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Hollywood Veteran Price to Head Film Unit at Columbia

March 22, 1990|ELAINE DUTKA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc. announced Wednesday that veteran Hollywood executive Frank Price has been appointed chairman of its Columbia Pictures subsidiary. Price, who held the same post from 1978 to 1983, will replace Dawn Steel, who stepped down in January.

As part of a restructuring of the studio, which was bought by Sony Corp. in November, Price will be in charge of the development, production and marketing of all Columbia films. Under the previous regime, marketing and distribution were overseen by executive Lou Korman in New York.

Price was first approached for the job five weeks ago, but serious negotiations didn't get under way until 10 days ago--not long after Mike Medavoy was named to the top spot at Columbia's Tri-Star Pictures unit.

"The discussions were short, meaningful, and intense," says Alan J. Levine, president of Columbia's Filmed Entertainment Group. "We wanted Frank because he's a professional, a man who knows how to do his job. Of the 10 top-grossing films in Columbia's history, he's been responsible for nine--if you include the sequels. It's not the same company that Frank left in 1983. There's new management, new ownership and the center of gravity in terms of age is much lower."

Following the Sony acquisition, producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters ("Batman," "Rain Man") were named co-chairmen of Columbia Pictures Entertainment.

From 1983 to 1986, Price headed the motion picture group at Universal Pictures before starting his own production company. In an interview Wednesday, he professed to have no reservations about rejoining the studio ranks.

"There's a sense of excitement surrounding the studio since Sony took over," he said. "I know Peter Guber from my Columbia days when he produced 'Midnight Express' and have been impressed with his executive appointments. I like running studios. In my mind, it's one of the great jobs in the world. There are only six or seven of these spots . . . so you have a better chance of heading up a country."

Price said he welcomes the opportunity to turn around the studio, which ranked sixth among major studios at the box office last year. Under his previous stint at Columbia, Price noted, "we had a terrific run, turning out pictures such as 'Ghostbusters,' 'Gandhi,' 'Kramer vs. Kramer.' But the studio has been hurt by a lot of turnover at the top in recent years. I'm interested in bringing in some pictures which are entertaining and commercially successful, but which also have something to say--quality pictures such as 'Tootsie' and 'Out of Africa,' which, frankly, I think I have a pretty good reputation for."

And the role of Guber and Peters in the studio's creative decisions? "They'll have input, of course," Levine said. "But Frank will run his own shop. It's important that everybody understands that he has the power to develop and produce any picture he wants to."

Price added: "Guber and Peters are smart and experienced professionals, an asset and a resource I intend to take advantage of. But I've been told that I have autonomy with regard to the pictures I'm making."

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