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Frederick Gronich, 87; Representative of U.S. Film Studios Overseas

July 07, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

S. Frederick Gronich, who represented American film studio interests abroad as a longtime senior executive of what is now the Motion Picture Assn., has died. He was 87.

Gronich, who also served as a principal military advisor to future Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during Israel's 1948 war for independence and moved to Israel after retiring in 1990, died of natural causes June 21 in Jerusalem.

In 1951, a year after entering the film industry as a production executive for RKO Pictures, Gronich joined the Motion Picture Export Assn. of America, which changed its name to the Motion Picture Assn. in 1994. The MPA is the international counterpart of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Initially based in Frankfurt, in what was then West Germany, Gronich relocated to Paris in 1958 and spent two decades serving the American film industry in Western Europe, Scandinavia, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Israel.

His duties included dealing with import quotas, censorship, co-production arrangements, securing the release of frozen studio assets from countries such as Algeria, publicity and promotion.

Gronich was one of the founders of the Assn. of International Collective Management of Audiovisual Works, the audiovisual rights collection society in Geneva, which is better known by its French acronym AGICOA.

In 1973, he helped found the Israel Cinematheque in Jerusalem, which is now the country's leading film archive. He also was a principal player in the 1975 creation of the Deauville Film Festival, the preeminent showcase for American films in Europe.

In the decade after relocating to London in 1980, Gronich represented American film studio interests in negotiations in Europe's fledgling cable and home entertainment industries, and was a frequent U.S. delegate to various United Nations and World Intellectual Property Organization conferences.

"I loved him deeply," Jack Valenti, MPAA president and CEO and MPA chairman and CEO, said in a statement. "He was my trusted friend and my irreplaceable colleague and a man of immense intellect and wise judgment."

Gronich was born in 1916 in what is now the Czech Republic and immigrated with his family to New York City in 1929. He received a bachelor's degree in geology from City College of New York and was doing graduate studies when he joined the U.S. Army during World War II.

Commissioned an officer, he was assigned to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff and later saw action in North Africa, Sicily and mainland Italy. After rejoining Eisenhower's general staff in London in 1944, he participated in the planning for the Normandy invasion and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, he participated in the investigation of German war criminals.

Back home in New York in 1948 after his discharge, Gronich was recruited by Teddy Kollek, head of the Haganah organization, who was in America raising funds for the Israeli military forces. (Kollek later became the longtime mayor of Jerusalem.) Gronich became a confidante of Ben-Gurion and an influential force in the training and organization of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The extent of Gronich's role in Israel's War of Independence has been more fully appreciated by historians only in recent years, his family said.

In his 1986 book "1949: The First Israelis," historian Tom Segev wrote: "The man who, according to Ben-Gurion, was superior to all the military experts he had ever met was never known by any name other than 'Fred Harris,' which is what the heads of the army called him. His real name was Fred Gronich."

Gronich is survived by his wife of 51 years, Raquel; his daughter, Daphne Gronich of Los Angeles; and a grandson. Interment was at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery near Tel Aviv.

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