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Sony Movie Chief Canton to Be Ousted, Sources Say

September 11, 1996|JAMES BATES and CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Sony Pictures movie chief Mark Canton, whose studio has been plagued by a long string of box-office flops that include "Multiplicity" and "The Fan," is expected to be replaced soon, possibly within weeks, according to sources close to the company and the executive.

Canton's boss, Sony Pictures Entertainment President Alan Levine, is meeting this week in New York with Sony President Nobuyuki Idei, and Canton's future is high on the agenda, sources said.

The fate of Jeffrey Sagansky, executive vice president of Sony Corp. of America and the former top executive at CBS Entertainment, also could be decided shortly. Sagansky is known to be unhappy that he has not been given a bigger job at Sony, and sources say he has sought release from his contract.

Levine himself has been the subject of ongoing speculation that he would eventually be replaced. But as rumors flew last month that Levine's job was in jeopardy, Sony issued a memo to employees saying Levine "continues to be responsible for the future direction" of Sony Pictures and urged employees to support him.

The relationship between Levine and Canton has been strained this summer as Sony's films continued to under-perform during the most lucrative moviegoing season. At one point, the two were barely speaking to each other, according to sources at the studio.

Since buying the studio in 1989, Sony, the giant Japanese electronics firm, has had extraordinary difficulty in finding managers to operate its movie operations with consistent success.

A Sony spokesman said late Tuesday that the company as a policy doesn't comment on rumors.

The timing of Canton's departure remains unclear because Sony is believed to have no replacement, and also has yet to sit down with Canton's lawyers to negotiate a contract settlement.

Sources say Canton, chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Cos., could walk away from Sony with an estimated $12-million settlement.

Canton is believed to earn more than $3 million annually, with additional bonuses.

Some executives speculated that Canton could leave as early as this week, although others noted that the lack of settlement discussions means it may not formally occur for several weeks.

In addition, sources said that for public relations reasons, Sony could wait to jettison Canton until after the company's 50th anniversary celebration in Tokyo next month.

Hollywood executives have speculated that Canton would eventually team up with former Sony executive and producer Jon Peters, who along with former Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber recruited him to Sony. Canton has a long relationship with Guber and Peters, having worked with them on such films as "Batman" when Canton was a top production executive at Warner Bros.

Canton has been under fire this year as film after film proved a disappointment at the box office. He shocked Hollywood by paying $20 million for Jim Carrey to star in "The Cable Guy," a film that was critically panned and, although is expected to eventually post a small profit, did not live up to its blockbuster expectations.

Numerous executives in Hollywood have been rumored to be candidates for Canton's job, although to date no one is believed to be lined up.

There have been numerous executive changes at Sony in the last few weeks, including the naming of former HBO executive Robert Cooper as head of the TriStar Pictures unit to replace Marc Platt and the appointment of former Walt Disney executive Robert Levin to replace longtime Sony marketing chief Sidney Ganis.

Sony's troubles in Hollywood have reached epic proportions. In 1994, Guber was forced out shortly before Sony announced a $3.2-billion loss on its movie operation. A year later, Michael Schulhof, Sony's top U.S. executive, was ousted and the position has yet to be filled.

It is widely believed in Hollywood that Sony is trying to find the right management team to improve results in the movie division to prime the studio for a sale. But Idei has gone on record saying Sony is in the movie business for the long haul.

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