financier who bought the ailing MGM in the 1970s and was responsible for the dismantling of the famed studio's backlot and its storied props, scenery and costumes. Rosenfelt was considered a new breed of manager, replacing the oligarchic moguls such as Louis B. Mayer who had founded the company in the 1920s. The ambitious executive helped lead the expansion of MGM into hotels and gambling, and set the strategy for a new era of moviemaking characterized by independent production and the rise of new technologies and markets. Unlike his predecessors, he saw television not as the enemy of filmmaking, but as a profitable resource for ancillary rights and original production.

He oversaw the production, financing and distribution of hundred of films over the course of a 25 year career at the studio. One of his triumphs was acquiring the movie rights to DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) from producer Carlo Ponti. The epic, directed by David Lean and adapted from the Russian novel by Boris Pasternak, was a major financial sensation for the studio. He also shepherded the production of the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), a prestige picture that remains one of the enduring classics of the cinema. One of his biggest disappointments was when the media satire NETWORK (1976)----whose script by Paddy Chayefsky immortalized the catch phrase "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” — lost the Best Picture Oscar to ROCKY (a micro-budget film from United Artists, which was later purchased by MGM). 

Rosenfelt was chiefly responsible for MGM’s 1981 purchase of United Artists for $380 million from the Transamerica Corporation. While he was interested in the library of the famed indie studio, he pressed for the purchase to gain greater control of U.A.’s theater distribution system. That same year, MGM split into a hotel and casino company (responsible for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) and a film company. Mr. Rosenfelt increased the number of films MGM was making, focused closer scrutiny on costs and used the studio’s big film library to make money. He eventually sold that library to Ted Turner, who was eventually bought out by Time Warner. By the late 1980s, Rosenfelt was out, as the MGM assets were divided.

Although he did produce some of the studio's biggest hits of the 1960s and 1970s, he was a figure of controversy, more of a financial whiz than a true filmmaker, who did eventually sell off the fabled MGM film library, its backlots and other assets. This he did to save the studio from bankruptcy, which has allowed it to exist to this day. However, the carving up of what was once the mightiest film studio in Hollywood was bitterly criticized by some who mourned the loss of one of Hollywood's greatest institutions. However, his legacy in diversifying MGM, thus allowing its name to continue to survive, was an important milestone in a career that leaves behind some classic films by some of Hollywood's most important film directors.

Sandy Mandelberger, In Memoriam Editor


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About In Memoriam

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)




Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind

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