Leon Kaplan, 95, a leading entertainment lawyer whose clients included Ava Gardner, Gene Kelly, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox studios, died Friday of natural causes at his Brentwood home.
Born in New York City and educated at USC, he practiced law in Los Angeles from 1932 until his retirement in 1996. Kaplan gravitated to entertainment law in the mid-1930s, and on Jan. 1, 1940, was senior founding partner of what became Kaplan, Livingston, Goodwin, Berkowitz and Selvin. The firm concentrated on entertainment business, and grew to 72 lawyers before it was dissolved at the end of 1980.
Known for his integrity, insight and wit, Kaplan became a champion of Mirisch and other independent production companies.
He helped move motion picture production from Hollywood's major studio system to a climate encouraging independent work.
Kaplan represented Arthur Krim and Bob Benjamin when they bought United Artists from Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.
Kaplan's son Robert said anecdotes from that major transaction were among the collection of memoirs Kaplan was working on at the time of his death. His chosen title was "When a Handshake Meant Something."